HL Deb 21 March 1979 vol 399 cc1152-5

3.6 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have any statement to make on the apparent success of the negotiations to bring about a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.


My Lords, the Government congratulate President Carter on the success of his efforts, which have brought a peace treaty so close. The momentum generated by this must he used to ensure that a treaty proves to be the first step towards a comprehensive settlement acceptable to all the parties, which will guarantee peace and stability in the area as a whole.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his considered statement on the anticipated agreement which hopefully will lead next week to the signing of a peace treaty and thus create a turning point in the troubled history of this area. Would my noble friend also agree that, apart from the congratulations properly extended to the President of the United States for his pertinacity, congratulations should also be extended to the representatives of both countries for the courage that they have shown in reaching this stage? Furthermore, if the treaty is in fact signed, can we be assured, and in view of the Minister's obviously wise statement about the need to have a comprehensive peace in this area, that the efforts of Her Majesty's Government will definitely be used to ensure that other interested parties in this area—and at present we are thinking particularly of Saudi Arabia and Jordan—will be encouraged to support this treaty and to sit at a negotiating table?


My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for the helpful nature of his supplementary question at a crucial juncture in the negotiation of the first steps in what we all hope will be a comprehensive settlement. What he has said about the pertinacity of the American President and the courage of the two other partners in the negotiations will be well received, I am sure, both here and abroad. As to the assurance which my noble friend seeks, I can give it without reservation. We were among the principal architects of the two Security Council resolutions— Nos.242 and 338—on which a comprehensive settlement must be based. We shall do everything we can bilaterally in speaking to our friends in the Middle East, and we have a long record of close co-operation and friendship with the Arab world as well as with Israel, so that during the next few weeks and months this very hopeful achievement of the American President may lead to the comprehensive settlement which the Middle East and the rest of the world so badly needs.


My Lords, does the noble Lord think that the recent remarks of Mr. Begin and his Minister of Defence in respect of East Jerusalem and what is known as Judea and Samaria are particu- larly helpful to the long-term cause of peace in the Middle East?


My Lords, at least as helpful as the supplementary question of the noble Lord. I think that, having regard to the longstanding difficulty of the situation in the Middle East and its crucial importance to the democratic West as well as to the rest of the world, we should all concentrate on encouraging those who have achieved as much as they have achieved so far.


My Lords, I should like to ask my noble friend whether he will enthusiastically support the agreement which will be signed, I hope, very shortly? Will he indicate to the civilised world that this is an important historical step forward and that in the long attempt by Israel to try and get an understanding and peace with her Arab friends, this is the first tangible step that has taken place in that direction and it is important to follow it as strongly as we possibly can?


My Lords, everything that I have said endorses the views put forward by my noble friend Lord Janner.

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, first, can the noble Lord please explain why Premier Begin refuses to speak to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation on the ground of terrorism, when his hands are stained with blood as no other terrorist's hands are? Secondly, is it not also true that Palestinian nationalism is just as much a cause of the conflict in the Middle East as is Jewish nationalism? Thirdly, is it not true that unless these two nationalisms can somehow be reconciled—and the statement of Mr.Begin yesterday in the Knesset made no concession to that—there will be no long-term peace in the Middle East?


My Lords, I shall deal with the three points made by the noble Earl in reverse order. On the third point he made, I certainly do not accept that anything which Mr. Begin and his colleagues have said necessarily prejudges the possibility of future constructive concessions on both sides. Indeed, it will help if we talk up that street at this juncture and if we do not quote present and possible difficulties in a situation which for at least 30 years has bristled with difficulties.

I am peculiarly well-qualified to talk on the noble Earl's second point, nationalism. I agree with the noble Earl that to the extent that we can mitigate, if not abolish, the excesses of political nationalism, there is hope for the survival of civilisation. The agreement at which the present negotiations are aimed—namely, to bring together Arab and Jew, who belong to the same family and whose common economic efforts in the Middle East would literally turn that area into a garden—is a very fine objective to set before us. As to recriminations about who was guilty of terrorism and when, history is replete with examples in all directions of such events, and it is well to put them aside when we have the slightest chance of moving into a better future.


My Lords, in view of the tremendous sacrifices that Egypt has made in the cause of peace, risking her virtual isolation from the rest of the Arabworld, cannot Her Majesty's Government show their approval in a rather more practical form? For example, can we not approach the Egyptian Embassy with a much more generous offer than we have made hitherto, and supply them with weapons of peace instead of weapons of war—tractors, lorries, buses and telephones, of which they are sorely in need at the present time?


My Lords, I am glad that my noble friend echoed what my other noble friend, Lord Mishcon, said about the courage which has been shown by the leaders of both countries in putting their hands to this agreement. I particularly join my noble friend in his reference to Mr. Sadat. As to the proposal my noble friend has made, I have no doubt that such proposals will increasingly form part of the developing negotiations between the United States and her friends, of whom we are one, and the two Middle East parties to this agreement; that is to say, that part of a comprehensive settlement must surely be the economic rehabilitation and promotion of a common prosperity in the area as a whole.