HL Deb 26 January 1989 vol 503 cc821-3

3.15 p.m.

Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What further steps they are taking to convene an international conference on Middle East problems involving Israel and the Palestinians.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Glenarthur)

My Lords, we shall continue to play a full part in efforts to bring about an international conference on the Middle East. The PLO has recently taken some constructive steps and we look to the Israelis to respond positively.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, particularly the latter part. Is he not aware that this is a classic case not so much of the deeds following too tardily on the words but of no deeds following whatever? All our NATO colleagues, including the United States of America, want an international conference in order to stop the killing, slaying and maiming. The only nation resisting that civilised approach is Israel. Is it not time that Israel was asked to consider very seriously an international conference not only in its own interests but also with regard to justice and fair play for the Palestinians?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the United States engagement is important, and the dialogue between the United States and the PLO is welcome. We look forward to early contacts with the new United States administration. It has assured us that it attaches priority to early movement and progress towards peace. The noble Lord might also like to know that British efforts to advance the peace process are complementary to those of the Twelve.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that Independent Television News at 10 o'clock last night reported that the United States and the Soviet Union have now agreed on an initiative to call a Middle East peace conference? Can he say whether there is any ground for believing that that is true? If so, what action are Her Majesty's Government taking?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, that is a question for either the Soviet Union or the United States to answer. However, I can tell the noble Lord that I understand that the State Department has denied it.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, will the noble Lord say whether Mr. Waldegrave was intending to go to Israel to forward an international conference? Is that visit still on?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, my honourable friend is going to Israel in due course.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the new attitude of the PLO should be welcomed by all because it offers the possibility of peace in the Middle East, with people having their rightful homes returned to them? We would have clamoured in the same way in this country for our land to be returned to us if it had been occupied by the Nazis. As all within NATO, including the USA, Great Britain and many other countries, wish to see an international conference in order to stop people being maimed and killed, is it not time that severe diplomatic pressure was brought to bear on Israel to agree to such a conference in order that peace and civilised behaviour may be returned to the Middle East?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, yes. We find the PLO moves encouraging. The search for peace deserves the active support of all Israelis as well. I hope they will find that a proposed international conference is an opportunity and not a trap.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, I speak as a non-Jew and a non-Arab although I wonder sometimes whether some of my noble friends are not of one persuasion or the other. Is the Minister aware that some of us respect the reasons for the attitude that Israel has adopted towards the PLO, and in particular Mr. Arafat, and the cynicism it has shown?

Lord Glenarthur

Yes, my Lords. I understand that point of view, but on the other hand I believe that Israel's security can only be achieved through peace with all its neighbours. The repression of the Palestinians breeds resentment and hatred and does not encourage security.