HC Deb 29 November 1995 vol 267 cc1194-5
16. Mrs. Roche

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he last met representatives of the Israeli Government; and if he will make a statement. [869]

Mr. Hanley

My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary met Shimon Peres in Israel on 9 November. They discussed the middle east peace process, following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Shimon Peres reiterated his commitment to continue to work for peace and he has, of course, our full support.

Mrs. Roche

I thank the Minister for that reply. Perhaps I may press him a little further about the peace accord with Syria. In response to an earlier question, the Foreign Secretary mentioned progress with the peace accord with Syria. Will the Minister give us some indication of how matters are progressing? Does he agree that a comprehensive peace accord, which covered Syria, in the middle east would be the greatest tribute that could be paid to the memory of Yitzhak Rabin?

Mr. Hanley

I agree with the hon. Lady. My right hon. and learned Friend spoke to the Syrian Foreign Minister yesterday in Barcelona and he spoke with President Assad in Damascus immediately after Mr. Rabin's funeral. The signs are better than they have been for some time that the Syrian track will be reconvened. More countries than ever before are expressing their good will and I hope that the events to which the hon. Lady referred will come to pass.

Mr. Hawkins

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a positive sign that, following the tragic assassination of President Rabin, leaders of Arab states who had never visited Jerusalem travelled there to attend his funeral? That should encourage the progress of the peace process, which is greatly welcomed.

Mr. Hanley

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He has put his finger on one of the reasons why many people are now more hopeful about the peace process. The visits to Jerusalem by King Hussein of Jordan and representatives of the states of Oman and Morocco show that the Arab world wants as much as Israel and its immediate neighbours to see peace.

Mr. Gunnell

I am sure that, following his meeting on 9 November, the Foreign Secretary congratulated the Israeli Government on their early withdrawal of the troops to which he has referred already. Does the Minister agree that, if the elections to the Palestine National Assembly on 20 January are to be free and fair, it is very important that they do not take place in the presence of occupying troops? Will the Government therefore do everything possible to encourage the Israeli Government to speed up the process of withdrawal so that the elections can take place in a constructive atmosphere?

Mr. Hanley

Yes. I can confirm that the British Government are committed to the success of the Palestinian elections. The withdrawal of the forces that the hon. Gentleman mentioned is extremely important. The elections are due to take place on 20 January, as agreed by the Palestine National Authority and the Israeli Government, and the European Union co-ordinating international observer group will be present. Four of the 30 staff in the co-ordinating unit are British and Britain is providing major input to the core of observers. Six long-term observers arrived on 9 November and are advising the Palestinians about policing the elections. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's question and for the good will that it implies.

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