HL Deb 09 January 1992 vol 533 cc1648-80

8.26 p.m.

Lord Mayhew rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to assist the Arab-Israeli negotiations and the implementation of United Nations resolutions on Palestine.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is now 10 months since 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".

As we all know, little progress has been made since then. The Israeli Government still specifically reject the principle of exchanging territory for peace. They resisted joining the negotiations and give little sign of wanting them to succeed. Nevertheless, there are some hopeful signs which I believe give the British Government an opportunity of making a positive contribution to the negotiations.

The first hopeful sign is that in rejecting the principle of land for peace the Israeli Government are at odds not only with world opinion but with opinion in Israel and in the Jewish community in the United States. The last Israeli public opinion poll that I saw showed that 76 per cent. of Israelis were prepared to accept the principle. Equally remarkable were the opinions of leaders of the Jewish community in the United States in opposition to the views of the Israeli lobby in Washington. At the end of last year Mr. Shamir received a letter from 225 rabbis from Jewish communities across the United States. The letter stated: We call on you to accept the separation of the two peoples and partition the land … This conforms to the wishes of the majority of Israelis, American Jews, the world community and finally, after years of rejectionism, of the Palestinian people too". That is brave and true. Those views were endorsed in another poll of 205 leaders of the Council of Jewish Federations in the United States. This is encouraging. Plainly, the prospects of success in the negotiations would be improved if moderate Jewish opinion inside and outside Israel were strengthened and pressure on the Israeli Government increased. Thus there is a strong case for spelling out more clearly than has been done so far the gains in security and prosperity that Israel would enjoy by trading land for peace. Surprisingly, that has not been done. No country is better placed to do it than this country.

If there is a settlement the following security provisions are inevitable. The formerly occupied territories would be demilitarised except for a powerful peace-keeping force which would include European and American detachments. The withdrawal of such a peace-keeping force would be possible only by a unanimous decision of the Security Council. There would also be treaty guarantees underwritten by, among others, the United States. All that is wholly acceptable to the Palestinian side, and, I believe, to the chief actors on the world scene. Israel would have a degree of security far higher than it has now and indeed than it has ever had in its history. And both sides would have better protection against terrorism, another vital need. Details of that security package could and should be negotiated, spelled out and publicised now. This country should take the lead in doing so.

Next, the economic gains to the Israelis of a settlement should be spelled out. A plan should be made now for the economic development of the region in the event of a settlement. It should provide for an end to the Arab blockade; for the development and sharing of water resources; and for binding trade, industrial and environmental links between Israel and Palestine and other Arab countries in the region. I believe some work has already been done on the matter at the official level in the European Commission. If so, the British Government should now intervene, upgrade, speed up, spell out and publicise the work.

Those actions would show Israeli opinion most vividly what was to be gained from implementing the policy of land for peace and what is now being lost through the intransigence of the Israeli Government. Although the ideas would not affect the negotiations directly, they would make a powerful contributions towards their success. However, by themselves they are unlikely to change the views of the extremists who form and sustain the Israeli Government.

By rejecting the land-for-peace principle, those people have now isolated themselves not just from world opinion but from their own people. In addition, they are constantly and blatantly breaching Security Council resolutions and the Geneva conventions: building settlements illegally in land not belonging to them; imposing curfews and collective punishments; taking Palestinians from their homes and dumping them in neighbouring countries without trial for an indefinite period; even harassing Palestinian delegates at the talks; holding up their exits at the frontiers; threatening Dr. Ashrawi with arrest, and so on. I will not spell it all out.

If that small group of extremists is allowed to continue in that way, it will be disastrous not just for the Israelis and Palestinians but for the United Nations and our hopes for establishing a firm, international border. In those circumstances it is not merely the right but the duty of the world community to bring the strongest economic and financial pressure to bear on the Israeli Government to co-operate with the peace process. The European Community takes in 50 per cent. of Israel's exports on privileged terms. The Commission should now make the continuance of that privileged access dependent upon progress in implementing the principle of land for peace. That would greatly assist the United States Government in taking similar action by relating its immense programme of aid to Israel to Israel's co-operation in the peace process.

Again, the British Government are well placed to help bring about those things. The Government could also improve the prospects for negotiations if they were to strengthen the moderate Palestinians against the extremists, especially Hamas, the fundamentalist movement which challenges the PLO leadership in the occupied territories and is mainly responsible for the violence against settlers there. As Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, one of the distinguished Palestinian delegates at the negotiations, has said: The strength of Hamas is in inverse proportion to the achievement of the moderates. The longer the time that goes by without any accomplishment, the sooner the voice of reason among Palestinians will be undermined". That is profoundly true and important.

It is hard to exaggerate the courage of Palestinians who stand up publicly and pre-eminently against their rejectionist enemies. Several PLO leaders—two of them known to me personally—have paid for their courage with their lives. In those circumstances, it is lamentable that PLO leaders and officials who have committed themselves to the peace process, and to recognising Israel, should be cold-shouldered by British Ministers. The PLO representative in London is one of the bravest supporters of the peace process. He has been received by Ministers in several other European countries. He has been received by the Pope. He has been kindly received by the most reverend Primate whose knowledge of Palestine—if I may say so—is profound, and to whose remarks this evening we shall listen with special care. Yet that gentleman is ostracised by Mr. Douglas Hogg and other Ministers, and is thus exposed to the derision of his extremist enemies. That is a serious diplomatic mistake which the Government must take immediate steps to rectify.

When I raised this matter last July, I was criticised for doing so by one or two of Israel's enthusiastic supporters in the House. I must, I suppose, expect to be criticised again tonight; but I make no apologies. The problem of Palestine should be debated more often and more frankly than it frequently is. Israel's misdeeds, like Robert Maxwell's, have been shielded for too long by the timidity of opinion formers.

The Israeli Government are extremist. They oppress the Palestinians. Their territorial claims are preposterous. Their actions misrepresent and dishonour the Jewish people. If they now reject the security and economic gains which are on offer, persist in stalling the negotiations and defying the Security Council, they must be met by resolute, decisive economic pressure from the United States and the European Commission.

8.38 p.m.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, on his interesting and stimulating speech on a Motion which, it is already clear, provides us with an opportunity for a lively debate. For me, the Motion is most timely because late last night I returned from a five-day visit to Jordan, Israel and the occupied territories where I was a guest of the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem. I went there to join the celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of the diocese. Ours is a small and courageous Church, mainly Arab Christians, focused on the cathedral of St. George's, Jerusalem and our energetic and fiery Palestinian Bishop, Bishop Samir Kafity.

It was not my first but my sixth visit. I do not want to say that I have a profound knowledge of the Holy Land. It is a complex country, and every time I visit, I realise how much I have to learn, and begin again. My visit began in Jordan. It was there that I was able to appreciate the generous help it gives to the thousands of refugees to whom it offers hospitality. I admire its people and have a great affection for them, as I do for the people in that whole region.

I pray for the peace of Jerusalem; but peace will not come until there is a healing of the deep conflicts between the inhabitants of the land—Jews and Palestinians—who call the place their home. As some of your Lordships will be aware, the traveller or pilgrim who visits Jerusalem usually enters it from the Plain of Sharon, and ascends by way of a narrow gorge that leads to the hill country of Jerusalem. On left and right one sees the burnt-out trucks and cars in which the Jewish settlers of 1948 bravely and tenaciously fought to liberate their fellow Jews besieged in Jerusalem. The battle of 1948 secured the state of Israel. The further wars of 1967 and 1973 led to their establishing military control over the land that we now call the occupied territories.

Today Israel is in many respects a strong modern nation with much of which to be proud. But in other respects it remains deeply insecure, haunted by the fear that only force of arms has prevented its destruction, distrustful of any other path to security. We recognise Israel's great achievements. But let us not underestimate its fearfulness of hostile neighbours. Hers is a small country. It is not surprising that she feels that her borders are brittle. Nevertheless, when I met the Israeli leaders, including the President and the Prime Minister, I was left in no doubt about the seriousness of their determination not to be diverted from the peace process.

But another proud people also live in the land. I refer to the Palestinians who were there long before the waves of settlers of this century. Christians and Moslems, they call the land their home—indeed, in simple truth they have no other home. I say "their home"; and yet it is not their home because it is occupied. Year by year and day by day they see their land being appropriated and in myriad different ways they feel marginalised and maligned. I had a very valuable conversation with members of the Palestinian delegation to the peace talks, which includes several Christians. It is very important that they should be listened to.

In the few remaining moments at my disposal, all I can do is to convey a few personal impressions of the pain and anguish, the hope and the hopelessness of people. I think first of the fact of violence in the land. I am sure that all of us in the House would condemn violence whether by Palestinian, Jew or any other person. The recent killing of a Jewish settler was morally wrong as indeed are other killings of other innocent Jewish people. So too is the violence of retaliatory action by Jewish soldiers as houses are bulldozed, as men are randomly rounded up and interned, or threatened by deportation, as the recent example so tragically typifies.

During the curfew we have seen the lawless action of some—and I repeat the word "some"—armed Jewish settlers shooting up Palestinian villages. Your Lordships will remember that the curfew is imposed only on Palestinians and not on Jewish settlers. Terrorising villages under curfew is behaviour that we dare not tolerate in any civilised state.

There is another serious side to the presence of armed soldiers patrolling and containing the occupied territories. Some of them are very young conscripts. They are in danger of becoming brutalised by their experience, perhaps even in danger of thinking that the Palestinian is a despised and inferior human being. I think also of the closure of Palestinian universities. Bethlehem University has recently reopened after a three-year ban, but Bir Zeit remains shut. Such action only exacerbates the conflict between the peoples, thus feeding hatred and hostility.

There is also the high unemployment among the Palestinians and the sense of despair that that creates. For Arab Christians it is often the last straw. Because they are usually the better educated of the Arabs they have a greater chance of settling in the West. Indeed, they are doing so in greater numbers. If that continues, as I have said on a few occasions this week, Jerusalem and Bethlehem could become Christian theme parks. They would cater merely for Christian pilgrims and tourists—bereft of their Arab-Christian communities which have been in the land since our Lord walked it. As one layman put it so movingly to me, "Will Christians be made strangers in the land of Christ?"

We should also consider the occupied territories now under Israeli military control for a quarter of a century. Since 1967, the state of Israel has not only controlled the areas which were taken in conflict, but it has built over 160 settlements in the West Bank and Gaza in which over 100,000 Jews live permanently. In the past year, 140,000 Soviet Jews have arrived in Israel. Within a short while most of them will find a home. But that is not so for the Palestinians who will find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to obtain a permit to build a home in their own land.

It is therefore understandable that the sight of these impressive and often fortress like settlements outrages and embitters the Palestinian population. An educated Arab-Christian lady in her sixties asked me, "Can you explain to me how a Jew born in Russia can. emigrate to my homeland in 1991 and have more rights, more opportunities and greater freedom than I have?" Many of them feel that the intifada is their only effective way of protesting and, even though it hurts the most, they feel that they have no choice.

Perhaps I may recount two particular incidents which struck me as going to the heart of the problem. On Monday evening I had the great joy of sharing in the Orthodox celebrations of Christmas in the Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem. The day before a young English priest came up to me and said, "I must tell you of my experience last week. I had to go to Bethlehem Police Station to collect the permit that would allow me and my students to get to the service. I had to queue up with the Palestinians. I felt humiliated by my experience. I was treated like a dog as I queued with them. I was shocked by the experience and I realised what they have to put up with day after day."

Then on Tuesday I chaired a seminar at which 30 Jewish and Christian theologians attended. It was a great shock to me to discover that many of them had never met before in that kind of way and in that kind of dialogue with their counterparts from the other side. They were not used to the kind of freedom of expression and dialogue that the Chief Rabbi, myself and other religious leaders enjoy in this country. The most revealing feature was their obvious difficulty in entering into the pain and distress of the other side—so intense was their own feeling of alienation, suffering and injustice that neither of them could feel the pain of the other.

I realised that there are no easy answers to the Palestinian-Israeli issue. As the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, mentioned, there are many Jews who are alarmed by what is happening to their land and to the Palestinian people. They, too, are anxious to find a solution to a conflict which is creating such bitterness on both sides. However, I am also aware that the wider world must not be allowed to forget the pain and suffering going on in a land which three world religions call "Holy". The Israelis have a home now and they deserve peace. They should have it. A visit to Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum, on Tuesday morning brought home to me afresh and so poignantly the horror of the holocaust and why the land is so important to them. We do not deny that fact. However, the Palestinians are also crying out for their rights and for self-determination in their own land. They should have that too, whatever form it may take. Both groups need to be given certain reminders. The Israelis need to be reminded that secure borders are created by friendly neighbours and a contented population. The Palestinians need to be reminded that the state of Israel is here to stay. Surely the ultimate goal must be to secure equal rights and a fair distribution of resources in the land which Israelis and Palestinians share. For this to happen, compromise, negotiation and patient talking through of the issues at all levels are required.

The international community has a moral duty to safeguard the security and interests of both parties. Her Majesty's Government deserve our active support in encouraging the peace process towards a successful conclusion. Only when this is achieved will our prayer for the peace of Jerusalem be answered.

8.51 p.m.

Lord Quinton

My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, for introducing this subject at this time. It is an appropriate occasion on which to do so as next Monday the negotiators involved in this slow process of argument on the future of Israel and the surrounding areas will recommence talks in Washington. There is still life in the matter and surely that is some reason for hope.

However, I felt, listening to the noble Lord, that one large tract of relevant material had somehow become obliterated. This is not just a problem between the state of Israel and Palestinians who themselves, or whose parents, at some stage lived within what is now the state of Israel, or in areas which the state of Israel now controls. If that were the case, or if beyond the River Jordan the neighbouring nations were, for example Canada, Denmark and Switzerland, I imagine that the problem of the Palestinians would be relatively easily solved. But the Palestinians with all their misfortunes are merely the leading edge of an enormous pressure exerted by nations and societies much more powerful than themselves.

A reasonable degree of adjustment has been made with Egypt, but as one moves round in a clockwise direction one finds things are unpromising elsewhere. Lebanon, after all its appalling turmoil, seems to have become comparatively quiet as a kind of Syrian fief. Syria is ruled with the utmost savagery by a member of a minority group who governs with an iron hand and needs to preserve himself by animating further hostility to Israel. Then there is the kingdom of Jordan. The Hashemite kingdom of Jordan is a somewhat precarious political institution. It is amazing how King Hussein, perhaps with luck and good management, has managed to survive assassins' bullets, coups d'etat and other such attempts to overthrow him. His progress is rather like a film or a cartoon when one considers the dexterity or wildness with which what might seem the most plausible outcome for the kingdom of Jordan has been avoided and deferred.

All those issues draw attention to the fact that round the Palestinians is a great ring of other Arab communities, nearly all animated by intense hostility to Israel. Few of those communities, with the exception of Egypt, have substantially made clear their recognition of Israel. Resolution No. 242 of the United Nations is now 25 years old. Much has happened in those ensuing 25 years and large population changes have occurred in that time. Nevertheless there are certain features of that resolution which still remain relevant. I refer not only to the part that is ordinarily insisted upon, that is the return of the occupied areas. I refer also to the requirement of mutual recognition and the requirement of secure boundaries for the states involved in conflict in this area.

We all know the geography of the state of Israel as it emerged in 1948 to 1949. The great central area of Israel —the western edge of the West Bank of Judea/Sumaria—is situated on average about 10 miles from the Mediterranean coast. That area is not seriously defensible against a modern nation in arms that is properly organised for warfare. If one of the aims of the resolution is to arrange secure borders for the nations of the area, it cannot be presumed that the borders laid out as a result of the 1948 fighting are absolutely immutable. However, I believe that there are strong reasons for thinking that the security of Israel needs to be considered seriously. Therefore Her Majesty's Government should not lend themselves to applying pressure seriously to undermine it.

There are three points here. First, the governments in the area are unstable. That means that even if a government out of prudence or a temporary excess of moderation, veiled or even abandoned the desire to destroy Israel and to kill or expel its Jewish inhabitants, there would be no guarantee that an agreement made with any such government would be honoured by any of their successors. Constitutional continuity is not a notable feature of the Arab governments of the area. That is in marked contrast to Israel where a liberal democratic form of government of absolute continuity, with the proper and constitutionally legitimate transfer of power, has now existed for more than 40 years.

Lebanon is an extreme case of constitutional disorder. Admittedly Assad has been in power in Syria since 1970. However, he was preceded by a kaleidoscope of violent transmutations of government. Jordan has a mystic persistence, but it is a precarious one. Jordan lies in between Iraq and Israel as a point of access for any really determined repeater of previous Arab aims of total demolition of Israel. There is barely a touch of contact with Saudi Arabia, but even there we are confronted with an essentially medieval polity where the great national wealth may defer for some time radical political changes. It seems not at all unlikely that the Saudi monarchy may go the way of the kingdom of Iraq. The revolution in Iraq unseated its monarchy and replaced it with a succession of military dictatorships.

My second point, which is connected with my first, is that there is an apparently not seriously abandoned aim of destroying Israel. The governments in the region cannot bring themselves to affirm this unequivocally or enter into any arrangements which would solidify it.

My third point brings my previous point to the fore. Perhaps one of the most unsettling changes occurring in the surrounding Arab world is the increasing power in political life of Islamic fundamentalists. We have had a magnificent run of this and an experimental proof of what it amounts to in the experiences of Iran since the expulsion of the Shah. Only a week ago the Algerian Government was replaced by a fundamentalist party which gained a sweeping victory in the elections. Even the comparatively reasonable President Mubarak of Egypt has to cope with a powerful and vigorous fundamentalist opposition. Those are dangers quite independent of any abrasion between displaced Palestinians and the state of Israel and constitute a terrifying danger to that state. By comparison, the Palestinians are only the manipulators of pinpricks.

Perhaps it is naive of me to hope that Her Majesty's Government might be animated by some mild sense of political gratitude to Israel. The behaviour of Israel during the Gulf War has not been sufficiently praised. Without any direct relevance to what was happening Saddam sent his fortunately not very good missiles into Israel—though they were damaging enough in terms of human lives, well-being and property. His aim was to provoke a violent Israeli reaction with the object of undermining the rather fragile knitting together of Arab states on the Western side in the Gulf War in an attempt to remove Saddam from Iraq. The Israelis, perceiving that, held their hand in circumstances in which it was extremely difficult for them to do so. A country which had had three major wars for survival in the living memory of people who are not very old was again suddenly subjected to full-scale aerial bombardment. Nevertheless it stood firm and the people accepted the advice of their government not to intervene.

One might say that that is long-term self-interest. It is, but it is difficult to retain one's sense of long-term self-interest when someone is throwing missiles at one. That shows that, whatever might be said about particular episodes of unpleasant violence on the part of the Israeli authorities, Israel is in a completely different category of general political responsibility from the nations by which it has been menaced since its creation and by which it is still menaced. I hope that any thinking about how the peace process should continue will take into account that much larger issue than the immediate topic of settling the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians who used to live there or still do.

9.1 p.m.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, when I was a boy occasionally I went to the cinema. In those days the performance was continuous and a phrase came into the national consciousness—"this is where we came in". Once they had seen the programme right through people would leave their seats during the running of the films. I have the same feeling tonight.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, has returned once again to his well-worn theme. He invited comment tonight about the fact that he should not have raised the issue. I believe that this is not a timely debate. When the noble Lord tabled the same Unstarred Question before we rose at the end of the last Session I thought that it was not timely. I do not think that it is timely now because the most delicate negotiations are taking place. I believe that there will eventually be a fruitful outcome to those negotiations, but I do not believe that external comments at this time are helpful.

As he invited comment on the point I shall quote from the noble Lord's own autobiography in which he says that when replying as a Foreign Office Minister to a colleague in the other place, he had hoped that his honourable friend would yield to his request: that we might be spared a debate on this subject at this moment. It is a bad time politically, diplomatically, psychologically … to discuss the question of Palestine". I make a plea yet again to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, to widen his vision beyond his excessive concentration on one very small part of the world where there are problems.

We have spoken before about the comparatively small size of Israel, which is about the size of Wales, and the undue attention which is paid to it in terms of public debate. There is almost a mythology about the matter which bemuses me. We have recently seen the release c f the hostages in the Middle East. There have been hours of news coverage on both radio and television and great celebrations and features on the return of the hostages. However, hardly anything has been said about the people who incarcerated those people and who robbed them of years of their active lives. It seems to me that the whole issue is out of balance.

I was very pleased when I saw that the right reverend Prelate had put his name down to speak today because on 7th April last year in this House I drew attention to the fact that there had been a singular lack of comment from the Bishops' Benches on the persecution of Christian minorities abroad. I said that I felt that if there was any subject in which the spiritual Lords should interest themselves it should be that. I said that I hoped that the inauguration of Archbishop Carey would usher in a new interest and concern not only for the social and moral welfare of the people of this country but also of our Christian brothers and sisters abroad. Therefore, I looked forward to his speech tonight, but I found it disappointing. He spoke only from his own personal experience, having recently visited Israel. It may be said that I am being unreasonable because one should speak only from personal experience. However, some noble Lords may recall that the most reverend Primate spoke some time ago about disturbances in the North East of England and later had to make a fact-finding visit to the area in order to see what had happened. I had hoped that he would have tried to widen the debate tonight because we do not do ourselves any credit by constantly concentrating on one very small part of the world's problems.

I should have thought that we might have learnt something tonight about the problem of the Jews in Syria, the problems of the people in what should be Kurdistan, about the problems of the Christian minority in the Sudan and the problems of the African continent as a whole. While we have great freedom in this House to raise subjects, for the human race time is ebbing away. There is a disaster looming on the African continent as a whole from which we cannot absolve ourselves of responsibility. I have mentioned the problem of Christians in the Southern part of the Sudan, but throughout Africa as a whole, with the problems of drought in the Sahel and of the environment generally and of unstable governments following the departure of the colonial powers, there are immense difficulties building up and we are not addressing them.

Guided by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, and others we are concentrating on one very small sector. The whole issue is out of balance. We would do much better to widen our concern because unless we look at the entire continent of Africa—in which I include this part of the Middle East—there is a time bomb which will explode to the detriment of everybody.

We have some responsibility apart from the colonial phase when the European powers moved in in the last century. There is the problem of the depredations of the slave trade before that. Noble Lords will realise that in the past few weeks voices have been raised to argue that compensation should be paid in respect of the whole matter of the slaving trade. There are problems there which dwarf the problems raised tonight by the noble Lord. We should concentrate much more on those matters. I feel that the whole thing is out of proportion.

I make one point on the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, about extremists forming and sustaining the Israeli Government. I made the point the last time that we held a debate of this kind. He is saying in effect that proportional representation in electing a government puts the power into the hands of a very small group of people who can make the difference between having and not having a majority. He once again made that point. I do not make very much of it because matters are much more serious than that. However, I ask the noble Lord to widen his perspectives, look at the world as such in a much broader spectrum and try to address some of the problems which are so serious that, if they are not faced up to, will put in jeopardy the kind of world in which we now live and which many of us enjoy.

I am grateful that my noble friend Lord Judd will wind up the debate. I am sure that, with his experience in trying to help the third world, he appreciates the points that I have tried to make.

9.10 p.m.

Lord Annan

My Lords, what we are discussing tonight springs from an unimaginable wrong. That wrong was the Holocaust. It is unimaginable because I do not believe that any of us can quite comprehend the scale and horror of the action that took place in Europe during the Second World War. As a result the Jews left in Europe fled to the one place where they felt that they could be with their own kith and kin; namely, Palestine. So began the tensions, disputes and guerrilla warfare between Arabs and Jews which culminated in the war of 1948. As a result of that war another great wrong was done, which was the expulsion of the Palestinian people from the Israeli territory.

Those two wrongs have ever since been mesmerising the world —mesmerising in the sense that we cannot see how a solution can be found to remedy them. Tension began immediately after 1948 when the Arabs refused to accept the state of Israel. The result was the war of 1967 and then came the Yom Kippur war. When the Arab states realised that they could not militarily defeat that tiny country, they resorted—again one may say perfectly understandably—to guerrilla warfare, hijacking and kidnapping hostages. In their turn the Israelis made the terrible mistake of invading Lebanon with the intention of destroying the PLO. The PLO was not destroyed and Lebanon is now a client state of Syria.

I fear that the bitterness and hatred of 70 years of fighting will not disappear through one conference. It seems to me that the essence of the problem is contained in the question: what guarantees does Israel require to render its borders and existence inviolate and what should those borders be?

I believe it innocent to think that Israel will agree to swap land for peace at the present moment. It is innocent also to think that the UN Resolution 242 that requires Israel to return to its 1948 borders has any chance of success. It is a dead letter. However, there are some good signs. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, was right to draw attention to them, in particular to the good sign that the Palestinians are at least willing to propose some compromises and to call off the intifada.But what reliance can Israel place on President Assad who has just been re-elected president with 99.98 per cent. of the popular vote. Under 400 out of a population of over 6.75 million voted against him. Indeed, he did better than last time. In 1985 he achieved only 99.7 per cent. of the vote.

Israel is often attacked for its brutal treatment of Palestinians within its borders. I do not condone those bestialities and brutalities and I hold no brief for Prime Minister Shamir. But what about the plight of the Jews in Syria? Where human rights are concerned, the Moslem states have a far worse record. We all know about Saddam Hussein's record. Who can forget what happened in Iran? Saudi Arabia's record on human rights is deplorable. How do the Sudanese Moslem Government treat their Christian population? They starve them to death. The spirit of Moslem fundamentalism is not dead. There is every sign that it is augmenting in Algeria of all places, as the noble Lord, Lord Quinton, in a remarkable speech—a tour d'horizonof these Arab countries—reminded us.

Meanwhile, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan are fishing in the attractive waters of the newly independent states of the Soviet Commonwealth. They are hoping to catch a general or two, who earn not much more than £12 a week, to part with the secrets of their nuclear arsenals which, for instance, Kazakhstan possesses.

The Minister may remember how the noble Earl, Lord Arran, defended the air-to-surface missile system. On 18th December the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, asked a Question about it. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, replied that we, the British, live in an extremely uncertain world and we must be prepared for and expect the worst in some circumstances".—[Official Report,18/12/91; col. 1327.) Good heavens, my Lords, if our Government require that weapon in addition to Trident and all our conventional forces to make this country feel secure, is it any wonder that Israel is anxious about security?

I believe that only by creating a 50-mile wide or more buffer zone between Israel and its neighbours, a zone demilitarised and belonging to no single country, can there be any hope of agreement. None of the interested parties, I suspect, would agree to such a drastic solution. Again, it will be a chance lost if that does not occur. A chance was lost after 1948 when, had the oil rich Arab states provided a fund to resettle the expelled Palestinians, there might have been a hope of peace. It was too much to expect, and perhaps it is now too much to expect any kind of demilitarised zone being agreed.

However, I do not believe that it is for this country to put forward solutions or, as the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, suggests, to take steps to assist the negotiations. Our past history and involvement in Palestine makes us quite unfit to offer assistance except that of benevolent neutrality. We are distrusted by the Arab states who see in the Balfour Declaration and all its consequences the root of their troubles. We are distrusted by Israel as having for years put our oil interests in the Arab world before Israel's survival. Unpopular as these words may be—and I know that they will be unpopular—let us not meddle where we are powerless to do good.

9.20 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, I am in agreement with the final words of the noble Lord, Lord Annan. However, I arrive at that conclusion by a slightly different route. As noble Lords who have taken part in or listened to our previous debates will be aware, I am what is known in Israeli circles as a dove. I believe in much of what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew; that Israel has a great deal to gain by the termination of hostilities and a great deal to lose if they continue. It will lose materially and also spiritually, as has been referred to in previous debates by the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits. A nation which is engaged in part in thwarting the wishes of a neighbouring nation suffers itself therefrom.

The question then arises of how we reach the state in which an Israeli Government—not necessarily and probably not the present combination—is prepared to go some way along this road. As I have said to your Lordships before, the question appears to be one of creating a climate of confidence or at least of removing the mutual distrust vividly put before us by the most reverend Primate at the beginning of the debate.

It appears to me that the prescription of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, runs in the opposite direction. If it is merely suggested that further countries involve themselves in a pressurising of the government in Israel, that government will receive the support of citizens who might otherwise be critical of its policies and be prepared to see them change. A country which is asked to take great risks for peace must do so out of conviction. As I have said before when the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, has brought the issue before us, as he has every right to do, it distresses me that he and his friends, Members in the other place and people in the country at large who have intimate contacts in the Arab world have not tried to use them in order to persuade Arab states to give some credence to the view that they no longer intend or wish for the destruction of Israel—

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to intervene. My friends and I pioneered the whole concept of the two-Palestine solution. We put that forward before any Palestinian did so. We had some effect in persuading the Palestinians to accept it and thus by implication to accept the recognition of Israel.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, that is a satisfactory phase in the noble Lord's long record of involvement in the affairs of that part of the world. However, it is in itself insufficient. It is true that the new Palestinian leadership appears to accept the two-state formula or whatever formula is used for the solution. However, against that must be set the attitudes of countries which are far more numerous, powerful and important than the Palestinians themselves can ever be even if they acquire a state of their own. For example, I remind noble Lords—and I do not believe that it has been mentioned so far—that one apparently hopeful feature c f the past few weeks has been the rescinding by the United Nations of the resolution that Zionism is a form of racism. For a long time, understandably, that was used by the Israeli Government as an unwillingness to see United Nations' participation in any settlement of their affairs.

While it is satisfactory that the General Assembly of the United Nations should have rescinded that resolution, I remind your Lordships also that a number of Arab countries—including not only Syria but what is sometimes held out to be a moderating influence, Saudi Arabia—did not vote in favour of rescinding the resolution. Therefore, they are committed to an outlawing of the basic idea of the Jewish national home.

After all, it is very much a question of confidence. Did the Syrians, in their rather brief appearance in the negotiations in Madrid and Washington, give any sign that they were prepared to negotiate on equal terms with the state of Israel? They would not even shake hands with the negotiators on the other side of the table. Compared with Saddam Hussein's missiles and now, again, the possibility of his acquiring nuclear weapons, those matters appear minor. But they are not, because one is looking at the reactions of a whole people and not merely the reactions of a government. As my noble friend Lord Quinton reminded us, that government can be changed by ordinary democratic electoral procedures which are likely to take place in any event in the not too distant future.

The noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, and other noble Lords have called our attention to what they see when they look around them in that part of the world. We must all sympathise with the most reverend Primate's anxiety for his own flock in the Holy Land and understand his distress that its numbers should diminish. However, the economic or even psychological pressures on the Christian Arabs in the occupied territory or, indeed, in Israel itself, are as nothing to the wilful massacre of Christians in the southern Sudan by a government who devote themselves in the United Nations to the rejectionist cause. On the tape today one sees that that government have proudly said that they have massacred 3,000 infiltrators, as they call them, in the southern Sudan. That government are supported by the Government of Iran: they are working together in the interests of Moslem fundamentalism. If that is how Christians are treated by triumphant Moslem governments, why should Jews think they will be treated any better?

The world is not compartmentalised. It is not merely a question of a dialogue between two communities. There are rather more Jews than Palestinians but the balance locally is one which, one imagines, could, if established, be retained. It is a question of an isolated community in a world in which it has been forced on three occasions at least to rely wholly on armed strength being asked to give up some elements in that military posture in order to bring about the lasting peace which it desires. However, it still finds that the people who make speeches on the subject are in some cases concerned not to bring the necessary reassurance but simply to suggest external pressure. In that way, I am sure, there is no route to peace.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, His Holiness the Pope is reported to have said that there are two possible solutions to the problems of the Middle East, one realistic and one miraculous. The realistic would involve divine intervention; the miracle would he agreement among the parties.

That is perhaps a somewhat jaundiced view of the situation. Nevertheless, I believe that it underlines the extreme urgency of the problem that we are discussing this evening. In the brief moments at my disposal I should like to concentrate on one aspect of the problem mentioned by a number of other noble Lords; that is, the implications of the spread of weapons of mass destruction, of nuclear weapons, especially in the Middle East.

Before I do that I should like to comment on one aspect of the matter, which found its place in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, which somewhat puzzles me. It concerns the uproar which has greeted the action of the Israeli Government in removing and deporting some members of terrorist organisations from the occupied territories. At this stage I do not intend to enter into the basic argument regarding what the Israelis should be doing about the occupied territories in return for this or that settlement. I simply make the point that it is surely perverse to expect the Israelis to allow terrorist incidents to take place in the occupied territories without doing something to prevent a recurrence. It seems to me that the actions taken against known members of known terrorist organisations are at least consistent with the Israeli aim to preserve some kind of security within its existing borders.

Let me move on to the subject upon which I really want to concentrate. I believe that the question of the possible spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East has two implications. One is that it increases the immense urgency of finding some kind of solution to the problems of the area. Secondly, I believe that it should cause us to think far more deeply about the perceived security problems as seen by the Israeli Government. It is no longer simply a question of being surrounded by potentially hostile states. It is a question of being surrounded by potentially hostile nuclear weapon states. That may be a different matter.

Of course it is true to say, and I say it at the outset of this brief survey, that Israel is generally believed to possess advanced nuclear weapons capability. However, Israel has said, and I believe that it means what it said, that it is ready to take part in negotiating a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East of which Israel would be a part and a participant.

What are the chances of achieving that? I believe that they are small and growing smaller with every day. In the immediate area of the Middle East and in some of the surrounding countries there are a number of countries which have neither signed nor ratified the non-proliferation treaty and which have no international inhibitions against developing or acquiring nuclear weapons if they so wish. I speak of Algeria, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Some have signed but not ratified, and some have not even signed the non-proliferation treaty. Syria, Tunisia and the two Yemens have not accepted compliance with the safeguard requirements of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The potential for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East is therefore enormous. There are already disturbing developments in that direction. We know that Iraq, which was engaged in sophisticated developments of three enrichment techniques, was on the verge, when operation "Desert Storm" began, of acquiring an advanced nuclear capability; an effective capability to make nuclear weapons and to deliver them.

Iran is now believed to be engaged in a similar clandestine uranium enrichment programme. From all the intelligence that is available I believe that there is very little doubt that that is so. Algeria has received from the Chinese the technology which has enabled it to set up a nuclear installation of some kind. It is claimed that that nuclear installation is entirely for peaceful purposes—that is, for the generation of electricity—yet it is interesting to note that satellite photographs of that installation show no electricity lines running from it at all. Therefore, it is at least possible that it is there for some other purpose.

In that context Iran is an extremely dangerous case. It has both signed and ratified the non-proliferation treaty. As one who helped to negotiate and who was present at the signing of the treaty, I draw the attention of your Lordships' House to Article 10 which allows anyone who signed and ratified the treaty to withdraw from it at three months' notice. Therefore, under the NPT it is possible, even if a country is a party to the treaty, and if it can be done secretly, for it to manufacture all the components for a nuclear weapon, give the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations three months' notice of withdrawal, then simply assemble the components and it has a nuclear capability.

It appears that there are other countries in the area which are equally interested, from all the information we can get, in acquiring nuclear weapons know-how in one form or another. Colonel Gaddafi of Libya has been shopping around for nuclear weapons for years. Benazir Bhutto has told us that Pakistan has the capacity to build nuclear weapons when the political decision is taken to do so. So all around this area there is a growing number of countries—especially with the increasing ease with which nuclear weapons can be exported, transferred and manufactured—which within the next five, 10, or 15 years can become nuclear weapons powers.

It is not only a question of nuclear warheads. Those who follow these matters are deeply worried by the disturbing proliferation of delivery systems. There are now 11 third world countries in the Middle East which have ballistic missiles, ballistic missile technology, and in many cases the ability to manufacture effective ballistic missiles. As we know, the missile technology control regime has been set up to try to prevent such a situation, but so far one has to confess that it has had singularly little success. Throughout the Middle East not only are there potential nuclear weapons powers, but in many cases they are the same countries which have the ability, in a very short time, to make or acquire ballistic missiles to deliver those weapons.

Finally, there is the new problem which has also been mentioned on several occasions this evening; namely, the problem of proliferation from the former Soviet Union. Twenty five per cent. of the whole nuclear capability of the former Soviet Union was outside what is now the Republic of Russia. As the noble Lord, Lord Annan, pointed out, there are a great number of weapons, both strategic and tactical, in the predominantly moslem republic of Kazakhstan. I need hardly point out the geographical location of Kazakhstan. It does not have a common border with Iran, but it does have a border on the Caspian Sea and so does Iran. It is perhaps not entirely irrelevant to point out that the Iranian installation, which we suspect to be a nuclear enrichment plant, is on the Caspian Sea in the north of that country.

As the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said, there is also the danger of the transfer of these weapons, or the technical know-how, from disaffected or poverty-stricken technicians and experts from the Soviet Union selling their knowledge, or even selling their hardware, to people who are prepared to pay for it. All this is when the situation in what is now known as the Commonwealth of Independent States is relatively stable. What might happen when that situation ceases to be relatively stable?

In that context I believe it was Samuel Goldwyn who said that it is dangerous to make predictions, especially about the future; but I will make a prediction now about the immediate future. I suspect that there will be a convulsion of a most catastrophic kind in the Commonwealth of Independent States—in what used to be the Soviet Union—in the very near future. We are not talking here of months, perhaps not even of years, but when that happens the whole of this Pandora's Box will fly open with the most appalling potential implications for the rest of the world.

However, tonight we are talking about the Middle East and my conclusion is that the spread of nuclear weapons—the spread of weapons of mass destruction—is now, in the post-Cold War period, one of the major problems which endangers international order and stability. It is most dangerous and most urgent in the Middle East.

The noble Lord, Lord Annan, talked of the preoccupations in Israel for making the existence of their country secure, which of course is really what is at the heart of this problem. Israel sees itself surrounded by people who are openly volubly committed to its destruction. With all respect to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, it is no longer a question of creating a 50 mile cordon sanitairearound Israel. That is no longer enough. Before we can bring any lasting peace to this area we have to ensure that in the Middle East, perhaps more than anywhere else in the world, we take whatever action we can to prevent the further spread of nuclear weapons.

In his Unstarred Question the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, has invited the British Government to take action in the context of the negotiations that are taking place now between Israel and the Arab and Palestinian countries. My plea to him would be to ask the British Government to put all their efforts not into that aspect of the problem but into ensuring that this development does not go any further. If it does, I suspect that the chances of peace in the Middle East will become more and more remote with every day. It was Abba Eban, one of the most moderate and thoughtful of Israeli leaders, who once said that politicians may be relied upon to make wise, intelligent and statesmanlike decisions, having first exhausted all other options.

There are not many options left in the Middle East and I would urge Her Majesty's Government not to waste those options on apparent solutions which might quite soon prove to be totally irrelevant to the real problem.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Weidenfeld

My Lords, the answer to the unrelenting question of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew—can Britain contribute to the Arab-Israeli peace process?—must, I submit, be an oracular one: very little if we are unimaginative and petulant: and very much if we are perceptive and generous.

The fact that Britain and France, who sat at the cradle of the modern Middle East, who drew the political map of the region and put so firm an impress on its infra structure, are marginalised and play such a modest role in this process is the answer to one part of the noble Lord's question. There is little more that we can do in Washington than we did in Madrid. But by counselling calmly, compassionately and evenhandedly we can perhaps further the currents of common sense and conciliation and go one step further and reassure the contestants that Britain can ultimately be relied upon to play an important role in consolidating any understanding reached between the parties. After all, we Europeans, just as much as any other grouping of powers or even more so, are in fact neighbours of that region. We are in the Mediterranean. This area, the former British mandate of Palestine—Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and Jordan—is as much or more Mediterranean as it is part of the wider Middle Eastern hinterland. Bui to play this constructive part successfully we need steady nerves and a greater dosage of patience and a better sense of proportion than we seem to display at the moment.

To the Israelis nothing that has happened since the Gulf War has squashed the visceral fear that the Arab world—they do not instinctively distinguish between Palestinians and other Arabs—is still implacably opposed to Israel's existence. Saddam Hussein survives, fundamentalism thrives and the spectre of one or more Islamic atom bombs is beckoning from Tadjkistan to Algeria and North Korea. It is true that the infamous "Zionism equals racism" resolution has been rescinded—I pay tribute to the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, who played such an important part in that gesture—but it is equally true, as has been said before, that, with the exception of Egypt, Tunisia and Oman, which abstained or were not in the council chamber, the entire Arab/Islamic bloc voted for the retention of that lethal resolution.

It would not be improper to talk about the hostage issue in this context. Though all civilised mankind must be grateful that those wretched men have been released, in Israel's eyes—and I hope in ours too—this has been one of the most shameful chapters in recent history, a story of Western self-abasement and shady moral compromise. Future historians will not look benignly on that whole chain of events, from the day that Mr. Edward Heath parleyed with Lela Khaled and let a terrorist go free and Willi Brandt paid a ransom for a captured Lufthansa plane, to the more recent hypocritical or, worse still, self-deluding messages of gratitude by Western leaders to Damascus and Tehran for having "so generously helped to free" those traumatised victims whose very abduction they had either originally planned or actively aided and abetted. Nor is the attempt to play down the Syrian and Iranian involvement in the Lockerbie massacre exactly reassuring to anyone who would like justice seen to be done.

When I plead for patience and a sense of perspective it is because from the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, and other noble Lords it would appear that Israeli antics alone stand in the way of resuming the peace dialogue; that Israeli transgressions against Palestinians could justify Arab reluctance to take part in further proceedings. That is grossly unfair. We in Britain have been living for decades with the Irish problem. Death and terror stalk daily unhappy Northern Ireland. Indeed they menace our lives on our very doorsteps. We have learnt to live with this curse sufficiently not to make apocalyptic judgments after each outrage. Yet if we learn that on the West Bank 12 men with criminal records, some of them members of the very network that planned the Lockerbie murder, have been expelled or that young Israeli recruits have shot in self-defence, reacting—I repeat, reacting—to a terrorist attack, a murder, a car bomb or an ambush, all hell is let loose and Israel is the breaker of the peace.

The most reverend Primate talked movingly about his experiences in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. I have also had the privilege of spending successive Christmas holidays in that area. I have talked to many of my Christian Arab friends. Is the most reverend Primate aware that the Intifada, intimidation and threats from PLO terrorists hit the Christian community? I tried to rethink the incident that he quoted about the young Englishman who wanted to visit a shrine of worship and who was herded into a queue by a local Israeli sentry. Will he pause and reflect upon the security problems that those young men have to endure? What would world opinion have said had a bomb exploded near or in a shrine of Christian worship?

On the ground, the relationship between the Christian Churches and the Israeli Government, especially between Mayor Kollek and Teddy Konni, and members of his faith and members of the Church of Rome are exemplary, and the mayor and the people around him who are interested in Jewish/Christian relationships are doing a good job and are caring and concerned.

I am also not unmindful of the change of tone (the more conciliatory tone) of the leaders of the Palestinians at the peace talks in Madrid and Washington. I know and respect Faisal Husseini. I admire Mayor Frey of Bethlehem. I am impressed by Hanan Ashrawi. They are more realistic, balanced, constructive and trustworthy spokesmen than the terrorists of Tunis or, for that matter, the ruling junta of Damascus, but their friendlier tone and realistic stance are of recent origin. They are relatively new players and I am afraid that their occasional relapses into classical PLO rhetoric are still too frequent to allow Israel to lower its guard dramatically.

I have a sheaf of BBC monitoring reports for the past four days. They are of PLO broadcasts from Tunis to the West Bank and Gaza. Their tone is different from that of Faisal Husseini. Yassir Arafat, only three or four days ago, congratulated Saddam Hussein on his most recent exhortation to further violence and continued struggle in the occupied territories. They are full of threats and exhortations to further violence and acts in the armed struggle; so one must admit that that is confusing for the people who wish to form a balanced picture of the state of mind of the Arab world and Israel's Arab neighbours.

It is also true that the Israeli coalition Government are obviously at loggerheads over various important nuances of policy. Government by coalition is a delicate affair at the best of times. It is more so in Israel. The late David Ben-Gurion used to say that the Jews were a people like any other, only more so. Israel's complex and somewhat antiquated electoral laws bear that out. They are, if one likes, excessively democratic. That is the price we have to pay when dealing with a free society rather than a tyranny, and that is why I feel that we should show patience. I am optimistic and feel strongly that after the procedural teething troubles, the real and substantive negotiations will resume.

On the bilateral talks between Israel and the Palestinian-Jordanian delegations, I feel that progress can be achieved within the framework of an autonomy plan in a timeframe of, let us say, five years and a break of three years, after which the final shape and scope of a Palestinian self-governing entity can be resolved. It is obvious that before long elections in Israel will intervene, and equally obvious that the men sitting at the opening sessions will scarcely be the same as those who will sign the final protocols on the Jewish or the Arab side of the table.

On the Syrian-Israeli front, things look initially more problematical, but the Syrian-Israeli problem is in one way easier and in other ways much more difficult to settle. Fortunately, neither history nor religion are profoundly involved. The frontiers of the Golan Heights were not determined by God, no prophet brought his tablets down from those mountain peaks. Those frontiers were inspired by two frock-coated gentlemen in Whitehall and the Quai d'Orsay: Sir Mark Sykes and Monsieur Georges-Picot. They were the result of intensive horse trading between two colonial powers set on demarcating their respective spheres of influence.

Nor in fact is the frontier between Israel and Lebanon more immutable and sacrosanct than the frontier separating the West Bank of Jordan and that kingdom which is only called Hashemite because Whitehall had to pay a debt to a fugitive ally who lost his home and crown to a desert conqueror.

If Mr. Shamir, and the overwhelming majority of Israelis, are reluctant to move from the Golan Heights which they won and held in three defensive wars, we must not show total incomprehension if they want to hang on to them. Of course, a compromise must be sought and found. But there is no reason to stigmatise, demonise and curse the state, the people and the Government of Israel because they want to hold on to a slice of land that they consider viscerally important for their defence and survival.

Where Europe and Britain may well have most to contribute, where ultimately its influence could be best exerted is in the multilateral forum destined to meet in Moscow later in the month. It is there where Arab states within and beyond the immediate radius of the conflict are to participate and talk about common issues. Any confidence building deed and gesture must be encouraged. That is whether it is Saudi Arabia's tentative offer through Prince Bander in Washington for a possible lifting of the economic boycott, certain Saudi and Kuwaiti hints at magnanimous investment in the greater Palestinian area, including even—as I have seen somewhere—financial support for a Russian-Jewish settlement in pre-1957 Israel; whether it is the offer of the King of Morocco to help to bridge the gap between Jews and Arabs through the positive contribution of north African Sephardic Jewry; or whether it is a much closer relationship between the European Community and Jews and Arabs in the region. All such gestures, or even mere mentions, could have a galvanising effect on Israeli public opinion and an encouraging impact on Israel's well-wishers throughout world Jewry.

There could be great friendly pressure brought on the decision makers in Jerusalem to meet Arabs and Palestinians more than half way. The slowing down of settlements on the West Bank, the reopening of universities and schools, a greater understanding in matters of water resources and Arab industrial expansion on the West Bank and Gaza could all be achieved if the man and woman in the street in Israel could be made to believe that they are not ringed round with implacable enemies.

But beyond all those issues and beyond all desirable symmetrical concessions, is one factor that must not be overlooked. There can be no real peace in the Middle East without the restructuring of Middle East society in the direction of democracy and the more elementary freedoms and observancies in the rights of man. Why is it that wherever there is change in the world today and where the West is able to make its will felt materially and intellectually we firmly insist, indeed unconditionally, on a transition to democracy and observance of human rights?

In Eastern Europe and Central and South America, and in carts of Africa and Asia, we make any form of serious material or military commitment dependent on governments adhering to the minimal standards required of a civil society; but we do not do this in the Arab or Moslem Middle East. Have we openly made help to General Assad dependent on abrogating terror and letting people live in freedom? I am not dwelling on the fate of the 4,000 Syrian Jews as other speakers have done this evening; I am talking about the freedom of speech and assembly of the Syrian people or the Lebanese people who are now smarting under Syrian control. Unless and until we are applying the same standards that we apply to others to the Middle East region and unless we ask them to subscribe to the same rules of moral conduct that we now require of the successor states of the Soviet Union, we shall not be able to achieve real peace or make peace last.

Even formal treaties will not be worth the paper or parchment on which they are written without a move to a more democratic and civil society. Therefore as we are now preparing to become the next incumbents of the presidency of the European Community, we should prepare ourselves for the long haul of the peace process between Israel and her neighbours. We must not sacrifice moral standards to transient expediency. Instead, we must resolutely and doggedly uphold those loftier aims of freedom and human dignity which won through so decisively in the crucial two years that lie just behind us when the collapse of communism was brought about.

10 p.m.

Viscount Buckmaster

My Lords, I must apologise for not having added my name to the list of speakers at an earlier stage. During the Recess I have been out of touch with your Lordships' House and I only learnt of this Unstarred Question when I entered the House this afternoon. I hope your Lordships will therefore excuse any shortcomings in my speech.

As usual I shall speak on behalf of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding, of which I am a vice-chairman. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, whom I have supported on similar subjects on eight or nine occasions since I joined your Lordships' House some nine or 10 years ago, I must say that I found his drafting of the Unstarred Question a little limited. Therefore, I have had the temerity to draft a further Unstarred Question which I hope will be discussed when the current Arab-Israeli discussions are over and may include some of the wider issues which the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, mentioned.

I very much enjoyed the speech of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury as I know the area of which he spoke so well. I wish to emphasise a point that the most reverend Primate made. We in the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding feel strongly about that point, which is the continued closure of the Bir Zeit University. Most of the other educational establishments are now functioning, but the closure of the Bir Zeit University is widely resented.

In his address to the Madrid conference, the leader of the Palestinian delegation, Dr. Haider Abdelshafi, eloquently and with great restraint expressed both the plight of his people and their aspirations for independence and co-existence with Israel. That is a most important point. I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, acknowledge the intervention of the Arabs in that conference.

Dr. Haider Abdelshafi drew his speech to a splendid conclusion. I shall not quote from his speech at length as the hour is late and I realise that long quotations are tedious to listen to. However, I shall quote the final lines of his speech when he said: Let us end the Palestinian-Israeli fatal proximity in this unnatural condition of occupation, which has already claimed too many lives. No dream of expansion or glory can justify the taking of a single life. Set us free to re-engage as neighbours and as equals on our holy land". That was a splendid conclusion and what a contrast it is with the unbending attitude of the Israeli Government!

One of the major concerns of the Palestinians today is Israel's settlement policy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Some 120,000 settlers have already been moved into those areas. That figure does not take into account occupied East Jerusalem, where there are approximately 150,000 Israeli citizens settled on lands which Israel has illegally annexed. Israel has now taken control of no less than 67 per cent. of the West Bank and 50 per cent. of the Gaza strip and intends to increase the settled population there to over 200,000 in the next two years with the object of blocking any chance of a genuine territorial compromise in that land. That is a very serious situation which Her Majesty's Government ought to consider.

My final and most important point is that Her Majesty's Government—and I hope that the Minister will confirm this —have long made clear their view that the settlement programme is an obstacle to the peace process. Would it not be possible, therefore, to find ways to bring effective pressure to bear upon Israel to freeze its settlement programme? For example, we might do that acting in consort with our European partners. Might we not thus be able to find some means of persuading the Israelis to think again?

10.6 p.m.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I am sure that we are all delighted that the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, managed to enter the debate because he had some telling points to make, not least his powerful quotation. I am sure also that we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, for giving us the opportunity for the debate tonight, if only because it has enabled Members on both sides of this House to bring a great deal of considered judgment and wisdom to bear. I have taken heart from the absence of unbridled emotion in debating an issue which can become dangerously emotional.

It is also a great privilege that the most reverend Primate came here so quickly after his visit to the area to share so honestly and directly with your Lordships' House the graphic examples of what he had seen and to make his own wise comments about the basis on which progress could be achieved.

There is somebody not present in the House tonight who also deserves a tribute. I do not believe that we would be having such a debate, looking positively to the future in so far as we have been able, if it had not been for the incredible commitment and energy of Secretary of State Baker of the United States. I am surprised that no tribute has been paid to him more fulsomely in the course of the debate for the work he has done and the results he has already achieved in bringing the different parties to the conflict together.

It is absolutely clear that inescapably, historically, taking into account the Balfour Declaration and the rest, we in the United Kingdom have a special responsibility in the area which we ignore at our peril. It seems to me that there is a paradox. On the one hand—and this has been referred to in the debate—we live in a totally interdependent world where it is very difficult to look at any acute political crisis in a watertight compartment without seeing its implications for the international situation as a whole. Very much in the Middle East the interests of us all are at stake, particularly—as was starkly brought home by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, in his telling remarks—in an age of weapons of mass destruction and the capabilities of less predictable international terrorism. In recent months and years the Gulf and Lebanon have brought home to us the reality of that interdependence and its implications for the world as a whole. Yet the paradox is that an effective, lasting solution can only be found by the immediate parties to the confrontation and conflict. A solution cannot be imposed by those from outside.

Taking that point, I was struck by what my noble friend Lord Cocks emphasised. It is indeed true to recognise that while there are special dimensions to the problems of the Middle East, and we do have a particular historical involvement, the lessons of the Middle East are not unique. The issues at the centre of the Middle East crisis are in no way unique. We can see them in Yugoslavia and in the former Soviet Union. We can see them in many parts of Africa, including the Sudan. They are certainly there in Iraq, both north and south. Mention has been made of the Kurds but in my recent visit to Iraq I was at least as disturbed by the ethnic issues affecting the Shi'ites in the South. They are there in Kashmir and in Sri Lanka; and, dare I say it, they are also nearer home, in the story of Ireland.

The noble Lord, Lord Quinton, in a very important review of the total situation, put the Middle East crisis in a wider regional context. The noble Lords, Lord Annan and Lord Beloff, emphasised the tremendous importance of security. Although, as I said, these issues are true of other parts of the world also, it seems to me that in the Middle East there are two essential elements which we cannot disregard in our search for a solution. Those are the principles of security and justice. That means security for Israel, and particularly we may focus on the Golan Heights which have projected Syria into a key role if a solution is to be found. It means justice for the Palestinians: the occupied territories, settlers, political prisoners, human rights, the way in which universities have been closed and the rest. But it also involves security for the Palestinians because the Palestinians do not see the issues to which I referred as issues only of human rights. They see them also as security issues because they view settlers who come on to their land as an aggressive threat.

Similarly, the issue of justice does not apply only to the Palestinians. One of the realities that has struck me in visits that I have been able to make to Israel and the region is that justice is a very real issue for the younger generation of Israelis who find themselves in a situation in which they have no other home and no other residence. It is a situation which they have inherited but which is not altogether of their making. The principles of justice apply for the Israelis as well.

It seems to me that the outside world must resist the temptation to be too prescriptive, let alone more partisan than the wiser, moderate and more courageous leaders in both communities. As the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, and my noble friend Lord Cocks underlined, at this critical time self-restraint and statesmanship should be the order of the day. Our task is surely to help create a context conducive to progress by the parties themselves, to enhance the confidence of the parties as they negotiate.

However, there are two matters on which clarification of the British Government's position would greatly help. The first concerns the fourth Geneva Convention, which is again back in the news following the Israeli decision to begin deportation procedures against 12 activists. Calculations suggest that Israel has expelled 1,200 people since 1967. But it has used that tactic only sparingly in recent years, presumably to avoid antagonising those who seek to establish talks.

Following the American decision on Monday night to back the unanimous UN resolution condemning the planned expulsions, the Palestinian delegation to the peace talks is demanding international action to achieve immediate implementation of the fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. That, together with the fourth Hague Convention of 1907, constitutes international law on belligerent occupation. The two conventions set out mandatory rules which should govern the conduct of the Israeli state as an occupying power. Adequately observed and enforced they would offer an important degree of protection of the most basic human rights of the population of the occupied territories putting an absolute ban on the deportation or transfer of protected persons, on the transfer of the civilian population of the occupying power into the occupied territories as well as on collective punishment and reprisal against protected persons or their property.

Israel recognise the Geneva Conventions as customary international law but the problem is that Israel does not recognise the de jure applicability of the fourth Geneva Convention to the occupied territories. Both members of the European Community and the United States have consistently voted in favour of UN resolutions calling on Israel to recognise de jure applicability.

Security Council Resolution 681 was one of a number of US inspired resolutions designed to show "even-handedness" and sensitivity to Arab concerns in the build-up to the Gulf War. It again reiterated international concern to implement the fourth Geneva Convention in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but went further in considering the possibilities of sanctions in the event of continued Israeli non-compliance. The resolution specifically called for a meeting of the high contracting parties to the fourth Geneva Convention to determine if Israel was complying and, if not, what to do about it. Will the Minister today clarify what is happening on that front? What is the Government's own position? When will a meeting be convened?

Britain is not only among the high contracting parties but as I have suggested also has a particular responsibility as an ex-colonial power. In the past, the United Kingdom consul general in East Jerusalem took that responsibility seriously and was active in visiting the scenes of disturbing incidents, often, I gather, against specific instruction from the Israeli Foreign Ministry and defence forces, in order personally to monitor events. Of late we seem to have been more quiescent. Will the Minister explain the reason for that? Are the Government able to give an estimate of the number of political prisoners currently detained by the Israeli authorities? By the same token it would be helpful if the Minister could confirm the current level of settlement within the occupied territories.

The second matter concerns European Community representation in East Jerusalem. The European Community aid programme is considerable. The assistance programme was expanded following the decision of the European Parliament in March 1991 to make an emergency allocation of 60 million ecus. That was to compensate Palestinians for the disruptions and economic losses which resulted from the Gulf War—for example, expulsion of Palestinian workers, loss of remittances, the massive drop in per capita GNP in the occupied territories, which is now only 750 dollars in Gaza —loss of Arab markets for Palestinian produce, disruption to industry and agriculture caused by prolonged curfews, and so on. The 60 million ecus were supposed to go directly to Palestinian institutions in the occupied territories. However, the European Community has no presence on the ground in East Jerusalem and no locally-based staff to monitor and evaluate expenditure. I understand that Brussels is having great difficulty in ensuring that this money is well used and has been pressing Israel to allow the establishment of a permanent representative in East Jerusalem equal in status to the European Community representative in Tel-Aviv.

Israel has so far been unforthcoming on the issue. I understand it has said that representatives of the European Community are most welcome to visit and to put up in a hotel in East Jerusalem but they cannot open an office. I also believe that the Minister for Overseas Development is on record as saying that our Government appreciate the need for a permanent EC presence and have communicated that to Israel. Can the Minister confirm tonight that we are continuing such representations? Has the issue been linked with ratification of trade and financial protocols with Israel? Would it not be helpful to explain to Israel that any further discussion on closer ties with the Community must be contingent on allowing a fully fledged and accredited European Community representation role in East Jerusalem?

I mention those two issues because they are important matters over which we have some direct influence. They deeply affect the political environment in which progress can be achieved. However, having mentioned those two specific points, I wish to conclude by re-emphasising that the two principles which must be central to any solution are those of justice and security. I wish also to re-emphasise that in our approach to these matters, this is a time above all for sensitivity, self-restraint and patience. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, will take that point in the spirit in which it was made.

To the degree that any formula does not command the commitment and identification of the most significant parties to the confrontation on the ground it will be destined as likely to fail. God knows what the eventual costs of failure will be. The stakes are high but I believe that the Government will enjoy the support of all parts of this House if they put at the top of their foreign policy priorities a determination to do everything possible to assist a positive outcome.

10.23 p.m.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this matter once again. I am also grateful to the many noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. I offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who speaks for the first time from the Opposition Front Bench. It is a pleasure to welcome him.

Many noble Lords will remember that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, tabled a similar Question six months ago. It fell to me then, as now, to answer on behalf of the Government. But this is not a repetition of an old debate. So much has been achieved in the last few months.

Perhaps I may list just a few significant steps. On 30th October in Madrid Israel sat down at a table with all her Arab neighbours—not only with surrounding states but also with representatives of the Palestinians. On 3rd November bilateral negotiations were launched. The participants agreed that these would be based on Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. Israeli and Palestinians shook hands. All parties agreed to continue their talks and despite setbacks they are meeting again in Washington this week. We now look forward to further rounds of bilateral negotiations and to the launch of multilateral discussions of regional issues in Moscow on 28th January.

This is a start. But there is still a long way to go. Negotiations will not be easy. All parties will have to make further compromises. But the very fact that the peace process has moved so far demonstrates a very real desire on the part of all those caught up in the Arab/Israel dispute to resolve it and make peace. There is now a great opportunity to achieve a just and lasting settlement for which we have been working so long.

All parties should refrain from provocative statements and actions which may hinder the negotiations. This debate was not hampered by anything provocative although there was a recognisable partisanship at some points. However, it is important that that state of affairs is sustained while those delicate talks are in progress. We deplore the recent Israeli decision to deport 12 Palestinians from the occupied territories. That is contrary to international law and is particularly provocative at this stage of the peace process. It is right and proper that the UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the decision.

The noble Lords, Lord Chalfont and Lord Weidenfeld, put another side to that story from the Israeli point of view. We deplore all violence but its perpetrators should be dealt with in accordance with the law. I understand that at present Israel proposes to deport 12 Palestinians without charge or trial.

Perhaps this is an appropriate moment to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, as regards the fourth Geneva Convention. We and our European partners have repeatedly exercised our right under Article 1 of that convention to take up breaches of international law under human rights obligations in the occupied territories. There is no doubt that the fourth Geneva Convention applies to those territories. Israel should comply fully with its obligations under the convention.

We believe that a meeting of the high contracting parties to the Geneva Convention to consider ways in which to protect the Palestinians may be useful. However, it should be convened only after the most careful preparation. If badly prepared, such a meeting could exacerbate existing tensions without having any practical effect on the Palestinian situation. Therefore, we have suggested to the UN Secretary General that a smaller consultative committee might meet first to examine ways to ensure Israeli respect for the fourth Geneva Convention.

We commend the Arab decision to participate in the present round of talks despite the apparent provocation of the deportations. Only by negotiation can the underlying causes of the problem of the occupied territories be eliminated. The most reverend Primate spoke movingly of conditions in Jerusalem and the West Bank and of his anxiety for the Christian community there. We are especially grateful for his attendance at your Lordships House to contribute in the debate on his return from the region.

Until a settlement is reached, we shall continue to work to improve conditions in the occupied territories not only through our approaches on human rights but also through aid. In March the EC agreed to provide a grant of £42 million emergency aid to the occupied territories to compensate for the economic impact of the Gulf crisis, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. In response to his question, a representative of the occupied territories has been appointed to ensure that that money is spent quickly and effectively. Britain also has a bilateral aid programme and remains a major contributor to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees. However, our work on human rights and aid can be no substitute for a solution to the political dispute.

I have spoken about the British Government's role in the negotiations. As the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said, it is not a leading role. This was an American initiative from the start and it was the Americans who created the opportunity and the Americans who are best placed to carry forward the process. Secretary Baker has worked tirelessly to bring the parties to the negotiating table and I am pleased to join the noble Lord, Lord Judd, in his tribute to Secretary Baker. He and President Bush and the Russian co-sponsors continue to take an active interest in the negotiations. We and our European partners decided at the start that the most valuable role that we could play was to support the American initiative and subsequent developments have shown that to be the right choice.

Since the end of hostilities in the Gulf we have been doing everything we can to support the peace initiative. We have used our contacts with the parties to the dispute to urge them to come to the negotiating table. We have encouraged other states in the region to lend their support. We have worked closely with the Americans and with our EC partners. We were represented at the conference in a delegation led by the EC presidency. That delegation played a full part in the events of Madrid, speaking at the conference as a full participant and using its influence to push the process forward.

We and our EC partners will have an important role to play in the multilateral negotiations on regional issues which are due to be launched at the end of January in Moscow. Those negotiations are an integral part of the process and should complement and support the bilaterals. Progress in the multilaterals will depend on political progress. But given that, there is scope for a range of initiatives on economic development to benefit the region as a whole.

We will do what we can to help the talks along. We hope that a wide variety of states from both inside and outside the Middle East will be involved, all contributing their expertise. The EC and individual governments will expect to play a leading part in the negotiations on regional economic co-operation and arms control.

The responsibility for progress in the peace process now lies primarily with the parties to the dispute. Only they can make the compromises necessary for peace. No one can negotiate on their behalf or dictate the terms of a settlement. We are urging them to keep the momentum going. As the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, said, they all have so much to gain from a peaceful settlement. I listened carefully to what the noble Lord said. I do not know how much more we can do to spell it out or, as he put it, publicise it. However, I shall read carefully what the noble Lord said on the matter and draw it to the attention of my department.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, mentioned the need for privileged access to the EC to be dependent on progress towards land for peace. We hope that a settlement to the Arab-Israel dispute will open the way to closer EC co-operation not only with Israel but with the region as a whole. It seems inevitable that major changes of that nature will flow from, rather than precede, progress in the peace process.

The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, was good enough to give me notice regarding his anxiety about proliferation. I can only say that so wide and detailed were the cases that he mentioned that I shall not answer them this evening in full. I shall need to write to him hut, as the noble Lord is aware, a debate is to take place on Monday in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, where that subject will be examined exhaustively.

The noble Lord mentioned the danger that the disintegration of the former Soviet Union may lead to the proliferation of weapons in the Middle East. We look to individual republics to minimise such risks and have made clear to them that their approach on non-proliferation will be crucial in our developing bilateral relations with them. The close Western co-ordination on recognition has helped to bring the republics to a responsible approach on these questions. We and our Western allies are broadly satisfied with the assurances given, although I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, says when he speaks of the instability of the area. One must hope and pray that the disaster that he expects can be averted.

We expect Russia, as the continuation of the former Soviet Union, to uphold Soviet rights and obligations under the non-proliferation treaty. We made clear to other republics with nuclear weapons on their territories that we expect them to accede to the non-proliferation treaty as non-nuclear weapon states as soon as possible. As I said, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, developed the argument much further and I do not believe that there is time to deal with it all at this hour.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, mentioned the need for a security guarantee for Israel, as did other noble Lords. We have always said that any settlement should provide for the security of Israel. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, is surely right when he says that Israel has legitimate fears in that respect, and it is certainly understood that it will be looking for security. We believe that there is a role for the international community, particularly the UN Security Council, in endorsing and guaranteeing any agreement reached. As the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, suggested, there will almost certainly be a need for security guarantees in any overall settlement. The shape of those will emerge in any negotiations and may indeed involve a United Nations role.

I heard it suggested, and my noble friend Lord Quinton raised his anxiety, that Israel would be forced to take decisions against her security interests. There is no question of that. On the contrary, Israel's security is best assured by a negotiated peace with her Arab neighbours as the Gulf crisis has shown. Yes, I am pleased to pay tribute to Israel's courage and sense of responsibility during the recent conflict.

Israel has always called for direct talks with her neighbours and at last these are possible. Israel should seize the chance to make peace with her enemies. A solution cannot be imposed; it must be freely accepted. Only then will it bring stability and only then will it reconcile Israel's right to security with the legitimate concerns of the Arabs, not least the Palestinians' right to self-determination.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, asked about upgrading the Government's relations with the PLO. I cannot agree with his conclusions. The arrangements for the Palestinians' negotiating team are carefully and skilfully balanced. They have enabled effective and authentic representation for the Palestinians. We have not renewed ministerial contacts for reasons of preserving that balance. Officials will continue to meet the PLO. Ministers are more than happy to meet members of the Palestinian negotiating team.

There is no prospect for a lasting peace unless there is justice for the Palestinians. That is why we believe that Israel should withdraw from occupied territory. As President Bush said on the opening day of the conference in Madrid, territorial compromise will be essential for peace. We and our European partners have been firmly opposed to Israel's settlement activity. I believe that that is a matter which the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, raised.

We believe that the policy of establishing settlements in the occupied territories is not only illegal, but an obstacle to peace, as are all Israel's policies of repression which contravene the fourth Geneva Convention. Israel's continued failure to administer the occupied territories according to international law and human rights standards gives added urgency to the search for a settlement to the underlying political dispute.

My noble friend Lord Beloff spoke of the rescinding of the resolution. We would like the resolution equating Zionism with racism repealed by an overwhelming majority. The resolution is obnoxious. We have always been against it. Its repeal should open the way for further constructive UN involvement in the Middle East area.

The most reverend Primate drew our attention to the situation as regards universities, as did the the noble Lord, Lord Judd. We welcome the Israelis' gradual re-opening of the universities in the occupied territories. That follows repeated approaches by the Twelve. We join the most reverend Primate in deploring the decision to extend the closure order on Bir Zeit University to the end of February. We call on Israel to allow Bir Zeit to re-open. We shall continue to speak up against this denial of basic human rights. The closure is not justified by security concerns. Education is a focus of EC aid and efforts in the occupied territories.

If there are matters outstanding which I have not raised then I can give your Lordships an assurance that I shall write in the near future. There are signs that the opening of negotiations has already had a positive effect on public opinion in the region. A growing majority in Israel (over 70 per cent.) is now said to be in favour of giving up land for peace. At the time of Madrid we saw Palestinians in the occupied territories approaching Israeli soldiers with olive branches, not stones. We must do all we can to sustain this mood of hope. That should make the compromises less difficult.

House adjourned at twenty-one minutes before eleven o'clock.