HL Deb 11 January 1996 vol 568 cc256-7

3.17 p.m.

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

What representations they have made to the Government of Israel concerning the moves of their Ministries of Housing and Agriculture, together with the police and army headquarters and the civil courts, into premises situated in areas of East Jerusalem held as a result of military occupation.

Lord Chesham

My Lords, we avoid arranging meetings and calls with officials in Israeli Government offices in East Jerusalem. We also regularly reiterate and make clear our view that the status of Jerusalem is a matter to be determined in the final status talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and that nothing should be done in the meantime which might pre-empt the outcome of those negotiations.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply and very much welcome it. Will he he willing to convey my congratulations at least to his right honourable friend Mr. Hanley on his recent visit to Orient House in East Jerusalem for discussions with the Palestinian leaders?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I will be absolutely delighted to pass on the noble Lord's congratulations. That is something I do not see very often from anywhere but I shall pass on the congratulations with great pleasure. Indeed the Minister of State, Mr. Hanley, called at Orient House during his visit to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, which is a reaffirmation of the long-standing common EU policy on Jerusalem and Orient House; that is, that Foreign Ministers from EU states officially visiting Israel should also call at Orient House. The Israelis tried to persuade him not to go but the atmosphere with the Israelis was perfectly amicable and he made that visit.

Lord Haskel

My Lords, the wording of the Question is such that it gives the impression that the move of these offices was fairly recent. Is the Minister aware that these offices were moved to East Jerusalem over 10 years ago?

Lord Chesham

Yes, my Lords, I am aware of that. Perhaps I might expand slightly on that. The Ministry of Agriculture remains in Tel Aviv. The army HQ is in the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv although the HQ of the central command is in East Jerusalem and has been for some years. The Ministry of Housing moved to East Jerusalem in 1981; the police HQ has been in East Jerusalem for more than 20 years and has recently had a new HQ built in the same area; and the civil courts have moved to East Jerusalem in the past three years.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister explain why, if the purpose is to maintain the situatic:- in Jerusalem until the final phase of the peace negotiations, it is not equally improper for Orient House to function in East Jerusalem, which suggests that the decision will be on the Palestinian side? Why are these matters not treated equally?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I believe that they are treated equally in that visits are made to West Jerusalem on the Israeli side and Orient House is in East Jerusalem. Our position on Jerusalem has not changed. It is a matter to be determined in the final status talks between the parties and neither side should do anything to pre-empt the final status negotiations.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, is the Minister prepared to raise with his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs the question of continuing housing settlements to the east of Jerusalem? Will he ask his right honourable friend whether he will raise this matter with the United States Government? Since successive American Governments have described the policy as an obstacle to peace and as a complicating factor, would it not be appropriate to ask the American Government to use their considerable influence with the Israeli Government to stop that unfortunate and short-sighted policy?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I shall certainly pass on that message. Our position is that all settlements in occupied territory are illegal and are an obstacle to peace. We have raised the issue repeatedly with the Israeli Government.

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo

My Lords, can the Minister say whether he anticipates that the elections on 20th January will take place in East Jerusalem, and indeed all over Jerusalem? If that is not the case, will the Government bring pressure on the Israeli Government to ensure that they do?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, we have no reason to believe that the Palestinian elections, due on 20th January, which were agreed between the Palestinian authority and the Israeli Government, will not go ahead.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that many of us hope that what will emerge in the long run is Jerusalem as a capital for two separate states and entities? Will Her Majesty's Government bear in mind as a background to the negotiations the vital interests of three great monotheistic religions in not only Jerusalem but also such places as Bethlehem and Hebron?

Lord Chesham

Yes, my Lords.