HL Deb 27 March 2002 vol 633 cc226-8

2.45 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What they are doing to promote the success of the latest peace initiative in the Middle East.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, the Government welcome the efforts of the United States special envoy Anthony Zinni to broker a ceasefire and implement the Tenet security work plan and Mitchell committee recommendations. The Saudi initiative is a rare and worthwhile opportunity to advance the cause of peace. We have urged Arab leaders to endorse it, despite Israel's refusal to allow President Arafat to attend the Arab League summit in Beirut today and the absence of other key leaders. We shall maintain our pressure on the parties to work for a political settlement in which two states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognised borders, as endorsed by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1397.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, I am sure that we should all be grateful to the noble Baroness for that positive reply. Does she agree, however, that the Saudi initiative is particularly welcome because it could lead to a guarantee of Israel's security? Does she also agree that the United Kingdom and the United States should now be building up our relations with the front-line Arab states rather than issuing threats in the context of anti-terrorism?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I agree that this is an important and extremely welcome initiative, and I am sure that we all wish our friends in the Arab League well in their discussions in Beirut today. On 18th March, the Prime Minister issued a statement welcoming United Nations Security Council Resolution 1397 and the initiative by Crown Prince Abdullah. I draw to the noble Lord's attention the statement only yesterday by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary saying how much he hoped that Arab leaders would endorse the Crown Prince's initiative. Very similar statements have been made by the European Union and the United Nations and indeed by President Bush. I think that this is a time to concentrate on what is positive in the possibility of moving forward.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, may I first congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, on an extraordinarily timely and perceptive Question? Is the Minister aware that the President of Syria, Mr Bashar al-Assad, announced at the Arab summit that he is calling on Arab states—particularly Jordan and Egypt—to break their ties with Israel? The issue of whether the Saudi peace initiative has the support of other governments has therefore become crucially important in paving the way to a possible peace in the Middle East. Have Her Majesty's Government made clear to friendly Arab powers how very seriously we take the Saudi initiative and our own strong support for that way forward?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, inevitably, as we are discussing this Question at the very time that the matter is under discussion in Beirut, I suspect that there will be breaking news throughout the day, with leaders at the Arab summit making comments. It is obviously the case that there are some who may wish to take issue with some parts of what has been proposed by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. However, I think that, generally, the welcome which has been given in very positive terms both by my right honourable friends in another place and by others in the United Nations and in the European Union speak for themselves. I emphasise that those statements have been made very openly by my right honourable friends and that we are actively urging those at the summit to take forward Crown Prince Abdullah's suggestions.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, while my noble friend is absolutely right that, as far as peace is concerned, a real olive branch should be offered at this time, is it not a fact that the leaders of Jordan and Egypt will not attend the summit? Does she also agree that there is a great deal to be discussed? It is not a matter of a simple yes or no. Real negotiations have to be undertaken. Does she agree with that?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, it is a matter of fact that the King of Jordan and the President of Egypt have not attended the summit although I am bound to say there has been a great deal of speculation in the press on the reasons for that. Until we hear directly the reasons behind those decisions, it is difficult to judge the position exactly. However, I point out that I believe that both have sent representatives. This is, of course, an enormously complicated and difficult subject. The Crown Prince's proposals touch on a number of difficult and sensitive issues, as I am sure all your Lordships are aware. Detail will he a matter for discussion. I also remind your Lordships of the importance of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1397 and the importance of the fact that Israel called the resolution balanced and the Palestinians welcomed it as a step forward to realisation of their aspirations. It is important to take the two together.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, does the Minister agree that clips from Palestinian newsreels, seen, incidentally, by noble Lords on all sides of the House as they are prepared by Palestinian Media Watch, which show imams, religious leaders and teachers telling young people of the glory of committing suicide in the name of Allah—I am certain that Allah would not require that—are making the conditions for a peaceful settlement much more difficult to attain? If President Arafat really believes what he says in English, he should say that in his own language to the people to stop these incidents so that the Palestinians can have a state side by side with Israel where everyone could live in peace, which I believe is the wish of the Muslims, the Jews and all kindly and good thinking people.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that suicide bombing and the misplaced fervour of those involved constitute a dreadful terrorist practice. I do not know whether the noble Baroness saw news footage last night of a young mother who hoped that her four year-old son would grow up to become a suicide bomber. That was a truly chilling piece of evidence. Of course, there should be a clear statement from all people of good will that suicide bombing is unacceptable. However, it also leads us to a recognition of the sheer despair that is felt by such a mother and by young people who engage in such terrible and unacceptable practices.

Lord Kilclooney

My Lords—

Noble Lords

Next Question!

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, I think that we must move on now.