HL Deb 06 April 1982 vol 429 cc111-4
Lord Mayhew

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 what action they are now taking to promote a just and peaceful settlement of the Palestinian problem.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, we remain committed to the principles of the Venice Declaration, which calls for the acceptance of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and Israel's right to live in peace and security. We are continuing to keep in contact with all the parties concerned.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, is the Minister aware that his Answer will give great reassurance? Would he agree that in recent years, no one has worked more patiently and positively for a settlement in Palestine than the noble Lord, Lord Carrington? The Minister's statement indicating a continuity of policy will be warmly welcomed.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his kind words, and I am certain that my right honourable friend the new Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs will also be reassured by them.

Baroness Gaitskell

My Lords, despite what the Minister said and while I, like many Israelis, have grave reservations about what is happening on the West Bank, may I inform the noble Lord that I have recently read again the covenant of the PLO, from which I quote three sentences which tell us what they feel? Would the Minister agree that when the PLO say: Peace for us means the destruction of Israel", and, The destruction of Israel is the goal of our struggle", and, We are the sole legitimate representatives through the mouth of the gun", those are not words to make peace in the Middle East?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I certainly agree that some of the things the PLO have said, and some of the things they say they stand for, are not likely to contribute to a settlement in the Middle East. But the fact remains that they represent an important segment of Palestinian opinion and it therefore seems inconceivable that a settlement in that area could be reached without taking their views into account.

Lord Chelwood

My Lords, arising out of that last supplementary question, may I ask if my noble friend recollects that Mr. Begin has said on a number of occasions that the PLO will disappear? Should Mr. Begin and his Foreign Minister not be reminded, as former chiefs of the Irgun Zvei Leumi and the Stern Gang, that they disappeared only after the Jews had obtained what they had longed for, a national home in Palestine as a result of the partition of that country? Is it not asking far too much that the PLO should disappear until such time as the Palestinian people again have the right to have their own home in their own country, at least up to the pre-1967 armistice lines?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, put their fingers in their different ways on the essence of the problem in the Middle East, and I do not think it would be appropriate for me at Question Time to expand on what they said.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, will the Minister bear in mind that the PLO, which the noble Lord on the Liberal Benches has supported for the past 25 years, is an international terrorist organisation which has sworn in statements, up to the present time and over the years, to the destruction of Israel—the only democratic state in the Middle East—by force of arms? In view of our experience in recent days in another part of the world with another country which is trying to get its way by force of arms, may I ask the Government to be very wary indeed before having anything to do with the PLO?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I fear I cannot go further than I have, both today and on other occasions, from this Box, when I say for all their failings, and failings they indeed have, the PLO represent an important segment of Palestinian opinion and their views must be taken into account when we get nearer to a settlement than we are at the present time. But, as I said, some of the things the PLO have said, some of the things they have done and some of the things they stand for, are clearly not compatible with a settlement anywhere.

Lord Byers

My Lords, will the Minister recognise on behalf of the Government that the PLO is nothing but a terrorist organisation?

Lord Trefgarne

The PLO is actually an umbrella organisation, my Lords, and a large number of subsidiary organisations are affiliated to it. It is certainly the case that some of those affiliated organisations have, in accordance with their own admissions, been responsible for some appalling acts of terrorism.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, is it not true that the Israeli Government are annexing the Golan Heights and are kicking people and settlers out of the West Bank in a way which is very similar to that of the Argentine Junta in the Falkland Islands?

Lord Trefgarne

It would probably not be helpful to draw parallels between the two, my Lords, but it is certainly the case that recent acts by the Israeli Government have caused the greatest anxiety among some of their western friends, not least the Government of the United Kingdom, and I certainly include among those acts what has happened recently on the West Bank and Golan Heights.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, since for the time being our search for a peaceful and just settlement looks to be directed elsewhere, would not we be well advised, rather than to seek to advise the Israelis, to ask them if they would come and advise us on how we should protect our own territory where it is threatened? They have proved rather better at it than we have.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I wish to reassure the noble Lord that Her Majesty's Government are determined, and have no doubts, as to the validity of our position with regard to the Falklands, to which I presume the noble Lord is referring, and we shall certainly restore that country to our own control in due course.

Lord Morris

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the very language that he used—namely, the PLO" for all their faults"—is precisely the same language as the Government of the day used when referring to Germany between 1933 and 1939?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I was not responsible for what was said between 1933 and 1939, but I think that the position with regard to the Middle East is certainly different from the position with regard to the various countries and events to which my noble friend refers. We think that a settlement in the Middle East will be achieved only by means of a consensus, and not by the use of force.

Lord Wells-Pestell

My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that there can be no meaningful discussions with the PLO regarding peace in the Middle East until the PLO recognise the existence of Israel, its right to exist, its right to independence, and its right to be able to exist as a state?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I certainly agree that the PLO will have to change their position on a number of matters before a settlement can be agreed, but it will also be important for the Israelis to have a dialogue with the PLO to achieve that change.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, is it not perfectly plain that on both sides there are strong elements whose views are quite incompatible with a peaceful and just settlement? Is it not quite plain that the literal interpretation of the PLO charter and the literal interpretation of resolutions of the Knesset and declarations from the Prime Minister of Israel would make a peaceful settlement entirely impossible?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am afraid that the only deduction that could properly be drawn from what the noble Lord says would be that the only possibility of achieving a settlement in the Middle East would be by some force of arms, and the Government do not accept that position.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Young)

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has been trying to get in for a very long time. May I suggest to the House that we take his supplementary question, and then move on to the next Question.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he will suggest to the Foreign Secretary that, when he is free from his present heavy responsibilities, he considers preparing a renewed United Nations international conference on this subject?—in view of the breakdown of the Camp David agreement, the unrest not only on the West Bank but in Israel itself, and the hopeful proposals that are made by Saudi Arabia.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the proposal which the noble Lord puts forward is one which has in fact been put forward by the Soviet Union in recent months. That is not to say that we dismiss the proposal because of that, but any such conference would certainly need to be very well prepared if it were to make any progress in the present circumstances. As to the proposals of Saudi Arabia, they are certainly important proposals, which indeed have a good deal in common with the Venice Declaration of the European Community last year, and certainly together with that declaration they might form the basis for further progress.

Back to