HL Deb 18 October 1993 vol 549 cc409-11

Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to broaden the extent of recent peace initiatives including the Palestinians, Israel and other Middle Eastern states.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, we are urging on all sides the need for progress towards a comprehensive settlement. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is visiting Syria on 23rd and 24th October.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging Answer. She probably understands better than most people that the name of the United Kingdom stands high in the Middle East, and that the Israeli Government and their Prime Minister, with Mr. Yasser Arafat, have performed in a remarkable and worthwhile manner. But there will be other problems. There will be problems with some other Arab states and some Israelis. I hope that the Government will urge the United Nations to give help when it is required. Will the Minister also consider the problem that faces Kuwait, which has so many of its countrymen and women prisoners suffering terribly in Iraq? Will that too be taken into account as a direct consequence of the Middle East problem?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, for what he said. He is right. Despite the fact that the majority on both sides, in Israel and the Palestinians, are in support, there is opposition to the agreement. Unfortunately, there are also extremist elements who might resort to violence to overturn it. Such groups must not be allowed to succeed. We believe that all other Arab states and the Israelis must be helped by the international community to the maximum possible extent to make the peace agreement stick and to begin the business of rehabilitation. I shall look at what the noble Lord said about Kuwaiti prisoners in Iraq.

Viscount Tonypandy

My Lords, while I express great admiration for the part that the Foreign Secretary is playing in the Middle East, will the Minister be kind enough to ask her right honourable friend the Secretary of State whether, while he is in Syria, he will raise the case of Mr. Ron Arad, an Israeli pilot who was captured eight years ago, and seek if possible, on humanitarian grounds, to get that man restored to his family?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, for his question. We have deep sympathy for the relatives of Ron Arad and other hostages still held. The family of Mr. Arad called upon a senior FCO official this morning and raised those points. We have already engaged the staff of the United Nations Secretary General on Mr. Arad's case. We believe that the best hope lies with their efforts, but I shall bring the noble Viscount's question to the attention of my right honourable friend. If, by talking to the Syrians, we can do more to secure his release, I have no doubt that my right honourable friend will do so. The difficulty is not so much with the Syrians but perhaps more with the Iranians.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the peace process is an intricate jigsaw which has to be assembled painstakingly piece by piece? Has she noted the comments of Mr. Shaat, who leads the Palestinian delegation at Taba, that the low key discussions there made more progress in a few hours than more dramatic discussions have made in two years? Except where the safety of individuals such as Mr. Ron Arad is concerned, or where we can make a specific contribution, such as resources for the West Bank, does she agree that our most helpful course is probably to wish the negotiators well and to abstain from too much public comment?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I agree fully with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, that quiet diplomacy is often the best diplomacy. It worked to the benefit of Israelis and Palestinians in this case. We hope that it will work to the benefit of many others, not just in the Middle East but all over the world. The noble and learned Lord will understand that the intricate negotiation of a peace process is something after which the media hunger. To say nothing is assumed automatically by some to mean that one does nothing. That is not true. Quiet diplomacy will continue, whatever the media may call for.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, will the Minister tell us how it happened that the press never got a hint of what was going on in Norway? Cart that process be repeated?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, has put her finger on an issue which has puzzled us all: how on earth did we succeed in what went on? I believe that the emergence during the negotiations of a nine year-old boy alongside his father must have put everyone off. We must see whether children are a good influence in future peace negotiations. I do not know why the process was so successful but all I can say is thank goodness it was.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, does the Minister agree that enormous progress has been made in the peace process? However, to follow the question put by my noble friend Lord Tonypandy, would it not be a gesture of reconciliation which would help the peace process on its way if those who hold Ron Arad in captivity were persuaded to release him as soon as possible not only on humanitarian grounds but on the ground of helping forward the peace process?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, is absolutely right. As was said by my honourable friend Mr. Lennox-Boyd on 21st June, we are certain that, given that there is a willingness on Israel's part to release Sheikh Obeid and other prisoners if Ron Arad is released, the peace process would be further helped. However, as I remarked last week in this House during Question Time, the matter is not merely between Israel and the Palestinians but between Israel and other Middle East countries. We shall continue to use quiet diplomacy to try to achieve those very ends.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the remarkable Israeli-PLO endeavour, which cannot be praised high enough, has left authorised but inexperienced Arabs responsible for education, culture, health, social welfare and taxation? Is it not now time for the United Nations to help the Arab and Israeli people in those areas to set up a sensible organisation to carry out their duties?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, it is right not only that the United Nations should help but also that help should be given by those of us who on 1st October attended the Middle East Support Conference in Washington. There is a great deal to be done. Within the Community a substantial medium-term package is under consideration. In addition, Britain will build on the work that it has been doing in the occupied territories. That will in particular alleviate the plight of those living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank who have had no sizeable input as regards their education, health provision and housing.

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