HL Deb 25 July 1991 vol 531 cc892-934

12.3 p.m.

Lord Mayhew rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to secure the implementation of the resolutions of the UN Security Council relating to Israel's occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, Golan and South Lebanon.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on 9th March, in his address to Congress, President Bush said: The time has come to put an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict". He said that the settlement, must be grounded in United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and the principle of territory for peace". With that aim, Mr. Baker has proposed a Middle East conference, to include the United States, the Soviet Union, the Egyptians, Israel and her neighbours, with representatives of the Palestinians and observers from the European Community and the United Nations. Support for this American initiative is virtually unanimous throughout the world. Never before has there been such a consensus throughout the world as to the next steps needed to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. I note today the publication of a report by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs of another place which warmly endorses and supports the American initiative.

As we know, Resolution 242 provides for acknowledgement of, the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognised boundaries". But it also confirms, the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war", and demands the, Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict". Versions of the resolution in the other official languages of the Security Council demand withdrawal from "the territories"—meaning all the territories. But the English version, I think rightly, makes allowance for frontier rectification by mutual agreement.

No one should suppose that the Israelis as a whole oppose either the American initiative or the concept of land for peace. On the contrary, there is much support inside Israel for both. Indeed the Israeli Labour Party is committed to working towards both. Support inside the Jewish communities outside Israel also exists. Many Jewish people are deeply dissatisfied with the status quo. One of those dissatisfied is our colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, who recently described Israel's approach to the Palestinian problem as "blinkered" and "self-destructive". He said: We cannot forever dominate a million and a half Palestinians, lording it over them".

From where then does the opposition come to the American initiative and to the implementation of United Nations resolutions? It comes from Mr. Shamir's Right-wing Likud government, who rely for their narrow majority in the Knesset on a very small number of religious extremists, a number of whom, including the Israeli Minister of the Interior, are at present being investigated by the police on suspicion of financial corruption. That government publicly and persistently reject the principle of trading land for peace, as embodied in Resolution 242. They persistently defy the authority of the Security Council. They reject any role for the United Nations in trying to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. They also persistently breach the Geneva Conventions. Altogether, 64 resolutions critical of Israel have been passed by the Security Council and there would be 29 more if the consensus of the Security Council had not been frustrated by the American veto.

Recently, Mr. Shamir's government have been putting forward one objection after another to the American proposal. The current objection is over the presence of a Palestinian representative residing in East Jerusalem. Israel's claim that control over the Holy City must be exclusively Jewish has been unanimously rejected by the Security Council. Nevertheless, some compromise may be reached on this point, in which case, unfortunately, if we allow the past to be our guide, Israel will in due course raise other difficulties, time will pass and the momentum of the peace process will be lost.

We have this extraordinary phenomenon of a government representing barely half of a very small people persistently flouting international law and world opinion. Therefore we must carefully examine the reasons for it. There are two substantive reasons. First, many Israeli Jews, especially those living in the settlements in the occupied territories, believe with complete sincerity that the occupied territories are theirs by right because they were promised to their forefather, Abraham, by Jehovah. That is a religious as well as a political conviction and therefore must be spoken about with respect. Nevertheless, those who are not devout Jews are unlikely to agree that a promise made in biblical times, however well documented, can justify the acquisition of territory by conquest in the 20th century. Nor does even the most devout Jew claim that the promise to Abraham included Gaza, Golan and South Lebanon.

Far more important as a reason for Israel's conduct is the sincere belief that trading land for peace will undermine its security, which everyone agrees must be guaranteed. On security, the Israelis have broadly two choices. First, they can rely, as they have done successfully until now, on their military superiority. They have a nuclear monopoly in the region; they have the qualitative edge militarily over any combination of Arab countries; and the Americans have publicly pledged to assist in maintaining that qualitative edge for an indefinite period. They also have, for the moment at least, suppressed the intifada with ruthless efficiency. Moreover their conquests have removed potential enemies far from their frontiers, in the north, the east and the south. Helped by the chronic divisions in the Arab world and by the defeat of their most powerful enemy, Iraq, it is easy to believe that this strategy of living by the sword can ensure the physical security in Israel for many years to come.

However, it also ensures mounting bitterness and hostility in the Arab and Islamic world and further alienation from Israel's natural friends and it ignores the long-term trends in the balance of power: the advent of the missile age, the relative advance of the Arab world in wealth, arms, technology, education, diplomacy, population and even propaganda.

I believe that it is worth reflecting on the trend of military engagements in the past decades. In 1956, when the Israelis attacked Egypt, it was a walk-over. In 1967 their strike against Egypt was a clear success. In 1973 when Egypt attacked Israel it was a close-run thing. In 1982 Israel's invasion in the Lebanon was a military failure. The Foreign Secretary, Mr. Douglas Hurd, recently said: Israel cannot in the long run rest its security on the occupation of Arab lands".

There is an alternative. That alternative offers Israel the prospect of permanent acceptance in the region and permanent peace. The alternative is to back the American initiative wholeheartedly, to trade land for peace and, in return, to demand permanent watertight guarantees of its security from, among other countries, the United States and Europe. That is not only practicable; it is on offer. No one would accept that more readily than the Palestinians.

Perhaps I may quote from the evidence given to the Commons Select Committee by the PLO representative in Britain, Mr. Afif Safieh. In line with official PLO policy he said: Concerning the militarisation of the [Palestinian] state … we would like to have what is needed for that state to ensure law and order within it and not beyond. We are ready to accept the stationing of UN forces on our Palestinian territory [even] if the other side does not want them to be also on theirs, and we will accept that the removal of those UN troops … [necessitates] … the unanimous consent of the Security Council". He went on to say with reference to a formal military alliance between Israel and the United States: I would welcome such a formula of an American guarantee and, if need be, an American presence as a tranquillising factor if this can bring us, the Palestinians, a 2-state solution". Elsewhere in his evidence Mr. Safieh (again in line with PLO policy) said: In the future we can explore formulae taken from the EEC experience or the Benelux experience for regional co-operation and economic integration in the area, and I think to our mutual advantage we will also be aiming for an Israel/Palestine/Jordan confederal link or economic co-operation". Surely, given the choice between these two approaches to security it must be clear that the Israelis should chose the second course. It is vital not just for the Palestinians or for the future credibility of the United Nations; it is also vital for the Israelis.

How then can we hope to overcome the Israeli resistance? There is persuasion and then, beyond persuasion, there is pressure; and beyond pressure there is coercion. I ask the Government to tell us where they stand on that aspect.

I was a little shaken in January to receive a letter from the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in which he said any proposals for ending the Israeli occupation, must be freely accepted by Israel". I wonder whether the implications of that have really been thought through. In effect, it gives Israel a veto on proposals for ending the occupation. Moreover, it also gives Israel a veto on Security Council resolutions. If that is the case, we might as well give up the Security Council. Is that the serious view of the Government? Further, does the policy apply to all countries? I do not remember the Minister saying that proposals for ending the Kuwaiti occupation must be freely accepted by Saddam Hussein.

Persuasion has been tried over many years by successive Presidents of the United States who have urged Israel to observe the Security Council resolutions; to end the settlements policy; to stop deportation of Palestinians from their native land; not to invade Lebanon, and so on. All that has proved to be no good. The policy of all carrots and no sticks has been tried for many years and it has failed. Therefore, the time has now come to move from persuasion to pressure.

There need be no question here of economic sanctions such as were used against Iraq, let alone military sanctions. When Eisenhower pressed Israel to withdraw from the Suez Canal after the Suez crisis, he did not threaten economic sanctions; he simply said that if the Israelis did not withdraw he could not maintain the enormous level of financial aid going to Israel. That is all he said. But it worked immediately; Israel withdrew immediately. Now is the time for President Bush to do the same. I note that the report of the Commons Select Committee which was published today says: Israel is now asking to receive further help from the United States including $10 billion in loan guarantees. This provides an opportunity for stronger American pressure on Israel and is an opportunity which the United States Government should be prepared to use.

However, as we all know, the problem is the Israeli lobby in Washington. Everyone knows that. We have to bear in mind that Capitol Hill also is Israeli-occupied territory. The lobby has the American Congress under its thumb and is probably stronger today than ever before. In an earlier debate in this place I gave details about how this pressure is exerted, details about votes, about media coverage, about deputations and about money. I explained how 4 million dollars was distributed by the Israeli lobby last year among individual senators and representatives. That is public knowledge; indeed, it is not challenged. If I have a criticism of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee it is that it did not investigate that key factor in the Middle East situation. It went to Washington, but it did not, for instance, take evidence from the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee. It did not ask it about its subsidies to senators and congressmen and how it used senators and congressmen. That is a difficult subject, one might have thought, to talk about, but it is an essential element in the problem that we face. I am sorry that the Commons Select Committee did not go into it.

Sadly, it may prove that the lobby has the power to prevent the American initiative succeeding. We must do all that we can to prevent that. The European Community and the United Kingdom can help. Again, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee stated: It remains essential for the United Kingdom and its EC partners to bolster US efforts and to insist that the peace process be kept alive … If the US initiative fails, then EC members should consider a fresh initiative". I strongly believe that that is the right approach.

The EC takes 50 per cent. of Israel's exports and has granted it important trade privileges. It was undoubtedly awareness of that which led the Israelis to agree to a Community presence at the proposed Middle East conference. In support of United Nations resolutions in the cause of justice and peace, the European Community should not hold back from strong measures.

At the time of the Gulf war, we had high hopes of a new world order. We hoped that the time had come when the United Nations could fulfil the role for itself envisaged when the Charter was signed. Palestine now provides a test case. The United Nations must succeed. The American initiative must succeed. If they fail, the only beneficiaries will be the Islamic fundamentalists, the Jewish fundamentalists and the arms dealers. We must not allow the initiative to fail.

12.22 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, it is an agreeable custom of your Lordships' House that subsequent speakers thank the noble Lord whose Question has led to a debate. I propose to depart from that custom because I regret that the debate is taking place. Some weeks ago when I believe the Question was tabled, it was reasonable to call attention to a situation which appeared to be in deadlock, and there were things which might perhaps usefully have been said; but today the situation is different.

Important negotiations are continuing in several capitals, daily and hourly. Those of us who believe in the absolute necessity of a peaceful settlement of the dispute are holding our breath to see whether anything comes of them. What could be less appropriate than for a speaker in your Lordships' House to embark upon a wholly one-sided account of what has happened and what is now taking place?

I am of course not surprised that the noble Lord, having decided to keep his Question on the Order Paper, should have taken the line that he does; but it is a dangerous line. I believe that he owes the beginnings of his ministerial political career to Ernest Bevin, the man who, more than anyone else, historians will find was at the root of the problem that we now face, because his espousal of the Arab cause, when the Arab countries tried to strangle the infant state of Israel, motivated by a curious mixture of uncomprehending imperial thinking and personal anti-Semitism, was always dangerous. It was not dangerous to Israel; Israel survived the assault, as it has survived subsequent assaults. One might have thought from what the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, said that Israel initiated the conquest of the territories in 1967 when the attack was made upon it by Jordan, despite every appeal that it should not enter the conflict.

It is not Israel which has been damaged; it is ultimately the Arab cause, because every time a speech is made along the lines of that of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, they are encouraged to believe that they can hold out for more than they can reasonably expect. It is an encouragement to hard-liners in the Arab world and, by reflection obviously, an encouragement to hard-liners in the Jewish community, both in Israel and in the diaspora. It leads many of us—I am, as people will know from my previous speeches, a total "dove" in Israeli terms—to be enormously surprised that, despite Arafat's espousal of Saddam Hussein's cause in the Gulf war, he is retained as the leader of an organisation by those who wish to take part in the negotiations and who say that he still claims their allegiance.

It is a fact, undenied I think, that the PLO charter retains the demand for the abolition of the state of Israel. When pressed upon it PLO representatives will say only, "Well, at any rate, we are now prepared to settle, as a first stage, for the two-state solution".

The Jewish lobby's importance in American opinion is considerable, but nothing like to the extent that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, would have us believe. The vast body of American opinion, which is non-Jewish—after all, the Jewish population in the United States is confined to a number of large metropolitan centres—and is far away from those centres, has always regarded the establishment of the state of Israel as something with which it has, and retains, an instinctive sympathy. It does not need money to persuade it of something it already believes. But we also have the possibility—and it is perfectly fair to say this—that the knowledge that that American support is so widespread may encourage a harder line on the part of the Israeli government than many of us would wish to see them take.

It is equally true that the Arab lobby in this country, which is rarely talked about but of which the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, is a competent exponent, has consistently tried to prevent concessions being made which might help to normalise the situation and which, as has been pointed out in a recent exchange in your Lordships' House, has had sufficient influence on Her Majesty's Government to prevent them repudiating British firms' participation in the boycott of Israeli trade while other friendly countries do not allow their firms to discriminate in that way.

We have two lobbies. It would have been better if neither of them was taking part in a debate which in the end must be settled on the ground by common sense.

I thank God that I am not in Mr. Shamir's position. There are understandable reasons why I take a different line from him on the problem of representation. It could be argued that to admit the presence on the Palestinian delegation of those resident in East Jerusalem to some extent gives rise to the belief that what is intended is a renewed partition of that city. The rejoicing generally in the world at the demolition of the Berlin Wall could surely not now turn into admiration at the building of a wall in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem must and surely will remain a single city. That does not necessarily mean that the hopes of the Palestinians, if they have a state, to have Jerusalem as its capital need be thwarted. It would be perfectly possible in a more rational and peaceful world for both Israel and a Palestinian state, if they wished, to have the headquarters of their governments, their parliaments and their ministries in Jerusalem, while at the same time it remained a united city.

I should also have hoped that one of the causes of friction —the religious element to which the noble Lord referred—might have been tackled by what was implicit or explicit in many of the early approaches to the problem by the United Nations. That is, that some kind of joint religious oversight of the holy places of the three great monotheistic religions which look to Jerusalem would be possible. Unfortunately, the hostility of the Vatican to the Israeli state, which it still does not recognise, makes this an even more remote hope than the possibility of an accommodation between Israelis and Palestinians on the ground.

As the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, pointed out, there is the possibility of various forms of combination between the peoples of the area, particularly in economics. If one were looking at the Middle East from more of a distance, one might say that the two peoples who would benefit most from peace are the Israelis and the Palestinians. That is because the Palestinians, like the Israelis, have a large and to some extent (considering what they have in the way of resources) almost too large an educated, entrepreneurial population. The tragedy of the Palestinians of Kuwait is very much in our minds.

With great and remarkable persistence, the United States is now trying to bring these possibilities to fruition. We hope, and have every reason to believe, that in so far as Her Majesty's Government and the European Community have any influence, they will bring it to bear. However, it is not possible to make this division between security depending on strength and security depending on agreements because, as the Gulf war revealed, there is no guarantee to anyone of a permanent element of reconciliation between Israel and some Arab states. After all, they were not referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, but many of us recollect the missile attacks by Saddam Hussein on the territory of Israel and the applause which those attacks engendered among some of the people with whom one is now trying to make peace.

We cannot hope too strongly—and the hope has been expressed by Mr. Shamir—that President Assad has had a change of heart. One can understand his territorial claims, and so forth, but we hope that he is prepared to do what only Egypt among the Arab countries has so far been prepared to do: to recognise Israel as a permanent feature on the map of the part of the world in which his country is sited.

I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, will expand on the security problems with an authority which I do not command. It is at least understandable, given the strength of Syria's armed forces and her recent acquisition of further armaments, that there should be some doubt in Israeli minds as to how far this is more than a diplomatic turn. We must all try our best to bring about the maximum degree of good feeling wherever we have any influence. That is why I repeat my regrets that the speed of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, was addressed to American Jewry, over whom he probably has little influence, and not to Arabs who owe him for the presentation of their cause. That cause has a great deal to be said for it, particularly in the occupied territories. I regret that the noble Lord did not appeal to them to do their utmost to allay the fears which stand in the way of the peaceful settlement we all wish so much to see.

12.36 p.m.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I wish first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, on introducing the debate. It is an ancient British tradition accepted over centuries in this noble House for us to do that. On many occasions over the past 10 years I have introduced debates on my own initiative and have been thanked for doing so. That is about all. From then on I have been criticised for everything I have said. Nevertheless, it is remarkable and I hope that we shall never dispense with our old British traditions in this House or anywhere else.

I as saddened by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, about Ernest Bevin. Many noble Lords will recall that he was described by Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill during the war years as "my massive Minister of Labour". Later on, after the war, I was closely associated with Ernest Bevin in this place when it was used by the other place. We can all recall his pathological hatred of communism. He went on to create what we know as NATO.

The contribution of Ernest Bevin to the creation of NATO and his contribution as Winston Churchill's great Minister were remarkable. If Churchill and Bevin had not been successful and NATO had not been created we would not be here discussing events in Israel and the Arab world. There certainly would not have been an Israel to argue about. Let us be frank and honest. We may disagree with what is said by people who introduce a debate, but we are provided with the opportunity to criticise everything they say.

I also find these debates somewhat poignant and sorrowful. I can remember when Nazism was growing in the mid-1930s. Some of us from the South Wales trade unions went to Germany to see what was going on and came back shocked and horrified at the most appalling form of racialism we had ever heard. We used to like our inter-team quarrels on the rugby field. We still have the Wars of the Roses between Lancashire and Yorkshire on the cricket field. That is why this nation has made the most marvellous contributions to civilised behaviour in the whole world. If only Israel and the Arabs could accept some of our standards, they would live in a much happier land. It makes me sorrowful to recall that trade unionists in Wales and Scotland came down to London—I had never been to London in my life—and at that time a rich former Labour MP had created the blackshirt Fascist movement. Those of us who went to London had been told that many Jewish people lived in the East End of London. They had moved there to escape the terrors of living in some European countries. I must admit that I could have been arrested and might have been sent to gaol for the part I played in an anti-Fascist demonstration. It makes me sorrowful to recall that some laxity was shown towards the blackshirts in that their demonstration was allowed to pass through Gardeners' Corner. I was present on that occasion as I was trying to stop the Fascist demonstration. I was bashed up by the good old British police. The Fascists claimed that they were exercising their right to abuse Jewish people. One does not easily forget such events.

I remember the emotion that was felt after the war when British people realised what appalling crimes had taken place during the war while we were fighting Fascism. The most appalling crime in the history of mankind had been perpetrated against Jewish people. I am talking about the Holocaust. Those crimes might have continued if the British and the American peoples had not made certain that Fascism was wiped off the face of the earth. There was then the new threat of communism to face. Communism is also anti-Semitic, although it is not as overtly anti-Semitic as Fascism. The big contribution made by Ernest Bevin in fighting communism helped to prevent it from overrunning mankind.

I always considered the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, to be a great Foreign Secretary. He described Ernest Bevin as probably the greatest Foreign Secretary ever as he had the foresight to fight to create NATO. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, was right to say that and I am sure that neither the Arab states nor Israel would have existed had it not been for Bevin's great idea of containing the evils of communism. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, put his point of view and I state my British point of view.

Many people refer to Mr. Balfour's letter when they are discussing this subject. I understand that it is a letter, although it is described as a declaration. That letter pointed out quite clearly that the British had promised to provide a home in the Middle East for Jewish people in the land that was then called Palestine. I have read the letter carefully and it insisted that those who already lived in Palestine should not be disturbed in any way. We must remember that Israel is a tiny country. The letter set out which part of the country should be known as Israel and which parts should remain Palestinian. The only people who have broken the terms of the Balfour Declaration and the United Nations decisions are the Israelis.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, I happen to know the Balfour Declaration almost by heart and there is not a word about the area to be covered because at that time the distinction we now have between Palestine, Transjordan and Syria was still in the melting pot. There is no question of any commitment in the Balfour Declaration to a territorial division.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, the Hansard of that time recorded that Lloyd George made a promise to create the state of Israel. That was done. I am glad no noble Lord disagrees with that. When the state of Israel became a reality, the Arab world started talking about driving the Israelis into the sea. That was a stupid attitude to adopt because it was in defiance of a United Nations declaration. The state of Israel was created by the United Nations. In threatening to drive the Israelis into the sea, the Arabs were defying the United Nations.

However, we must not claim that it is only the Arabs who defy the United Nations. One of the saddest events that I can recall is seeing the effects of the Holocaust in Germany. We who come from the valleys of South Wales are fairly tough, but when we witnessed the effects of the Holocaust we could no longer sleep at night. Literally tens of thousands of human beings had been gassed and brutalised. Their crime was that they had selected Jewish parents. The Holocaust is one of the most terrible events that has ever happened. That abomination was caused by European so-called Christians. I know of not one single Arab who was involved in the Holocaust.

Let us consider what can be done to create a balance in the Middle East. I believe the Arabs have realised that their impertinent resolution to drive the Israelis into the sea had to be dropped. We must try to adopt a fair balance in the Middle East. First and foremost we must acknowledge that Israel was created by the United Nations. We cannot say what a wonderful resolution it was that created Israel while claiming that all the other resolutions that seek to defend the Palestinians are not so wonderful. We cannot expect the Palestinian people to accept such declarations. They have a right to their country and a right to exist. I love my country, the Americans love their country and the Israelis love Israel. We would be the greatest hypocrites in the history of mankind if we denied the Palestinians the right to love their country.

Both the noble Lords, Lord Mayhew and Lord Beloff, have said that we must now endeavour to secure peace in the Middle East. Mr. Shamir is a great Israeli politician. In 1940 he was a Polish citizen. I wonder whether he would be alive today if we had not won the Second World War. I believe that that is a fair observation. The same could be said of many others who were Polish citizens in 1940. We achieved great things in the last war and therefore we should be capable of great achievements in the present situation.

We must also acknowledge that it is not always Europeans who cause trouble. The most recent horrible event we have been forced to witness was the attack by an Arab Fascist on another Arab state. We have had to witness the agony that that caused. If we want to prevent similar events occurring in the future, we must stand by United Nations resolutions. I uphold the United Nations resolution that created Israel. I stand by the United Nations Resolutions Nos. 242 and 338 which order the Israelis to return the land they have stolen. If the Israelis do not do that, they will betray the very organisation that created the state of Israel.

I hope those of us who understand some of the problems in the Middle East and who appreciate the contributions made by the Semitic nations will ask Israel to consider its great history and the history of the Arabs. Having done that, they must work together and they must accept criticism as well as praise. They must try to bring about a just peace and to ensure that the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are returned to the Palestinians. The Israelis must adhere to UN resolutions as it was the resolutions of the UN that created the state of Israel. I have spoken to young Israelis and they agree with my belief. If the Israelis did what I suggest, it would be a triumph for both Jews and Arabs and for civilised behaviour in the Middle East. That action would be applauded throughout the entire world.

12.49 p.m.

Lord Weidenfeld

My Lords, I must apologise as I may unavoidably have to leave your Lordships' House for part of the debate. However, I very much hope to return to hear the Minister's reply.

The initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, in holding this debate is both timely and seemly. The fate of the American peace effort in the Middle East hangs in the balance. And, as has been pointed out, the noble Lord himself has truly historic credentials for, while serving Mr. Ernest Bevin at the Foreign Office, he was, as it were, present at the creation of both the United Nations and the state of Israel. Like Mr. Bevin, he had great enthusiasm for the former and a wary scepticism about the latter. For nearly half a century he has endorsed many an Arab and especially the Palestinian cause and been in the vanguard of critical opinion against the Jewish State. I respect his consistency and integrity but, if he will forgive me, I fault his judgment.

The very thrust of the Question my noble friend has put before us is not to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to heal the breach between Arabs and Israelis but how they will secure UN resolutions relating to Israel's occupation—an emotive, contested and controversial word—of the West Bank, Gaza, Golan and South Lebanon. Since the focus is on Israel's action and since it is for Jerusalem now to answer in detail Secretary Baker's invitation to take part in a new pattern of peace talks, it is fitting to look very briefly at today's Middle East from Israel's vantage point.

Israel has been involved in five wars with its Arab neighbours. Twice, in 1948 and 1973, it defended itself against aggression and won; twice, in 1956 and 1967, it struck pre-emptively and won; and once, in the Gulf war, it was attacked and did not defend itself—the crucial question is, did Israel win or lose?

America has scored an overwhelming technological victory, but what of the political dividends? Saddam Hussein still in power, regrouping the Republican Guard and restructuring his army into five mighty corps with such pointedly defiant names as Nebuchadnezzar and Jerusalem—a message which is not lost on the Israeli Government.

Syria has virtually annexed the Lebanon. If the noble Lord asks for Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights and South Lebanon he is virtually saying that Syria's overlordship of the Lebanon must be condoned and the contentious Golan Heights, for 20 years a platform for harassment, infiltration and constant threats to Israeli security, must be surrendered. They must be surrendered to a regime which has little to learn from its fellow Ba'athists in Baghdad about brutality and terror but one which has a great deal to teach them in the art of political histrionics, cunning and patience.

Surely noble Lords will not condemn this or any other Israeli government for being wary of the sudden change of heart on Syria's part. Syria pleaded deprivation and poverty when joining, as a fairly dormant partner, the anti-Saddam alliance. Of the 3 billion dollars it received in aid, about 2 billion dollars has been pledged to North Korea, China and Czechoslovakia for arms of all kinds but especially wide-ranging super-Scuds. Little of that money will land in the pockets of the frugal fellah or the merchant in the bazaar. I believe that the Israeli security zone in South Lebanon should not be evacuated until or unless the future status of Lebanon is clarified within the framework of that comprehensive peace which the United States, the Soviet Union and the Europeans all quite rightly claim to be the ultimate objective.

Nobody doubts that a settlement of the Palestinian question, self-government for the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza, is crucially important. UN Resolution 242 dates from a quarter of a century ago. Much water has flowed under the Jordan bridges since. Yet, while I do not for a moment deny the importance of that document—which owed so much to the ingenuity and masterly imprecision of its drafting by two late Members of your Lordships' House, George Brown and Hugh Caradon—it must be brought up to date and the two elements of Israeli security and Palestinian political self-expression more effectively and substantively correlated.

One of the most important issues is whether Israeli concessions will be effectively matched by iron-clad guarantees, both on the part of her Arab neighbours and the international community. Can one blame Israel for its lack of enthusiasm for an international organisation which still has on its statute book the pernicious resolution that Zionism equals racism? Would Her Majesty's Government willingly submit to a body which has on its records an obscene condemnation of the British monarchy or the Palace of Westminster? The insistence on the part of Israel on separate negotiations with all her Arab neighbours is neither a tactical ploy nor an unreasonable request. In fact, if we remember the events that led to the Camp David peace treaty with Egypt, it was the bilateral nature of the first phase of that peace process—Sadat's visit to Jerusalem—which eventually brought in the United States as the benevolent and effective mediator who helped to clinch a complex negotiation. I believe that it is essential that that procedure is repeated now; that Israel and Syria, Israel and a free Lebanon, Israel and Jordan, with an acceptable Palestinian delegation, should start to negotiate bilaterally and without undue pressure from outside.

There is a great deal of criticism and demonising of the Shamir government from abroad. The received idea is that it is intransigent, obstreperous, feet dragging or plainly uninterested in the removal of the status quo. It is not procedural wranglings or hairsplitting arguments which have caused the Likud government to be so wary. Behind each code word in the negotiating process looms an existential danger to a small beleaguered country. However, there is no doubt that the Israeli government, public opinion and world Jewry crave peace and compromise. Those on the other side of the conflict and those in the background, like the British Government, should have a compassionate understanding of what is at stake for Israel. They should also see the positive aspects.

There is, after all, lying on the table—and it could easily be served up again—Mr. Shamir's plan for negotiations without preconditions leading to an interim agreement on the West Bank and Gaza which would allow the Palestinians far-reaching autonomy, and, towards the end of the interim period, negotiations for the final settlement of that problem to be conducted. There is no way of saying now what that settlement could be. Anything goes.

A few weeks ago Prime Minister Shamir gave, in my view, a significant interview to Le Monde in which, and I hope I am not misquoting him, he said that, while at the outset he would not be willing to trade land for peace, at the very end of the interim period and at the final negotiations his successor and Israeli public opinion might think very differently.

That seems to be an honest approach. Here is a man brought up in an ideology which proclaims that today's Israel and the West Bank were part of that homeland promised to the Jews by the Balfour Declaration of 1917, not to mention the historic biblical claim to the land of Israel from the river to the sea. For such a man it is just as difficult to relinquish willingly part of his patrimony as it might be for a prince of the Roman Church to add a nihil obstat to his signature in an appeal for legitimised abortion. One may not agree with his views but those views are shared by a large part of the Israeli electorate. It is up to us, who wish for compromise and accommodation, to argue and reason and not to condemn dismissively those who have historically arguable and sincerely held beliefs.

I happen to believe that once direct negotiations start between the parties they will take on their own momentum, provided that there is no whiff of the Star Chamber with one nation sitting in the dock and the others sitting in judgment. With those provisos the peace process has a real chance of success.

The question of Palestinian representation has already once proved a stumbling block. Let that not be the case today. I should like to appeal to the Palestinian leaders resident in the West Bank and Gaza to pause and reflect whether the time has not come when they alone should speak for patriotic Palestinians. Men like Faisal al Husseini, Hanna Siniora and Frej, the Christian Mayor of Bethlehem —remarkable men —have all the necessary credentials for leadership, not only on the ground but also on the Middle East and world stage. They should not always refer and defer to Arafat. Can they not distance themselves from the men of Tunis? I say "distance"; I do not say disavow or suggest they befoul their own nests. They should show a degree of realism and statecraft that avoids always hitting the raw nerve of the opponent.

I think that it was Metternich who defined diplomacy as the art of building a ladder for the opponent to climb down gracefully. We need many ladders in the Middle East. Britain and Europe should help to build them and to hold them while the parties step up and down.

A Jordanian-Palestinian delegation is welcome, not only because it allows the Arabs of Palestine to enter the peace process, but because it reintroduces the Jordanian monarch after his self-inflicted banishment from the limelight. It is, after all, in a closer relationship between Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza that the key to a final settlement in that region may well lie.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, referred to the Jewish lobby in the United States. That is a simplistic approach. The Jewish lobby and the power of the Jewish lobby belong to the same bibliography as the protocols of the Elders of Zion. Of course, it is vocal, well-organised and quite important, but it is in no way decisive. The real strength of Jewish support in the United States is in the grass roots, among the people of the United States in the Bible Belt, the Middle West and the Baptist South. That is where the strength of support lies, and why? It is not only for religious reasons or for beliefs that date back to the Bronze Age, but because Israel is the only functioning democracy between the toe of Italy and India and Japan. You have the rule of the law, not the reign of the rack and the terror of the thumbscrew. It is a democratic country. Israel is also liked by the United States because it is a dependable ally and a strategic asset whatever happens, even in a world that ceased to be bi-polar.

I wish to refer also to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, about Jerusalem. I take issue with him. Jerusalem must not only be an undivided city; it is the capital of Israel. I do not say that in any arrogant way. Jerusalem has a twin importance. It is a spiritual shrine and a secular, throbbing, living city. There is no question that Jewish guardianship and stewardship of the holy places has been exemplary. Even the most inveterate critics in the Vatican will tell you that relations on the ground between the Israeli Government and the clergy are exemplary. I have studied this question. I have a particular interest in it and can give chapter and verse to any noble Lord who would like to hear more about it. There is no question that in a settlement the holy places must be guarded, perhaps even internationally reinforced by some kind of Vatican statute under which the flags and banners of the great religions should fly over the great shrines of those religions.

However, the secular city of 500,000 people has a majority of Jewish inhabitants—370,000 out of 500,000 are Jews. In case there is any doubt, never since the days of King David has there been a Jerusalem emptied of Jews, apart perhaps from a short period under the Romans, but that was no more than one generation. Every century can bear witness to a Jewish majority or plurality under any rule. The reason therefore, by any criterion of head counting or democratic reasoning, is that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. However, that does not mean, as the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, pointed out, that in a future settlement Arab interests should not be safeguarded. The great mayor of Jerusalem, that liberal, humanist Mr. Kollek has suggested all kinds of possibilities in which the predominantly Arab boroughs must have a large degree of self-government, education, local police and self-expression in every way. Perhaps I may also say in parenthesis that today, when the press in Beirut is muzzled, the only free press in the Arab world, by standards and criteria of Western ideas of freedom, is in Jerusalem.

It is also simplistic to think that one could so easily deal with this matter. I believe that, in a future, peaceful Middle East, the Arab presence in Jerusalem could be safeguarded in many other ways. It could well be that part of the liaison headquarters of some confederative structure between Israel, Jordan and the West Bank could be in the Arab part of Jerusalem. In other words, why cannot Jerusalem be like Brussels? Brussels is the capital of Belgium and it is the headquarters of NATO and of the European Community.

The latest sticking point—the trade off between freezing of settlements and lifting of the Arab boycott —should be delicately and not robustly approached. Here again, we need our ladder. Can we not bypass principle and focus on practice? Could not the Arab states spontaneously suspend the boycott and Israel shift its priorities to settling Russian Jews in Galilee and in the grossly neglected and underdeveloped Negev? This is the time for subtle and not sledgehammer diplomacy. The British Government have an important part to play. They have the Arabs' confidence and, thanks to Mrs. Thatcher, they have recovered much of their esteem and influence in Jerusalem. The Foreign Secretary has greatly added to it by establishing good relations, indeed a kind of camaraderie, with the engaging and open minded Foreign Minister of Israel, Mr. David Levy. Mr. Hurd has transcended the old, simplistic notion that the essence of British policy in the conflict can be contained in the five word formula: "Pressuring America to pressure Israel". Instead, Mr. Hurd's policy is one of patient reasoning.

In conclusion, perhaps I may cite an ancient Jewish sage who said: "A hero is he who lives for his cause. A greater hero is he who is also ready to die for it. But the bravest hero of them all is he who, risking his life, succeeds in turning an enemy into a friend". My own ambitions are much more modest. I should like to feel that I could turn, by argument and reason, the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, and others who share his views and in their own way sincerely work for peace, from adversaries into benevolent neutrals.

1.6 p.m.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, and I share his views. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, and I were members of the post-war Labour Government. We worked closely with Ernest Bevin in promoting one or two historical events. I regret that we were never able to agree about how to solve the Israel-Arab dispute. I have a long association with the Middle East. I was at the United Nations with Ernest Bevin in 1947 when statehood for Israel was first proposed. With the coming into being of the state of Israel in May 1949, Israel was admitted to membership of the United Nations. The leaders of Israel were desirous of co-operating with the wealthy Arab states in order to build up the prosperity of the Middle East. That was not accepted. The skill and enterprise of the Israelis enabled them to turn the desert into vast areas of arable land and to create forests of grapefruit, oranges and other fruit trees. They also developed an industrial economy.

The failure of the Arabs to recognise the state of Israel meant that, instead of co-operating, the Arabs spent their wealth on buying arms to destroy Israel. The Arab world has the largest arsenal—larger than that of the United States and the Soviet Union, and exceeding the combined military strength of Western Europe. The technical knowledge, enterprise and skill of the Israelis combined with the wealth from the Arabs would have enabled the Middle East to become one 3f the most prosperous areas of the world. The Israelis hoped that peace would come through a negotiated settlement between the parties directly affected, which would involve the recognition of Israel as a nation state.

All hopes were shattered when war broke out in October 1973 when, simultaneously, powerful Egyptian and Syrian forces attacked the Israelis across the Suez Canal and the Golan Heights. The Israelis were taken by surprise. The attack began on the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish year. The Israelis fought back, destroying and capturing most of the Soviet SAM missile sites and re-establishing total air superiority. Eventually a ceasefire was agreed in response to United Nations Security Council resolutions.

In 1970 I addressed the Israeli Youth Parliament in the Knesset. A few years ago I inquired about the well-being of some of them and was told that they had been killed in the fighting in the war of 1973.

Israel is roughly the size of Wales and its major port is within artillery range of the Lebanon. The capital city is almost within artillery range of Jordan. One option decidedly not open to Israel is to take a first blow and then call on the United Nations for assistance.

Resolution 242 was passed by the Security Council after the 1967 war. In essence, it calls for Israeli withdrawal from parts of the occupied territories and Arab recognition of Israel's right to exist within secure borders. United Nations Resolution 338 was passed after the 1973 war and is a reaffirmation of Resolution 242. It calls upon all parties immediately to start after the ceasefire implementing of Resolution 242.

What many observers fail to recognise is that Israel has already gone a long way to implement Resolutions 242 and 338. The Camp David Treaty between Israel and Egypt was an exchange of land for peace. Israel returned all of the Sinai that it had occupied in the 1967 and 1973 wars. That area represents 91 per cent. of the territory that the United Nations asked Israel to vacate. The stumbling block to peace negotiations in the past has been point blank Arab refusal to recognise Israel's right to exist, not Israel's refusal to withdraw from the occupied territories. Israel is willing to comply with Resolution 425, but not at the expense of leaving her northern flank open. If Syria were prepared to make her writ run throughout Southern Lebanon in the same manner as it runs on the Syrian-Golan border, then the conditions would be right for Israel to withdraw. Since the 1975 Israeli-Syrian armistice Syria has diligently prevented any terrorist attacks.

For the first time in many years the present peace efforts undertaken by the United States Secretary of State offer the possibility to break the vicious circle that has prevented progress being made in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

1.15 p.m.

Viscount Tonypandy

My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow my noble friend Lord Bottomley. A quarter of a century ago we served in the same Administration. Bonds of friendship draw me to listen carefully to him. But I share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, that it is a pity that this Motion has been brought before the House today.

The greatest opportunity since Israel was set up now exists to solve the question between Israel and the Arab states. In our debate today we must all try to avoid words that can be used in the war of propaganda in the Middle East. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, did so, as did subsequent noble Lords. I wish that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, was still in the Chamber because I should have preferred to say in his presence what I have to say. I respect his sincerity and I have no doubt of it. Throughout the 46 years that I have known him he has taken a strong pro-Arab line.

Why do I feel involved? The noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, put his finger on the reason and why my blood tingles when the word "Israel" is mentioned. It is not the Israeli lobby. It is the Bible. We fool ourselves if we pretend that in America it is the money of the Jews that turns the wheels of Congress or the Senate. Members of those bodies are as human as the people who serve in the House of Commons and who look to their electorate. They know that that massive Bible belt in the United States of America is fiercely loyal to the establishment of a state of Israel.

Our own heritage owes much to the history of the Jewish people. I in no way wish to hurt people of other religions. However, the debt of this land is not to Moslems; it is to the Christian faith. That is where our origin lies. That is where our parliamentary democracy began, with the emphasis—especially of the New Testament, but linked with the Old Testament —on the importance of every individual. There is not an unimportant person in the land. One can trace that emphasis back to the Old Testament.

Therefore, I am emotionally concerned and believe that that is why America is so closely involved. Our heritage requires the maintenance of Israel. It will be a tremendous achievement if Secretary of State Baker is able to bring together Syria and Jordan for bilateral talks with Israel because other Arab states, in my judgment, will follow once those talks take place. There is bound to be hard bargaining. Mr. Shamir sits on a ridiculous majority. He has to face the facts of his parliament. The realists in the Arab world are well aware of that.

I shall not seek to answer point by point the original arguments that were put before the House because that would stir up controversy. However, I believe in my heart that when the Arab world is able to say, "Yes, of course, Israel has a right to exist"; when the genuine fears of the people who only a few months ago had Scud missiles aimed at them have been allayed; and when they can believe that the Golan Heights will not be used against them, it will be possible for an agreement to be reached. However, it will not be in this House—it will be over there. All that we can do is to pray for wisdom on the part of the negotiators. We must not become agents who will stir up bitterness on either side.

I am in the happy position of having dear Arab friends, as I suppose are most noble Lords. I am very conscious of the Arab lobby in this country. However, my Arab friends are aware of the strong views that I hold about the right of Israel to exist. I believe that today we should salute Mr. Shamir for his courage, but by no means do I share all his views. He happened to be Speaker in Israel when I was Speaker in Westminster and we got to know each other well. Mr. Shamir knows that I used to sit on the Labour Benches. Most people know that and they wonder why I no longer sit there. Tradition has brought me to the Cross-Benches, as your Lordships no doubt understand.

It would be terrible for Mr. Baker's job to be made harder and Mr. Shamir's position made worse as a result of our debate. Surely our job is to realise that it is in the interests of the world that the state of Israel should be recognised and her security guaranteed. She is most unlikely to want to attack the Arabs and thus to disturb the peace of the Middle East.

I wish to conclude by making a specific point. Israel has won each of the wars. She cannot afford to lose one because if she lost one she would be lost for a thousand years. That is the difference between the two sides involved. I hope and pray that Secretary of State Baker and our Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, are successful in helping to bridge the gap between the two sides.

1.23 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I am honoured to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, in this difficult debate. The noble Viscount began by excepting the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, from his praise for for the balanced approach taken by everyone. Towards the end of the noble Viscount's speech he deplored those among us who might be "acting as agents to stir up trouble". The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, was absent from the Chamber during the noble Viscount's speech. I am sure that he did not intend those words to apply to the noble Lord.

The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, was more generous in his attack on the noble Lord's espousal of the Arab position; he said that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, had every right to put the position, and and did so with skill—

Viscount Tonypandy

My Lords, I could not properly hear to what the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, was objecting. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, has now returned to the Chamber. I wish to point out that I was trying to avoid making matters worse.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will be glad to have that clarification.

Under the headline "Israel embraces peace talks" the Independent this morning led with a story about a draft compromise which will bring peace at last. According to the newspaper the compromise is complex, subtle and crucial. It is about Palestinian representation at the peace conference. The only trouble is that it is between Israel and the United States: it is between the militarily most powerful country in the region, given its qualitative advantage, and its extra-regional backer, which is militarily the most powerful country in the world.

That news story was an extreme example of the blinkered tendency to believe that one particular country—the United States—can solve the problems of the world just by being big and powerful whether or not it is immediately concerned with them and, even more so, whether or not it is part of them. The United States cannot solve the Arab-Israel problem; to a large extent it is the Arab-Israel problem.

Let us consider the people conveniently called the Palestinians; the Arabs of what used conveniently to be called Palestine. They come in three parts, do they not? There are those who live in Israel proper; those who live in the lands conquered and illegally occupied by Israel, which include East Jerusalem; and the Diaspora. But they are one people, all of whom now say: "We are the Jews of the Israelis". They cannot develop the coherent and consistent political stances which are second nature to people living in settled nation states, such as us. That is because they cannot communicate freely, they cannot hold convincing elections among themselves and they are continually pushed from pillar to post by this or that upheaval imposed on them from outside.

The latest has been the Gulf war. The Kuwaiti ambassador in Washington recently said of the Palestinians resident in Kuwait: Thousands who have no work will be deported from the country, or will not have their residence permits renewed, because they do not represent a requirement for us". Exactly. Not only are they not a requirement, they are a threat because they are politically educated and they incline to democracy. The Crust rulers of the Gulf states do not like employing non-Gulf Arabs because the latter insist on expressing only too legitimate Arab views. Pakistanis and Filipinos are safer because they have no legitimate views on Arab affairs. When these Palestinians are driven out of Kuwait where are they to go? Are they to go to Jordan? There is no work for them there. Are they to receive any of the money raised for refugees by the Coalition? Or is that impossible because they do not yet have a government to speak for them; or because the United States does not dare to talk to any Palestinians in any event? What will Kuwait be without them? Will the CIA take over, as it did in Laos at one time?

The conference for which we all hope must take into account the Diaspora Palestinians as well as the occupied Palestinians, to give them a short name. They are a single people, just as the Jews were before the foundation of the state of Israel and largely for the same; reason; they dream of a return to their homeland. Like the Jews before them, they have been united by persecution, and, like the Jews before them, a fringe has taken to terrorism. Persecution can be self-reproducing.

The United Nations must be present at the conference. It would be absurd if it were not. The purpose of the conference is to make progress towards the fulfilment of the UN resolutions. It would not be enough if this country and other European countries were represented only in a dilute fashion by the European Community. That arrangement is often desirable, but not here. Our Government and the others are bound singly and individually by the UN resolutions, and that must be reflected in the arrangement of the conference.

The denuclearisation of Iraq has to be the start of the denuclearisation of the Middle East. If it is not, it is no more than interventionism to restore Israel's military supremacy. We must have this out in the open. The British and US Governments take a line which it is difficult to defend in refusing to admit the existence of the Israeli nuclear weapons programme. When our Government are questioned in this House, they simply blush and refuse to answer. The US Administration continue to help Israeli weapons production and to send vast economic subsidies. This puts them in plain breach of their own domestic law which says that no economic aid should be given to a country with a nuclear weapons programme. They observe that law in the case of Pakistan but not in the case of Israel. Those questions, as our Government will be quick to point out, are for the US Administration. But do our Government have to go along with this ill-judged US policy? Do they ever wonder whether Mr. Bush and Mr. Baker might not even welcome more pressure from Europe?

The Government are in any case bound not only by the Venice Declaration but by the statements made by their representatives in the Security Council on 4th August 1949 and again in 1950, in which they: declared their opposition to the development of an arms race between the Arab States and Israel". Yet they have solicitously nourished, even presided over, various arms races in the area. What is our interest in ensuring that Israel must always hold a decisive military edge over all its neighbours? This, together with the occupations, has been the most potent cause of the trouble in the Middle East. The US will always provide Israel with more weapons or more money. The Arrow programme is a famous case at the moment. The US applies no pressure: it only offers aid and advice. The aid is taken and the advice rejected.

We all know—and the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, mentioned it in opening the debate—of the diligent work of the Israeli lobby not only in Washington but nationwide in the US. However, if one looks at the details, there is nothing really so terrible about it. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, spoke convincingly on this point. There is nothing that could not be countered by a robust government, or even by another lobby. It seems at the moment as if there is a powerful unknown hold. Do the Israeli Government know too much, for instance, about the Iran-Contra scandal, to he denied anything they want?

Sometimes we have heard that the resolution of Middle East problems should reflect the military balance there. But that balance, which is an imbalance, has been created over the years by the US. An Israel that believes it can win a war will not seek peace very arduously. It will prefer to go on like this for ever.

Have the Government discussed the desirability of the US re-opening its doors to Soviet Jews? This action alone would do more to help peace in the area than the present combination of dynamic immobilism in the Jerusalem regime and pussyfooting in Washington. Most of these emigrants do not want to go to Israel, but they provide Israel with the excuse for building in the occupied territories and thus perpetuating Arab fears.

The Palestinians are now going to reactivate their 100-strong Central Council and will perhaps institute a provisional government, with strands of opinion represented. This is a delicate moment to do that, and there is maximum danger of all the wires getting crossed. I say no more about that, except that if Mr. Arafat is elected president of a provisional Palestinian Government before the existence of a Palestine state, we should remember him not only for his all too well known actions in the terrorist phase in the past, his well-known statements about it and his well-known evasiveness on occasions, but we should also remember that he went to the European Parliament and said: I extend my hand and hope an Israeli de Gaulle will grasp it". Since the Gorbachev revolution there has been a handsome new development in the world; that is, people have remembered the grace of apology. Everybody is now apologising for what they did to other people—Chancellor Kohl to Israel and Czechoslovakia; President Havel to the Sudeten Germans; and Mrs. Thatcher to Czechoslovakia. Perhaps it will not be too long before somebody—and I do not know who should start it—will apologise to the expelled and oppressed Palestinians.

My purpose in speaking as I have done is to urge the Government to look honestly at the facts of the situation. (By that I do not mean that they have been looking at them dishonestly; that was an ill chosen word.) I urge them to look openly and squarely at the facts of the situation to see whether they do not believe it deserves an independent British policy.

1.37 p.m.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, and my noble friends Lord Weidenfeld and Lord Tonypandy, I believe that this debate—I put this as delicately as possible—is unfortunately timed. Indeed, it is an unfortunate coincidence that your Lordships' House should debate such a matter at the very time that the peace process is at its most delicate.

Before I address my remarks to your Lordships, as I am often asked to declare an interest, I declare a couple of non-interests. I am not a Zionist, although I have many close friends in Israel, and I am not an Arabist, although I have many close friends in the Arab world many of whom are Palestinians. Therefore, I have no axe to grind whatever in the dispute.

However, I claim to know a little about security and strategy and a little about the psychology of those responsible for making plans for their own national security. I suggest that although the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, was put in civilised and reasonable terms perhaps he has ignored the psychology of the Israeli approach and, indeed, may be commenting upon it in a way which is too neutral and analytical.

I should like to concentrate on the aspect of military security but first, in the interests of intellectual clarity, I make two points. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, said in his speech that the Unstarred Question refers to United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338. It is worth pointing out for the sake of the record that those resolutions make no reference at all to the West Bank, Gaza, Golan or South Lebanon. One noble Lord has already pointed out that Resolution 338, made after the 1973 war, is in a sense only a call to observe Resolution 242 which came after the 1967 war.

Those resolutions call, first, for a, just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security". Then come the words upon which the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, spent a certain amount of time: Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict". It is wise that we remember those words exactly; they were framed and formulated exactly. I was a Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office when Resolution 242 was formulated and adopted. It is not a matter of semantic quibbles. It is noticeable that the resolution does not call for the withdrawal of Israel from all territories occupied after the 1967 war.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, pointed out that in the English version the definite article "the" is omitted, whereas it is not omitted in other languages. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, knows perfectly well that in other languages—for example, French—without the definite article the sentence becomes meaningless. It would not exist in the French language. This was a deliberate piece of drafting and the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, may recall that in December 1969, a short while after the resolution had been adopted, George Brown—later Lord George Brown—said in the House of Commons: The omission of the word 'all' before the word territories is deliberate". That was further elaborated upon by the late Lord Caradon when he said: It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its position of June 4th 1967 because those positions were undesirable and artificial". The noble lord, Lord Caradon, was instrumental in the drafting and formulation of Resolution 242.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord would allow me to intervene. I entirely agree with him. I believe that in my speech I said that the English version allowed for the rectification of frontiers, which is what Lord Caradon had in mind. I thought that was a very good idea.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, as I hope I have made clear. I am simply pointing out that the wording was deliberate at the time and it is not a matter of the wording in English. The wording of the resolution was framed in that way whatever other language it was translated into.

I wonder why Lord Caradon said that the pre-1967 position was undesirable and artificial. That leads me to the basic Question. It rests upon Israel's perception of its security position. It is difficult for anyone who has not spent some time in Israel and studied its defence problems to appreciate what the pre-1967 position really means to Israel.

When we looks at the position in the Middle East, instead of calmly and rationally analysing these problems—as, of course, we are entitled to do—but putting ourselves in the position of an Israeli, what does he see as he looks about now? First, what do the Israelis see among the armed forces of their potential enemies? I speak as I have often mentioned before, not about the intentions of their enemies—which are dubious and changeable—but about the military capabilities of their enemies which are much more clearly estimated.

It is difficult to assess the strength and the threat posed by Iraq after the recent events in the Gulf. However, we know that Iraq was, and still is, attempting to gain a nuclear weapons capability. We know that the Scud attacks on Israel at the time of the Gulf war left a deep scar on the psychological make-up of the people of Israel. We may know that at the moment the Government of Iraq and the people of Iraq are in a depressed and demoralised state after the event; in the Gulf; but we do not know what will happen to Iraq in the future. That was not one of the results of our actions in the Gulf.

The Israelis see Saudi Arabia with 72,000 men under arms and a great deal of modern equipment bought from around the world. They see Syria with nearly half a million men under arms with surface-to-surface missiles, including the Scuds that landed on Israel during the recent war and with modern submarines and modern Soviet missile craft capable of striking from the sea against the territory of Israel. A little further away they see Libya, again with over 70,000 men under arms. They see Jordan with 80,00 men under arms. In the Lebanon they see the PLO and the militia.

What in fact an Israeli sees, irrespective of what we may see from outside, is nearly 1 million men under arms in governments which have said from time to time that they are committed to the destruction and removal of Israel from the map of the Middle East. That must be taken into account when we consider the motives of Israel in taking the attitude that it takes towards the occupied territories. We may discount the threats to Israel and have good reason for doing so, but Israel security planners must plan on the worst case scenario. They must take account of the possibility that at some time in the future those countries may attack Israel, either severally or collectively, and that it must be in a position to defend itself.

The situation would be different if Israel were within borders, as it is now, that provide sufficient warning time of attack and it had space to place it beyond effective artillery, missile and surprise attack range. Bearing that in mind, if we look at the pre-1967 frontiers—again through the eyes of the Israelis—what do they see? Let us take those areas in the order in which the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, placed them in his Question. What do they see on the West Bank should they return to the pre-1967 frontiers? They see once again Jerusalem on the border and probably divided. They see Tel Aviv within artillery and missile range. They can stand on the 1967 frontier, which runs through the middle of their territory at the moment, and see Lod airport six miles away—an international airport with aircraft landing on it.

From the village or town of Tulkarm—again on the border as it was in 1967—to the Israeli coastal town of Netanya is a distance of eight miles. A straight concrete highway lies between the two. As an Israeli sees the position, armoured divisions attacking them from the pre-1967 frontiers could cut the country in two ii a matter of hours.

What do the Israelis see in Gaza? Perhaps they see no immediate danger. But they will recall that at one time it was a traditional base for terrorist operations against Israel. That will certainly be in the back, if not the front, of their minds. What do they see when they look at the Golan Heights? They see that to give those up without some kind of security guarantee would again bring towns in the north of Israel within artillery range. They will remember that before the battle for the Golan Heights in 1967 Syrian artillery deployed on the Heights destroyed hundreds of Israeli houses and hundreds of acres of Israeli farmland. Finally, what do the Israelis see in South Lebanon. They see what they and many other people refer to as "Fatahland"; it is the main area of Palestinian terrorist mobilisation and training.

I ask the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, and others, to believe that it is not paranoia, though it is fair to remember that Henry Kissinger once said that even paranoiacs have real enemies. It is true to say that most of us would perceive that Israel has real enemies. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, also to concede that Israel has, in response to Resolutions 242 and 338, already withdrawn from over 90 per cent. of the territory referred to in Resolution 242. I believe that it would be totally unreasonable for anyone who even remotely understands the requirements of national military security to expect Israel to give up the rest without some certainty that it can live, as Resolution 244 says, under a, just and lasting peace in which every state in the area can live in security".

Lord Kennet

My Lords, as regards Resolution 242, the noble Lord has just said that Israel had already retreated from 90 per cent. of the area referred to in that resolution. Does he take that resolution to have been referring to the areas held by Israel at their greatest extent during the course of the 1967 war, as opposed to the areas held by them immediately after it?

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, I was referring to the areas from which, after the Egyptian initiative, Israel withdrew. They are part of the area mentioned generally in Resolution 242. That represents 90 per cent. of the area which they occupied as a result of the military operation.

It is all very well for those of us who live a different kind of life to talk about other people guaranteeing the security of Israel. That has been mentioned on more than one occasion in the debate. I wonder whether we really understand what it is like to live in a small country like Israel surrounded by people who are apparently and openly dedicated to your destruction. I wonder how we would react if we were in similar circumstances and people spoke to us about the United Nations guaranteeing our security. I believe that our answer would be a very dusty one indeed. It does not surprise me that the Israelis take a similar view.

I believe that there is now greater hope for the success of the peace process in the Middle East than there has ever been—certainly in my experience. In the course of the negotiations, which will certainly take place before a lasting peace can be achieved, it is possible and even probable that territory may be given up for security. As far as I am aware no Israelis have ever made any statement about what they are prepared to concede in the course of the negotiations. I and many of my Israeli friends expect them to give up territory in order to achieve a lasting peace. I believe that the bottom line (to use a piece of financial jargon in this calculation) is simply this: anyone who expects Israel to give up its territory and security in advance of the negotiations is being neither reasonable nor realistic.

1.53 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I am not among those who wish to withhold the customary congratulations and appreciation from the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew. I believe that those noble Lords who did so have been condemned, as it were, out of their own mouths because the debate has given them the opportunity of making quite impressive speeches in support of the views which they hold. Therefore, to withhold the customary congratulations from the noble Lord was misguided.

Of the speeches to which I have referred, the one that impressed me most was delivered by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. He recognised the change which has taken place in world opinion in recent times. Despite everything and the Gulf war, one has seen a gradual removal of sympathy from Israel towards the Palestinians. There has been some talk of consistency. The noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, pointed to the consistency of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew. He said that he has held the same view ever since he worked with Mr. Bevin, when he was Foreign Secretary. I have no doubt that that is the same, though with some modification. However, consistency has also been seen on the other side. Consistency has been my curse also in political life.

However, on this particular issue I cannot claim that at all, I have been quite inconsistent. I had been tempted to give noble Lords some personal history on the point but for the fact that this morning there came to my notice the report of the Foreign Affairs Committee entitled The Middle East After the Gulf War. There has been some criticism of the wording of the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew. I point out that it is a Question and not a resolution. In any event, it is my guess that if the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, had seen this document before he tabled his Question (he probably did not see it much before I did) he might have used a different wording. It is a remarkable document. It records the removal of sympathy, to which I have just referred, from Israel towards the Palestinians as being held by an All-Party Committee of the other place. That is something to which we should pay a little more attention.

One is tempted to take up judicial attitudes. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, has given an example of that. To hold the views that one has always held is not something which is happening to the public at large. They are moving on this and I have moved with them. I shall not bore your Lordships with the reasons behind it. Before the war I was a member of a body called, I believe, Paole Zion. With the foundation of Israel I became a member of Labour Friends of Israel. That continued until I went to Israel in 1975 with a group which included Gerald Kaufman and myself.

One of the features of the tour was rather strange. Kaufman and myself were at the time junior Ministers in the Government. When the tour reached the point where it was more convenient when travelling from north to south of the country to pass through the occupied territories of the West Bank, the rest of the party went by coach from north to south through those territories. However, as far as we were concerned, because we were junior Ministers, we travelled by taxi through Israel because it was thought, so I understood, that for junior Ministers to have gone through the occupied territories would have been to give a degree of recognition to that occupation. Therefore, we went round by taxi and met our colleagues at the other end. I managed to have some conversation with Arab mayors in Israeli-occupied towns. In general they seemed to me to be brave and well-balanced men.

Fifteen years ago I saw much that I admired in Israel. I also realised that arithmetical democracy meant that power would rest in the hands of the extreme right, as the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, has pointed out. In practice, proportional representation would place power in the hands of the smallest proportion rather than in the hands of the large majority. That is what has occurred in that case. It meant that Jewish religious fanaticism was built up and given influence to match Islamic fundamentalism. No peace can be found that way.

Labour Friends of Israel, right or wrong? No. Friends of Labour Israel, yes. But we will not help those in Israel who oppose the extension of their country's boundaries beyond their legal limits if we permit our sympathy to blind us to the fact that collectively the persecuted have become the persecutors. It is that fact which has affected public opinion on the matter more than anything else.

Perhaps part of the answer might be found in the Security Council proposal that the Middle East shall emulate the South Pacific and become a nuclear-free zone. The Government have declared themselves in favour of such a zone if, as the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish, said in his Written Answer to me this week, it is designed to enhance regional peace and security and if such a zone is acceptable to all states in the region".—[Official Report, 23/7/91; col. WA47.] He went on to suggest that they should all accede to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and place their nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards.

Israel is now beginning to show—and I am happy to say this—a readiness to at least begin to talk about peace. The outlook, if the present approach towards negotiations does not succeed, will be grim. At present it is not hopeless. Nations do shed mistaken policies. Who would have thought, until quite recently, that apartheid in South Africa would have become so generally out of fashion that only a minority of whites still publicly espouse it? Standing alone may be seen as heroic in the short run, but it is not permanent practical politics for Israel in the world of the 1990s. We must all hope that the current moves towards peace may see at least the shape of a possible solution which will mean that the United Nations resolutions can be given friendly treatment. If they are not, we face the possibility that enforcement by sanction might inevitably come upon the agenda.

I turn now to the document to which I referred. When I looked at the membership of the committee I thought it was going to be another pro-Israeli affair. I could not have been more mistaken. That was far from being the case and it is illustrative of the change of movement of opinion to which I have referred. I can do no more than take a couple of points from the conclusion. The committee says that: The British Government should make strong representations to the Israeli authorities about the ill-treatment of an increasing number of Palestinians". It continues, We believe that, more than anything else, the settlement policy calls into question the good faith of the Israeli government over negotiations". Paragraph 5.10 of the report quotes Secretary Baker telling a committee of Congress: Nothing has made my job of trying to find Arab and Palestinian partners for Israel more difficult than being greeted with a new settlement every time I arrive". It goes on: We believe that, more than anything else, the settlement policy calls into question"— as I have just quoted— the good faith of the Israeli government over negotiations". That change of mind which has taken place over the years is one which has not affected me alone; it has affected a number of opinions on the subject. Therefore, we have to ask ourselves what we can do to ensure that the moves towards peace in the Middle East are successful.

We have been given another example of the fact that war between nations seldom has any worthwhile results and can even reinforce that which it seeks to remove. This time a peaceful solution must be found which will enable Israel to return in security to the path which so many of us hoped for when I was young and idealistic, many years ago. I believe that we are approaching that path. I believe that possibility exists, provided that the Prime Minister of Israel can overcome the very great internal difficulties he has and provided that the United States is prepared to use a certain amount of pressure in the matter. That would, in my view, be entirely legitimate. Above all, we have to realise the extent of the disaster if we fail to bring peace into the Middle East—a disaster which might spread much wider than that area. We have to persist and do everything we can to facilitate the successful outcome of the present discussions. There is no other way.

2.5 p.m.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, whom I first met some 35 years ago when he came to Bristol to speak at a meeting of an organisation called Victory for Socialism. I have no quarrel with that because I was a member myself and I chaired the meeting. However, I do not go too far down the road of admiring him as an expert in interpreting moods and shifts in public opinion, because soon after, in the development of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament he was one of the foremost advocates of the voter's veto, which was a bizarre idea that one threatened every candidate that if they did not renounce nuclear weapons then the vote would not be given to them. I believe that that was idealism getting the better of realism.

Together with other noble Lords I feel that the timing of this Question by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, is infelicitous. I believe the statesmanlike thing to have done would have been to withdraw it from the Order Paper. Nevertheless, we are faced with it and as has been said—

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me, it is my experience that in the view of the Israeli lobby whenever I speak about Palestine it is the worst possible moment and that today, when their arguments are rejected by every government in the world except Israel, is the worst possible moment of all.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, there are circumstances when, one is told, it is the worst possible moment. I think of salary increases for Members of Parliament, increases in councillors' allowances and so on. However, the noble Lord has spoken on many occasions about this subject. Indeed, on 21st October 1981, soon after he came to your Lordships' House, he took part in a Question on the funding of the PLO. He has a long track record and I am sure that the worst moment argument cannot have been put to him on every occasion.

Yassir Arafat commented recently on the starvation among some of the Palestinians in Israel. One should consider that point. One of the consequences of his espousal of Saddam Hussein during the Gulf conflict was that very substantial funds to him were cut off by some Arab governments, including Kuwait itself. The extent of those funds was quite surprising. Over the years far more funds could have been made available to alleviate conditions in the Palestinian camps, but I believe that a cynical view was taken that those conditions should be retained almost as visual aids to support the Palestinian cause. That sort of behaviour is not unknown. It happened in Bristol when consultants wanting to get the eye hospital rebuilt actually conspired among themselves to keep the waiting room and the public access rooms in a disgusting condition in order to improve their cause.

As a former Foreign Office Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, must have a broad view of the problems in the world. I sometimes wonder about his extreme concentration on this particular one. I am sure that he would denounce the pernicious efforts being made in some quarters at the moment to say that the holocaust never actually took place. I know that he himself was very early into the concentration camp at Belsen at the end of the war. I should like to hear some of the advocates of the Arab cause being more vociferous in their condemnation of the assassination of moderate Palestinians who show any signs of co-operating with the Israeli authorities. Those moderate Palestinians are very soon put to death.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, was a member of the Labour Party for a long time. In his autobiography, Time to Explain, he describes how, with regard to his breach with the party, the final straw was Tony Benn's chairmanship of an official party committee on the media. The person concerned is now the Member of Parliament for Chesterfield. The noble Lord goes on to describe the unrepresentative nature of that committee. In this connection I must say that I am wholeheartedly in agreement with him because one of the things I managed to disinter during my time as Chief Whip of the Labour Party was the unrepresentative nature of the committees producing Labour's policy. The noble Lord will know that I have had my own difficulties with the Left Wing of the Labour Party.

The noble Lord made great play about the Israeli lobby not only here but also in the United States. That was put into greater perspective by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. I wonder whether the noble Lord has ever thought about the people with whom he has associated in embracing the Palestinian cause so vehemently. Quite apart from the Campaign Group of Labour MPs in another place, Militant is a most vociferous exponent of the Palestinian cause. Militant is very topical in the Labour Party at the moment—or possibly out of the Labour Party shortly. Another great advocate is the Socialist Workers Party and the Workers Revolutionary Party. I frequently used to examine the publications of the latter two. So widespread was the coverage of Palestinian issues, including double page features, that I used to wonder whether funds were being provided for those revolutionary bodies from Palestinian sources in order to get that support. I was never able to unravel the matter, although my suspicions were not allayed. I ask the noble Lord to think about those bedfellows. Some of their support has been for reasons other than a genuine interest in the people concerned. I have spoken in the House before about the Israeli destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor. I feel that that was for the benefit of everyone concerned in trying to prosecute the recent Gulf war.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, has a long record of pressing for electoral reform. I ask him to consider the fact that Israel is the only democratic state in the entire region. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in talking about Kuwait and the Palestinians, said that some Palestinians were regarded as dangerous because they inclined towards democracy there. In line with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, in saying that the Likud Government rely on a small minority of almost fanatical people, is giving a hostage to fortune for those who are trying to propagate proportional representation. One of the main arguments that some of us have always put forward against proportional representation is that it destroys the possibility of really stable government. I hope that the noble Lord does not get into trouble on the electoral front with his friends and colleagues in due course.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, will my noble friend allow me to intervene?

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

Yes, my Lords, of course.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I feel that I must respond to that because the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, is apparently not going to do so. The House will be aware that the Israeli system of proportional representation is unique in the world in that there is only one constituency: and that is the state of Israel. It is pure party list. I hope that the House is also aware that no one has ever suggested the adoption of that system in this country.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I do not want this exchange to develop into a commercial for and against particular electoral systems. The subject is far too serious for that. However, I understand the point made by my noble friend Lord Kennet.

Israel is a country with immense problems. At present, about one third of a million Russian Jews are being assimilated, not to mention the Ethiopian Jews who have been brought into the country. I think that they deserve more sympathy from some of their critics than they are receiving. There is an easing in the situation at the moment which is why I think this debate is unfortunate, especially in regard to Syria. The whole problem encompasses a number of much smaller but very difficult problems which come to light from time to time. Only yesterday I was given information by Mrs. Miriam Baumel regarding her son and other Israeli soldiers who are still held hostage. However, I need not weary the House with this because details have been sent to the Prime Minister and to the Foreign Secretary. But I can supply the Minister with further information if necessary.

In conclusion, there is a better opportunity for making progress on the peace front than has been the case for a long time. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, to recognise that fact, to adopt a more conciliatory approach to the problem and to consider very carefully the points which have been made today, especially those made by some of my colleagues who have put their arguments much more clearly and succinctly than I have.

2.16 pm.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, unlike many other noble Lords, I welcome the debate today. It seems to me to be taking place at a reasonably appropriate time. By coincidence, it happens to be taking place immediately after the publication of the Select Committee report from another place on the Middle East. Moreover, it is at a time when matters in the Middle East are showing signs of movement such as have not been seen for a considerable length of time. Therefore, I think that it is appropriate to put this on the agenda so that before the Summer Recess the Government have the opportunity to say what their position is in the present circumstances. That does not seem to me to be unreasonable.

At the beginning of the year I had the good fortune to travel to Israel. I visited the Knesset and the West Bank and Gaza with my right honourable friend Sir David Steel. We returned two days before the breakout of war with Iraq. We came back with a sense of deep frustration—a frustration which was transmitted to us largely by the people we met in the refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza. While in Israel, we spoke to many Palestinians as well as to members of the Knesset on all sides of the political spectrum. We spent some considerable time telling the Palestinians how foolish and crassly stupid we believed Yassir Arafat had been to put his arms around the neck of Saddam Hussein. That view has clearly turned out to be right. By doing that he undermined the cause of the Palestinians more than any other person in recent times and more than by any other single act.

However, we also met other Palestinians leaders in Israel. The noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, who has now quitted the occupied territories behind our Benches, mentioned that there were people (like Faisal al Husseini, whom we met) who might be the sort of people with whom a deal could be negotiated. Unfortunately Mr. Shamir has made it quite clear that Faisal al Husseini is not acceptable because he lives in East Jerusalem. I hope that he will move from that position and that that will be one of the beginnings of the movement which we have seen take place during the past few days.

One of the matters which, unfortunately, has not really been dealt with too much in this debate is the plight of the people living in the refugee camps. However, it was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Cock of Hartcliffe. He seemed to me to be rather denying that the problems there are as great as I believe them to be.

I turn to a point made by the noble Lord who said that no one ever speaks out about the Palestinian moderates who have been killed by the extremists. I rise to that challenge now. It is greatly to be condemned. The Select Committee report makes it plain that some 400 Palestinians have been killed by other Palestinians. That is grotesque. The report also mentions that 900 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis during the same period. That is equally grotesque.

We are talking about people who, because of the stupidity of their leadership at the time of the Iraq war, have been made to suffer even worse economic hardship. But it is an economic hardship imposed on the people in the occupied territories by what, so far as they are concerned, is a military dictatorship.

I do not deny that the state of Israel is the only democracy in that part of the world. It is greatly to be applauded for that. It is greatly to be welcomed, and it must be sustained along with the belief that Israel should have secure borders. Its democracy is something of which it can be proud, but it does not extend into the territories that it has occupied. There, the law is based upon at least four separate sources of law, including British military law from when we were in occupation. The economic plight of those people is magnified by those laws.

I have a report from the Co-ordinating Committee of International NEOs which was published at a press conference in June this year in which it is said: Like all Palestinians, business people have been forced to operate and live under a repressive military occupation for more than 24 years. They are subjected to a dizzying maze of administrative orders and practices that combine to produce a hostile, uncertain and unstable environment. The cumulative result is economic stagnation, unemployment and destitution". In a press statement issued a few days before that meeting it was reported that, approximately 35 per cent. of the Palestinian workforce is unemployed and that in a number of West Bank refugee camps, the figure is as high as 70%. Furthermore, it is estimated that 80% of all Palestinians in the occupied territories are currently living below the poverty line". There is much more of that which I do not propose to parade before your Lordships. In talking about peace for territory, we are not talking just about land; we are talking about people who are living in those territories.

Not much has been said today about the Israeli settlement policy, but that it is because of considerable aggravation in that part of the world. It is in flagrant violation of United Nations resolutions and of the wishes of the United States and the European Community. One recognises that there are intense pressures upon Israel because of the immigration of people from the Soviet Union. One is glad that those people can escape from the tyranny under which they lived for so long. One only hopes that their coming to freedom does not increase the tyranny being imposed upon the Palestinians who already live there.

The debate has been very much like the curate's egg, but not without some hope. Even those people who most vehemently opposed the position of my noble friend Lord Mayhew have held out some hope for the future. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, who started in a less than friendly way moved into a position of being positive. That was an important contribution to the debate, and in itself almost made it worthwhile. I thought what the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said about Jerusalem was extremely helpful. It is the kind of constructive proposal that one wishes to hear from all sides if we are to solve this difficult situation.

I felt at first that the assessment by the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, that Resolution 242 needed updating, was a means of sliding away from the imperative of the resolution, but again it seemed to me that he softened his tone in the course of his speech. However, he went back to the old situation of wanting bilateral talks. The problem with that is that the Palestinians are left out on every occasion. That is why there is a need for the process, which we hope is beginning, of having true regional discussions with the Palestinians represented in some way or other. I can well understand that the Israeli Government do not wish to sit down at the table with some of the more violent terrorists who exist in the Palestinian community. However, they must not turn their backs on others like Faisal al Husseini, Sari Nuseibieh and people like them who are capable of carrying on a rational and positive discussion with them.

I turn to what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said. His was a useful contribution, looking at the situation through Israeli eyes. As he said, it is difficult to do so from here. He gave a true picture of the way in which the Israelis find themselves looking at the position around them. It must have been made worse by the firing of Scud missiles into Israel during the war. Again, one must commend the Israelis for their calm stance during that period and not for reacting with counterviolence. That is very much on the credit side for the Israeli Government.

However, I couple with that what the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, quite rightly said: Israel cannot afford to lose one war. The danger is that if the present situation continues, sooner or later Israel will lose that one war. The only way in which it can prevent that terrible eventuality is to come to the peace table and discuss all the issues which go to make this bizarre jigsaw puzzle.

Thus, although I recognise the point made so well by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, somehow one must find a way of showing the Israeli people that they are not secure in the present situation. Those pieces of land which they have occupied do not make a great strategic difference to their security; they may make some minor tactical improvement to to but with Scud missiles coming from as far away as Iraq, they must surely begin to realise that the kind of wars fought in the 1960s and 1970s are not the kind of wars that will be fought next time.

Now is an opportunity, a chance, for the Israelis to get peace into their hands. The whole balance of power in the Middle East has changed because of what has happened in the Soviet Union. No longer do we have two superpowers using the Middle East as a secondary battleground. Syria has clearly seen the writing on the wall. I understand the point that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, made. One cannot blame the Israeli Government for being cynical about President Assad as he is clearly a wily gentleman. Israel would need some very firm assurances before trusting President Assad very far. However, we must bear in mind that President Assad must feel that, with the Soviet Union in decline, his political position is very much more exposed than it was only a couple of years ago.

When we came away from Jordan on 13th January we were frustrated and depressed. However, at that stage we said there may be a glimmer of hope that out of the war there may come the opportunity for a new initiative, provided that the Americans were prepared to seize it. We have read over the past few days—and in this morning's newspapers—of the activities of Secretary of State Baker and there appears to be the beginnings of a reaction from Mr. Shamir. This Question is really asking the British Government what they will do to sustain, encourage and develop that process.

2.31 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, was quite right to say that it is a convention of the House to start one's speech by commenting that the debate is timely. One then thanks the noble Lord who has introduced it. If one were engaged in negotiations at this precise moment, one would be tempted to say that this is not a particularly timely debate. I bow to your Lordships' superior wisdom, but I do not think that an excursion into the labyrinths of the Middle East in the House of Lords late on a Thursday afternoon on the final day of the Session will have any direct effect upon the way in which the participants in the negotiations will conduct themselves. But it may be of somewhat greater importance for the Minister who is to reply to the debate to state something that is earth shattering or cataclysmic as regards British foreign policy. Such a statement might indeed have an effect on the negotiations. But if the Minister will forgive me for saying so, I do not expect to hear anything that is earth shattering or cataclysmic in his reply this afternoon.

However, to wander round the course as we have done does no harm whatever. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, was unnecessarily bleak in his appreciation of the situation. I understand that he has been considering these matters in great detail and with great interest over a long period of time. However it is a little pessimistic merely to say that if the Israelis settle this issue, all they will do is to raise another difficulty, and then further difficulties after that. In any event, even if that were to occur, that is precisely the situation that we shall have to deal with. The negotiations over Namibia with the South African Government and the United Nations come to mind in this connection. We thought the matter was settled, then something else arose; we thought that matter had been settled, and then something else arose. I have no doubt that the process of negotiation in arriving at a solution of the relations between Israel and its Arab neighbours will be infinitely more lengthy, difficult and painstaking than any negotiations that took place with the South Africans over Namibia. We should not be depressed at the prospect of a large number of hurdles that we shall have to leap.

The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, made an impressive contribution to our debate. He said that there must be a query about whether President Assad has really had a change of mind. It does not matter to me whether he has had a change of mind or not. What I want out of President Assad is not a conversion, either on the road to Damascus or in Damascus, but rather a direct appreciation of where Syria's future interests lie. One can produce a perfectly respectable argument for claiming that all the parties that are now inching their way towards negotiations are doing so for thoroughly bad reasons. The Syrians could be negotiating because they have lost the protection of the Soviet Union by seeking to give more support to the Americans.

I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, gave the United States sufficient credit for the pressure that it is putting on Israel at the moment. The Israelis could be negotiating because they fear the loss of their 10 billion dollar credit from the Americans. The Jordanians could be negotiating because presumably the King wants to get back into the international arena after the mistakes he made over the Gulf. Lebanon could be negotiating because it has been told to do so by the Syrians. None of them has particularly creditable motives, but that is not the point. The important point is not the motivation but where the interests lie. If the national interests of those four countries, or sets of countries, combine in such a way as to produce a negotiating framework, that is something we should welcome heartily.

The noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, who made an important contribution to the debate, said that this was a time for sensitive rather than sledgehammer diplomacy. I totally agree with that. However, he went on to call for the bringing up to date of Resolution 242. I can imagine nothing which would be more destructive of the negotiating process than that we should re-open that can of worms. Ernest Bevin has been quoted frequently in this debate. When the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, made that point I was reminded that Ernie Bevin, when asked whether he would consider a particular line, is supposed to have said, "No, I am not going to open that Pandora's Box. You never know how many Trojan horses will come out". The masterly imprecision of Resolution 242 is something that we should preserve and not try to erode.

I am afraid that I did not have the advantage of listening to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, but I have had a full report of what he said. I can only say, from the report that I have had, that apart from some of his remarks about the efficacy of the United Nations in a difficult international situation I find myself in considerable agreement with him—was that a bad report.?

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, I do not believe that at any stage in my speech did I cast doubts or aspersions on the ethics of the United Nations, either directly or by implication. I fear that there has been bad reporting.

Lord Richard

My Lords, one should never rely entirely on instructions which come from behind one.

In a sense this has been a strange debate and we find ourselves in a strange situation. We are very much spectators of what is happening in the Middle East. We are not actors and we are not direct participants. Event; appear to be moving very quickly. Therefore, we lock to the Minister to give us an up-to-date appreciation of how the Government see the current situation. I see that as the Minister's main function in this debate.

Given the moves which are currently under way I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, that I doubt the desirability or efficacy of immediate attempts by the United Nations Security Council to take enforcement action. Anything that the UN can do to assist the process now under way is thoroughly desirable, but to try to move the centre of activity to New York at this precise moment would not necessarily be very productive.

The United Nations is bound to be involved in the process. In the end some form of peace-keeping force or international guarantee commitment through the UN will prove to be inevitable, but it should be part of the peace process and not outside it.

A number of questions come to mind which will be very difficult to answer. The first question which the House is entitled to ask is for the Government's assessment of the real intention of the Israeli Government. The quite extraordinarily and unexpectedly helpful position recently expressed by President Assad of Syria has provided an opportunity for fundamental progress, but it demands and perhaps is beginning to receive a reciprocal attitude from the Israeli Government. How do the Government now see the progress of the negotiations? In particular, what do they see as the framework of those negotiations? A series of bilateral discussions will not prove sufficient, although they may provide a series of essential first steps.

I find the prospect of Israel and Syria sitting down and talking to each other an extraordinary and dramatic prospect. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, that once you start the process it tends to gather an impetus and momentum of its own. Certainly, I am sure of one thing: once that process has started, things are unlikely to remain frozen in concrete in the future as they have done in the past.

I make two provisos when I talk about that negotiation process. First, the bilaterals cannot be regarded as a substitute for full negotiations. At some stage, all the participants will have to be involved. That brings me to my second qualification and proviso. It is illusory for anyone to think that one will be able to settle matters over the heads of the Palestinians. Therefore, central to the issue of whether negotiations can be got under way is the question of who is to speak for the Palestinians. Who are their representatives to be? As of today, that seems to be less of a potential obstacle to the start of negotiations than it seemed to be a few days ago. I should be grateful if the Government would give us an indication of how they see those difficulties being resolved.

Perhaps I may now turn to the occupation itself. I use that word quite deliberately. It has caused deep anxiety in many countries, even among those—perhaps particularly among those—who are strong supporters of Israel and of the right of Israel to exist as an independent and secure nation. It is idle to pretend that it is not an occupation. Of course it is an occupation. The territories are occupied. Moreover, it is an illegal occupation. The Government have accepted that on a number of occasions in the past. It has also proved to be a violent and in some instances even a brutal occupation, a fact about which I am extremely regretful.

I have before me the Amnesty International report on Israel and the Occupied Territories from 1991. I do not want to weary the House, but I should like to read out a few sentences to illustrate the problem. The report states: Some 25,000 Palestinians, including prisoners of conscience, were' arrested in connection with the intifada (uprising) in the Occupied Territories. Over 4,000 were administratively detained without charge or trial, and thousands of others were tried by military courts. By the end of the year about 13,000 were still detained or imprisoned. Dozens of Israelis, including Druze and Jewish objectors to military service, were imprisoned as prisoners of conscience. Thousands of Palestinians were punitively beaten or otherwise tortured or ill-treated. About 120 Palestinians … were shot dead by Israeli forces, often in circumstances suggesting unjustifiable killings. Israeli soldiers misused tear-gas, endangering lives. Investigations into abuses and related prosecutions appeared to be inadequate. One person remained under sentence of death". I accept that that is a report by an organisation which has in the past stirred up a certain amount of controversy in some of its public utterances, but prima facie that is a situation about which those of us who are supporters of the right of Israel to exist within secure borders do not wish to read in connection with that country.

In addition, the occupation has ceased to appear temporary. I suppose that one might just argue that in 1967 the Israelis argued strongly that it was necessary to occupy the Occupied Territories so as to produce a feeling of security and, indeed actual security for the rest of Israel, but the extent of Jewish settlement on the West Bank now is, frankly, profoundly disturbing. It will without doubt prove one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult, problems to overcome if negotiations get under way. I was therefore grateful for the statement that was issued at the end of the Group of Seven meeting and for the passage of Resolution 681 in the Security Council towards the end of last year.

I should like to put two or three other matters on record and I hope that the Minister will be able to comment on them. One of the interesting things that appears to be happening at present in relation to the negotiating process is the involvement of Egypt at some stage almost as a bridge or an emulsifier in the process of negotiations. I read in the paper today that the former Egyptian Foreign Minister, Esmat Abdel Meguid, went to Syria and to the Lebanon, I believe within the past few days. I am interested to know, in particular in relation to the visit of Mr. Mubarak to London, how the Government see the Egyptian role. It is well worth noting that if Egypt, which has had a settlement with the Israelis in the Camp David Agreement, is now seen by the remainder of the Arab world as an interlocutor with the Israelis, that may provide some evidence, although not conclusive, that there is a genuine spirit of negotiation in the area at present.

The Unstarred Question asks Her Majesty's Government: What steps they are taking to secure the implementation of the resolutions of the UN Security Council". I hope that the steps that the Government are taking are to give full support to the attempts that are now being made to bring about negotiations. I trust we are being as diplomatically active as we can be in supporting the United States in its efforts. I trust that we are also making our position crystal clear to the Israelis as to what we think of their continued occupation of the Occupied Territories and indeed of the type of occupation.

We may be in one of those rare situations—I am always somewhat wary of using such a phrase—when after a number of years, or even decades, of potential hostility between countries there may be a chance to get negotiations under way. I hope that the Government share that view. If they do, I hope that they will make every effort to ensure that the opportunity is not lost.

2.46 p.m.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I should like to join with those noble Lords who thanked the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, for giving us an opportunity to discuss this Question. I am also grateful to the many noble Lords who made such thoughtful and constructive contributions to the debate. My noble friend Lord Beloff, the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy (he passed me a note to say that he could not stay to the end of the debate), the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and others regretted that perhaps the debate was not entirely timely. It is not for me to say what we should and should not debate. However, it must be true—especially when noble Lords hold strong and differing views—that at this very delicate stage of negotiations we should be circumspect. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, is right: there will be no shattering departure from foreign policy statements at the Dispatch Box today.

As the long Recess draws upon us, it is probably as well to remember that there are intractable problems in the world and that it is appropriate to turn our minds to address them. At least today as we approach this Question, I believe that we do so more hopefully than we have sometimes done in previous debates.

We all wish to see a just and lasting settlement in the Middle East, bringing peace between Israel and her Arab neighbours, justice for the Palestinians and a unified Lebanon free of foreign troops in accordance with the Taif agreement.

We said that when the Gulf crisis was over there would be a pressing need to find a settlement of the Arab-Israel dispute. Now that Iraqi aggression against Kuwait has been reversed, there is a real opportunity for progress. We have given our full support to the efforts of the United States Secretary of State to reach agreement on a regional conference.

The Americans are best placed to lead. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, I wonder whether now is perhaps not the time to consider developing an independent British policy for the area. But we and our European partners have an important role to play. We welcome Israeli agreement that the European Commission presidency should participate at any conference alongside the United States and the USSR. My noble friend Lord Beloff drew attention to that wider area. We have a vital interest in the shape of any settlement and much to contribute.

We have always said that a settlement should be based on United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. These are the bases of the present initiative. However, we should not forget that these resolutions ask for concessions from both sides, as many noble Lords have pointed out. They ask for Israeli withdrawal from territory in exchange for Arab acceptance of Israel's right to exist within secure and internationally-recognised borders.

I acknowledge the truth of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew; that the concept of a solution based on land for peace is finding wider acceptance. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, and other noble Lords who drew attention to the shift in world public opinion as regards the plight of the Palestinians.

Mr. Baker has been tireless in his efforts to bring the parties to the negotiating table and we must congratulate him on that. At the end of hostilities in the Gulf he made four visits to the region. He established important areas of common ground between the parties but failed to resolve a number of procedural differences between the Israeli and Syrian posit ions. President Bush therefore wrote to the Israeli Prime Minister and to the Syrian President setting out compromise proposals which would bridge the gap. It was Syria's unconditional acceptance of these proposals in a letter from President Assad on 14th July which prompted Mr. Baker to return to the region. Syria has moved further than ever before for whatever reasons. Other Arab states have now joined in making concessions.

After his talks with Mr. Baker on 19th July President Mubarak of Egypt said that if Israel stopped building settlements in the Occupied Territories he thought that the Arabs would end the boycott of Israel. In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, I cannot comment further on the possible Egyptian role although something may emerge. President Mubarak's statement was later endorsed by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. That was the trade-off proposed by the G7 last week. The Arab response is clear evidence that Israel's neighbours are determined to make progress. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, refer red to reports in this morning's newspapers suggesting that Israel had accepted the US proposals. The reports may be encouraging but they are premature and have yet to be verified.

The Jordanians and the Lebanese have also expressed their willingness to attend a conference. We hope that the Jordanians and Palestinians will consider forming a joint delegation because that appears to be the best way to solve the problem of Palestinian representation: finding Palestinians who are genuine representatives and to whom the Israelis will talk. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, referred to that problem. I hope that my reply answers at least in part the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Richard.

We have urged all parties to show flexibility. The Foreign Secretary explored the prospects for peace with the Israeli Foreign Minister last week. We are in close touch with the Arabs too. Everyone has much to gain from negotiations because a negotiated settlement is central to the peace and stability of the region.

We have also urged all parties to consider confidence-building measures which will help to create a good climate for negotiation by demonstrating good faith. We therefore welcome the announcement about the boycott and urge Israel to make the corresponding concession and stop building settlements. But these move s should not be allowed to become preconditions for negotiation; the convening of the conference must remain the priority.

Nevertheless, we and our European partners are firmly opposed to Israel's settlement activity. As the European Council made clear in its declaration in Luxembourg on 29th June, we believe that a policy of establishing settlements in the Occupied Territories is not only illegal, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, but incompatible with Israel's expressed desire to make progress in the peace process. We have been encouraged by the constructive Arab response. We row look to the Israeli Government to show a similar willingness to make compromises for peace. We expect Israel's response very soon. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, asked me what point the negotiations had reached. I do not believe that I can say more than that. That is the opportunity which the Israelis have sought for more than 40 years; they should grasp it.

We hope that the remaining difficulties can be overcome. We urge the parties not to flinch from talks. The conference will not be a mechanism for imposing a solution on either side. A solution cannot be imposed; it should be freely accepted. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, takes issue with that. He asks whether we will accord to Israel a veto on the implementation of United Nations resolutions. The resolutions demanding an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait are mandatory. Resolutions 242 and 338 are not; they relate to a situation entirely different from that which existed in the Gulf. Her Majesty's Government continue to believe that Israel should be encouraged and not bullied into acceptance. The same applies to the Arabs. Resolutions 242 and 338 make demands—notably the end of the state of belligerency which still exists.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, normally when one talks of a mandatory UN resolution one means a Security Council resolution, as opposed to a General Assembly resolution, which is not binding, not mandatory. While it is true that Resolutions 242 and 338 did not threaten the use of force by a given date, that is the only thing that they did not threaten. In other words, they were mandatory, and were a direct expression of the will of the United Nations.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, there is no possible suggestion that the resolution can be ignored. I merely point out that it is different. We are approaching the peace process based on those resolutions. It is self-evident that if we put matters into a parcel of "You will" to the Israelis and they simply say, as they have said in the past, that they will not accept that, no progress will be made.

However, I do not suggest—and I believe that this may have been the interpretation of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew —that we are giving the Israelis a let-out under those resolutions. Only when an acceptable solution is found will there be just and lasting peace, reconciling the legitimate rights of all parties: Israel's security, the concerns of her Arab neighbours and the Palestinians' right to self-determination.

We noted the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, that the £10 billion loan guarantees should be conditional on compliance with the United Nations Security Council resolutions. However, our position is that it must be for the Americans, who are leading the negotiations, to make that decisions.

The Security Council resolutions which call for Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands are not of course the only resolutions which relate to the occupation. Sadly, the Security Council has found it necessary to adopt resolutions on the behaviour of the occupying power. That has been mentioned by several noble Lords. The Israelis' continued failure to administer the Occupied Territories according to international law and human rights standards is well known to us all. We have never hesitated to make clear our rejection of Israel's policies of repression in the occupied Territories and our worries about deteriorating conditions there.

We take the view that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies to the Occupied Territories, and we regularly remind the Israelis of their obligation to abide by it. Last October, the killing of 17 Palestinians in Jerusalem led to three Security Council resolutions condemning Israeli action and calling for the protection of the Palestinians. We are considering how to take forward some of the suggestions in Resolution 681.

We are also working to improve economic conditions in the Occupied Territories. The European Community agreed in March to provide a grant of £42 million in emergency aid to the Occupied Territories to compensate for the impact of the Gulf crisis. Britain also has a bilateral aid programme and remains a major contributor to UNRWA, the United Nations agency charged with the care of Palestinian refugees.

But the deteriorating situation in the Occupied Territories shows the urgent need to find a solution to the underlying political dispute. By far the best thing we can do for the Palestinians is to help to bring an end to the occupation. That is why the peace initiative comes first, and that is the Palestinians' top priority, not just our own.

The noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, touched on that point. The American initiative is not one-sided. The objective is to persuade the Israelis to negotiate on the basis of Security Resolutions 242 and 338, as I have said. That is in Israel's best interest. The status quo is not tenable. We support the twin-track approach, but peace between Israel and the Arab states is an aim we share. However, movement on the Palestinian problem must be in parallel, for we believe that Israeli security can be achieved only through peace with Israel's Arab neighbours and through solving the Palestinian problems together. Riot control is no substitute for policy.

The problem of the Lebanon is separate, but there are encouraging developments in that area too. The Lebanon has made great progress in ending the civil war. The Taif agreement is the essential component in that process. It remains our view that all foreign troops should withdraw from the Lebanon as was agreed at Taif.

We welcome the further indications that the Lebanese army is regaining control in southern Lebanon. Success in this process will further strengthen international calls, which we have consistently supported, for Israel to withdraw from the Lebanon in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 425.

The Israelis have long maintained that their defence forces should operate in the Lebanon only as long as is necessary for the protection of northern Israel. The restoration of Lebanese army control and of stability in this area is in the interests of Israel. That should lead to the early withdrawal of Israeli defence forces.

In conclusion, perhaps I may say that peace in the Middle East is an ambitious aim. It is not something that we or even the West could hope to achieve on our own. But we have played our part and will continue to play our part. It is a long time since we have seen such progress as has been apparent in recent weeks. We hope that everyone in the region will grasp the opportunity for peace. Your Lordships have given broad support for the proposed steps towards peace in the Middle East. For that I express the gratitude of Her Majesty's Government.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, could the Minister help me on one point? I understand that the United Nations examined the possibility that the damage caused in Kuwait and the lives taken by Saddam Hussein should be compensated for. Will Israel have to pay compensation for the slaying carried out in the territories which the Israelis occupy and the damage that they have caused?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, that is outside the scope of the Question. I shall study the question the noble Lord asks and will write to him. However, I do not believe that it will advance this morning's debate.

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