HL Deb 25 November 1981 vol 425 cc751-3

2.33 p.m.

Lord Molloy had given notice of his intention to ask the following Question:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are considering in response to the statement made in Tokyo by Mr. Arafat, the PLO leader—that he is prepared to accept the offer of Britain's Foreign Secretary to meet him for talks—defined by the Foreign Secretary, that might pave the way to a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian question.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, my noble friend has asked me whether in his unavoidable absence I would seek permission for this Question to be asked.

Lord Denham

My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend I will, if I may, repeat the Answer that he would have given:

I am not aware of such a statement. Since becoming President of the Ten, I have made clear on several occasions that I would be ready to meet Mr. Arafat if such a meeting would further the cause of peace. We continue to urge the PLO to make clear their readiness to accept Israel's right to live in peace as part of a negotiated settlement in which legitimate Palestinian political rights will also be met.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, if I may, I should like to ask a supplementary question on behalf of my absent friend. Would not such a meeting, which has been reported in the press from Tokyo, help to clarify the attitude of the PLO to the recognition of Israel if the Saudi Arabian plan for peace were accepted?

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

My Lords, I must apologise profusely for being late. I had no idea that the House did not have a considerable amount of business before Starred Questions. I have never before done this, and I apologise very much to your Lordships for not having been here.

If I may answer the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, I would say that I know of no statement of that kind that has been made by Mr. Arafat. It has been the wish, and we have been trying over the last few months, to get the PLO to do precisely what the noble Lord has said. At the moment we have not succeeded in doing that. There is an opportunity for it to do so at Fez, where the Arab summit opens today and will go on for three days. There will then be an opportunity for the PLO to make clear its position on the seventh principle of the Fahd eight principles.

Lord Wells-Pestell

My Lords, can the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary tell the House whether he would insist on the PLO, or the Saudis for that matter, giving an undertaking to recognise the existence of Israel before talks take place?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I think that the ideal situation would be—and this is repeating the Venice Declaration—for both parties to recognise one another conditionally on the basis of a negotiated settlement.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, is the Foreign Secretary aware that recent manoeuvres, instead of being likely to promote peace, are likely to produce another war? Is it not necessary to be a little cautious? Is the noble Lord aware—of course he is aware—that not a single prominent representative of the Palestine Liberation Organisation has declared its readiness to recognise Israel, and that even the Saudi Arabian peace proposals do not recognise Israel? They do not refer to it at all, except to say that they want peace in the Middle East. We all want peace in the Middle East. Is it necessary to proceed with these manoeuvres? Should we not recognise that Israel will not allow Syria, or Saudi Arabia, or any of the Arab countries, to interfere with the Camp David proposals? Even if they appear to be innocuous, the proposals at any rate provide an opportunity to negotiate the possibility of peace.

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord is quite right about the five principles. The seventh principle says that all states in the area shall have the right to live in peace. The Israelis have, understandably, pointed out that since the Saudis do not recognise Israel, it might very well be that Israel is not considered a state. But at a press conference which he gave in Riyadh when I was there, Prince Saud, in answer to a question, made it quite clear that he actually meant, after a negotiated settlement, the state of Israel. I think that that is a considerable move forward. With regard to the last part of the noble Lord's supplementary question, I tend to think, and Her Majesty's Government tend to think, that in the end there must be a negotiated settlement and there really will have to be conversations.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that it is quite unrealistic to expect either side to recognise the other unilaterally? Was not the phrase used by the late President Sadat very apposite?—namely, that what we ought to aim at is mutual and simultaneous recognition of both parties.

Lord Carrington

That would be much the best, my Lords; but I do not think that either side would have much to lose by saying, "I am prepared to recognise you if you recognise me".

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, is it right to equate Mr. Arafat with the state of Israel in these circumstances? One is a state. It emerged by a revolutionary process, of which we were the victims. But the other is a representative of an association, which has proclaimed assassination as its principal instrument. Can the noble Lord really point to a single instance in history in which negotiation with assassins has promoted peace?

Lord Carrington

I could, my Lords; but the trouble with the PLO is that so often it makes a statement which sounds very moderate, but then, two or three days later, it seems to contradict it by saying something which is immoderate. The noble Lord is of course quite right when he says that there is the state of Israel, which we recognise, while the PLO is an organisation, and we do not recognise organisations. Her Majesty's Government have always said that the PLO represents a great many Palestinians. Indeed, there are some who think that there is no other recognised organisation which represents the Palestinians, and therefore it will have to be taken into account. It seems to me that if that organisation was to say in effect that it would recognise the state of Israel on condition that its own rights—the Palestinian rights—were recognised, that would be a step forward, and something which the Israelis ought to welcome.

Lord Paget of Northampton

But, my noble Lords, if the noble Lord will permit me to put just one more point, I would say that I object not to the fact that the PLO is an association and not a state, but to the fact that it has formed and pursued the principle that its instrument is assassination. It is this principle of assassination which is building itself right through the Middle East and through the world.

Lord Carrington

My Lords, that is precisely what we are seeking to get them to renounce.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he would agree that quite responsible people who have met Mr. Arafat take the view that he is withholding any public statement about recognising Israel as a bargaining counter? Might not a statement by Her Majesty's Government that they support the United Nations resolution on this subject, and the Saudi Arabia plan, lead to a position where Mr. Arafat might say that publicly?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I do not think Mr. Arafat, the PLO or anybody else can be under any misapprehension about Her Majesty's Government's policy. We have made perfectly clear what we feel about the situation in the Middle East, and have set it out in a number of documents.