HL Deb 25 June 1981 vol 421 cc1152-4

3.4 p.m.

Lord Chelwood

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 agree with the view that both the Israeli-Syrian confrontation and the Israeli attack on the Iraqi nuclear plant have as their root cause the failure of the United Nations to provide for Palestinian self-determination; and whether urgent consideration is now being given to a joint European Community-United States initiative to pave the way for an end to the Arab-Israeli dispute.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Lord Carrington)

My Lords, while it is not the sole cause, the continuing failure to resolve the Arab-Israeli dispute, an important element in which is the need for Palestinian self-determination, is indeed at the centre of continuing instability in the Middle East. Both we in the Ten and the United States are committed to promoting a comprehensive settlement of the dispute. There is close and constant consultation between us on how this can be achieved, and agreement that our efforts should be complementary.

Lord Chelwood

My Lords, I very much appreciate that reply. My noble friend has made it clear on a number of occasions that he would welcome conditional recognition by the Palestine Liberation Organisation of Israel's rights, which were clearly restated in the Venice Declaration. Going on from that, does my noble friend share the view that it would be a great deal easier for the PLO to recognise Israel's rights if they were confident that the reaction in America would be to say that they in turn recognised that the Palestinian people have the same rights of self-determination and of security as the Israeli people have?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, in a sense, the difficulty with all this is that it is a sort of circular argument: who recognises what first? I think that this is the position that we must all try to break out of. Certainly with regard to my noble friend's first question, I believe that a statement of that kind by the PLO would be very helpful to peace efforts, and I think could produce a significant breakthrough.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, is the Foreign Secretary aware that the United Nations has not the responsibility for, nor is it capable of, providing self-determination for the Palestine refugees? Further, in order to deal effectively with the refugee problem and resolve it as we would all wish, irrespective of our views, is it not essential first of all that there should be negotiations as between the State of Israel and the other Arab countries, entering into full consultation and with the desire to solve the problem? Also, as a pre-requisite, is it not essential that the Arab countries should agree for the first time that they are no longer at war with Israel?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, is absolutely right when he says that nobody can impose a settlement. The only way in which you are going to get a settlement in the Middle East is if the Arabs and the Israelis are prepared to have one. I think that the noble Lord is perfectly right in what he said, so far as he went. He very nearly repeated the Venice Declaration with one exception, that the Venice Declaration has two parts: first, it suggests that one of the principles should be that the Arabs should recognise the State of Israel and its right to live in security in its own boundaries, and the second principle is that the Israelis should recognise the rights of the Palestinians.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, while appreciating what my noble friend has done, and is doing, in trying to promote peace in the Middle East, will he take the opportunity of the forthcoming British presidency of the EEC to try to make further progress in getting the EEC and the United States together to urge a solution?

Lord Carrington

Yes indeed, my Lords, that of course is one of the priorities of our presidency in Europe. All I can say is that I do not think that the events of the last month have made things any easier, but we must do what we can.

Baroness Gaitskell

My Lords, would not the Foreign Secretary agree that it is not just the failure of the United Nations at all but the fact that in the PLO Covenant there is a wish for the destruction of Israel? I myself heard Yasser Arafat one year on American television. He was asked, "Do you really intend and wish for the destruction of Israel?" He said, "This is the first step." This was after a spectacular debut which he had had in the General Assembly. So we should not really kid ourselves that it is because they just cannot get together. Until the PLO take out of their covenant the desire for the destruction of Israel, there can be no peace in the Middle East at all.

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I think that actually was the purpose of the Question asked by my noble friend Lord Chelwood, because that is precisely what the PLO would be doing if they recognised Israel, and that is what the Venice Declaration says, and is what we all want to happen.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, would the Foreign Secretary agree that the instability in the Middle East is caused by a plethora of inter-Arab disputes, apart from the Israel-Arab dispute itself? Would he further agree that resolving the Palestinian problem within the parameters at present set out by the EEC initiative would not resolve such disputes as the Iraq-Iran conflict, the Iraq-Syria rivalries, the internecine warfare between Moslems and Christians and other disputes in the area?

Lord Carrington

Nor, my Lords, would it solve the Cambodian refugee problem—but if we could solve the Arab-Israeli problem it would be a great step forward.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the leadership of a number of the Arab states, including Egypt, is distinctly helpful and moderate in this context and that a new initiative by my noble friend and his colleagues in Europe, with America, would greatly strengthen their position, which is already under considerable pressure from their militant elements?

Lord Carrington

Yes, my Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. The object of the European initiative is to get all men of moderation round a table to solve the problem.

Lord Brooks of Tremorfa

My Lords, does the Foreign Secretary welcome the statement of the Israeli Prime Minister on television last night that Israel would be prepared to sign the non-prolifieration treaty if the hostile Arab states would sign a peace treaty with Israel? Would the noble Lord agree that much of the hawkish attitude of the Israelis is due entirely to the repeated statements by many of the hostile Arab states that they are bent on the destruction of Israel?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, any statement which is made by any leader of a country in the Middle East which leads to a peaceful solution is to be welcomed. The difficulty is that so many people in the area on both sides make such hawkish statements.