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Column 985Mr. Hartley Booth (Finchley): Does my hon. Friend deprecate the fact that Damascus has become a safe haven for no fewer than 10 different terrorist groups, most of which are aimed against Israel?
Mr. Clappison: I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. That factor undermines Israel in many respects, and I shall turn to that in a moment. I do not know whether my hon. Friend has visited the Golan heights, as I have, and stood among the disused Syrian bunkers with their commanding views across Israeli villages and the kibbutzim below. If he has done so, he will appreciate the special strategic and security implications for Israel.
I commend to the House the flexibility that has been shown by the Prime Minister of Israel. Last year, he told the United Kibbutz Movement:
"I view the Golan Heights through the security prism, first and foremost, no matter whether settlements exist there or not . . . if we reach the point where we need to remove settlements for the sake of peace, I have been and will remain in favour of it . . . For me, peace is a higher value for Israel's future and security than this or that group of settlements."
[Hon. Members:-- "Hear, hear."] I hear the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House, and we should commend that approach. Mr. Rabin, while putting security as the foremost consideration, is showing flexibility, and I hope that that flexibility will result in a response from the Government of Syria.
I also hope that Syria shows flexibility in respect of the important issue of the future of south Lebanon. Israel's position must be equally flexible, and governed by quite natural considerations of security, given the vulnerability of its northern borders. Everyone hopes that the Syrian Government will respond to that clear flexibility.
Confidence must be built, a starting point for which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth). The Syrian Government must show that they are serious about curbing terrorism in the middle east, and rebut any suggestion that Syria is in any way a safe haven for terrorist groups. One could not escape noticing the fact that the leader of Islamic Jihad, Fathi Shkaki, claimed responsibility for the Beit Lid outrage from Damascus. I join my hon. Friend and other hon. Members in support of the contention that Syria must rebut any suggestions that it is involved in terrorism, and I urge my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister to exercise all the Government's influence with the Syrians to move the peace process forward.
Jordan is a happier story, as it has played a full part in the peace process. I am sure that all Members would want to recognise the leadership of King Hussein over the Jordanian people. King Hussein waited for the Palestinians to begin their part of the peace process and to arrive at an agreement before concluding a peace treaty with Israel, which has removed the remaining differences between Jordan and Israel. Since then, a number of border crossings have been opened and the free passage of people and goods has commenced.
The King and the Government of Jordan deserve our support. They have shown clearly by their actions that they are interested in a warm peace, not a cold peace, and in many ways that sets a good precedent. They have stood firm in the face of discouragement from Syria at various
Column 986points during their involvement in the peace process. King Hussein has been at pains to deny the charge that Jordan's treaty with Israel weakens Syria's negotiations. He said:
"On the contrary it might have created a precedent in the right direction".
I am sure that many Members on both sides of the House agree with the King, and I hope that his actions set a helpful precedent which others could follow.
There are many difficult hurdles which the peace process must overcome. One of the most difficult of those is the issue of the future of Jerusalem. Jerusalem has special significance for three great faiths, and I feel it proper to recognise the way in which the holy sites have been maintained and made accessible to all since 1967, for the first time in 2,000 years. That is important to people of many faiths.
Jerusalem presents a difficult problem. There was wisdom in the Oslo agreement, which sought to postpone discussions on Jerusalem until negotiations on the final settlement were complete and progress on other fronts had been made. I do not want to criticise the Palestinians--I want to support them in their endeavours--but they might be wise to reflect on the wisdom of the agreement and to act within the spirit of it. One way in which they could do so is to think carefully about the use that could be made of Orient house in east Jerusalem, which has been suggested as a site for some form of diplomatic headquarters. The Palestinians must think carefully about that. Perhaps they should think again and concentrate on promoting other areas in which progress can be made.
As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary rightly stated, the parties to the negotiations have to work out and agree the timing and the pace. Surely they would be well advised to consider the effect of the timing and pace of their actions on the future of Orient house. Finally, on relations between Israel and this country, my right hon. Friend will shortly make his first visit to Israel as Prime Minister. It will be the second visit to Israel by a British Prime Minister in office--Lady Thatcher made the first in 1986. I warmly welcome the visit, which will cement the excellent bilateral relationship between this country and Israel. I also warmly welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend will be accompanied by a group of prominent business men, which I hope will help to develop the growing trade between the two countries, as Israel is our third most important trading partner in the middle east. I hope that more good will come of my right hon. Friend's visit.
The visit also has significance beyond trade, important though that is. The peace process in the middle east means a great deal to the region and to many people throughout the world. We have a good record of contributing to that process and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister deserves our strong support across the House for the further efforts that he will undoubtedly make to move forward that process, in which we have all invested so much hope.
Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West): I congratulate the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) on winning this Adjournment debate. At this time in the middle east peace process, it is important for the House to have an opportunity to discuss the issues and for Opposition Members to have the chance to support the efforts that
Column 987the Government and the international community are making to ensure lasting peace in the middle east. It is also important for hon. Members on both sides of the House to set out some of our concerns. We do not have much time and I do not want to take up any more than necessary, but it is important to say one or two things, given that the thrust of the speech by the hon. Member for Hertsmere concerned the security of Israel. I have been in this House for 16 years and have heard many people talking about the security of Israel from different perspectives. The argument has moved on, but it has not really changed. The hon. Gentleman fell into the trap of thinking that dealing with security in its military sense is the only way to guarantee Israel's security, without realising that the best security and harbinger of peace in the middle east would be a comprehensive peace settlement. That is the only security and future that Israel could and should be striving for, and that must be what all hon. Members dedicate themselves to.
The hon. Member for Hertsmere is right in saying that we must concentrate our efforts on a comprehensive peace settlement for the middle east and the various aspects of it. I agree with him that one of the most crucial aspects of that peace plan is for the Israeli-Syrian peace accord to be moved forward. I agree that the Syrians have made it clear that it must be full peace for full withdrawal and the Israelis have said that the depth of peace will be commensurate with the depth of withdrawal, but we need to go beyond that.
We have had many hints from the various capitals of the world that the two countries are close to concluding that agreement. We need to press harder to encourage them to take that extra step for peace. Then we must move on to the peace accord between Lebanon and Israel and to a further comprehensive peace that will remove all the inhibitions and problems that Israel faces. Israel cannot complain at the moment that it has somehow lost out because of anything that has happened so far as part of the declaration of principles, the Oslo agreement, or any other agreement for that matter.
I also pay tribute to the Israeli Government. They are the first Israeli Government to be elected on a platform for peace during the 16 years that I have been in this place and that should be recognised in the House. They were not only elected on a platform for peace, but have had the determination to make it happen. I have sat here through two previous Israeli Governments--the Likud Governments of Begin and Shamir. The latter went to Madrid and signed the original peace accord. As we now know, he did so with no intention of moving any way towards giving the Palestinians any rights, responsibilities or freedom and certainly with no intention of giving them a Palestinian authority, let alone a Palestinian state. This Israeli Government command respect and support because they fought on a platform for peace, and what is more important, a platform that set out land for peace, as outlined in Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. There is a different environment in Israel and I hope that the Israeli Government will be re-elected in the forthcoming elections. It is vital for the Israeli people and the middle east peace process that that Government, who are committed to peace, should be re-elected.
The Israeli-Palestinian problem is the crux of the middle east problem. I have difficulty agreeing with much of what the hon. Member for Hertsmere said on that
Column 988matter. It is clear to anyone who has worked in the middle east, understands it and realises the problems that the lack of comparability and equality between the two parties, who are supposed to be negotiating equally across the table, is the problem. There must be an equality of legitimacy between the Israelis and the Palestinians and that cannot happen unless the Palestinian authority can sit at that table as a directly elected authority. I am sure that many of my hon. Friends agree and will support me, as will Conservative Members, when I say that an early election on the west bank and Gaza is one of the vital cogs in the process. The forum, size and nature of the authority is for the Palestinians to determine and to agree with the Israelis and we must try to help. Whether it is a 100-person council, 65 persons as proposed by Egypt, 40 or 20, as proposed by Israel, is not as important as the fact that those elections take place. Unless and until they do, there cannot be the legitimacy of equality over the negotiating table, which is so vital if we are to move the peace forward.
As the hon. Member for Hertsmere secured this debate, I am sorry that we were not able to invite him to listen to the talk by Emma Murphy, the British academy postdoctoral fellow, at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies last week. She gave an excellent paper which, for the first time, brought together all the concerns and fears and began to look at the declaration of principles, the Oslo accord and the way in which they have impacted on the two countries. What Israel has done to exploit--I use that word as it is supposed to be used--the Oslo accord and the declaration of principles is no less than any other Government would have done in negotiations with another party. Later today, we will discuss the various ways in which Britain might secure the best place for Britain in Europe. I was not surprised when Emma Murphy set out in such detail in her paper the way in which the accord could not work because from the outset it was structured to favour the Israelis to the extent that there was an imbalance that would not allow it to be a success. She identified two international failures:
"Firstly, the international community has failed to insist that economic and political development in the West Bank and Gaza Strip should go hand in hand and secondly, Israel has been speedily rewarded both politically but more importantly economically, for its participation in the process, without regard for its own failures to fulfil either the spirit or the letter of the DOP"--
the declaration of principles. If any Member wants to challenge me, he need not merely take my word for that. Let us hear from Danny Doron, president of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants in Israel, who said:
"The firms are moving here on the belief that the peace process is a done deal."
Previously they were reluctant to deal with Israel for fear of damaging their business with the Arab world.
Let us list what has happened to Israel since then. By August 1994, it had announced that 20 countries had established diplomatic relations since the Israeli accord. Prime Minister Rabin has been to China, Indonesia and Singapore to open up those markets, which were previously closed to Israel. Even Vietnam has had discussions with Israel. Even the Japanese Security Dealers Association authorised its members to conduct trading through the Israeli stock exchange for the first time, and the Japanese Trade and Industry Minister offered training to Israeli managers and workers in Japanese firms.
Column 989So it is difficult for anyone to come to the Chamber and argue that Israel has lost out. What should concern us is how the Oslo accord has worked against the best chances of a real peace agreement in line with the declaration of principles. As a result of that dialogue, the Palestine National Authority has been given direct responsibility for education, culture, health, social welfare, direct taxation and tourism. But it must co-operate with Israel in the more strategic areas of water, electricity, energy, financial development, transport, communications, trade and industry, environment, labour, media and the hunt for international aid and finance. Most notably, Israel divests itself of the expensive function of government but has retained its influence over matters directly related to the economic development of the authority which it handed over to the Palestinians.
So, from the outset, the Palestinians' hands have been tied because they were given the most costly matters to look after while economic matters must be agreed with Israel. Moreover, as a result of the Oslo accord and the newly developing peace, Arab money is pouring into the west bank and Gaza and, for the first time ever, that money is now accessible to Israel. Who would have thought that Israel would have had access to Saudi, Egyptian, Jordanian and diaspora Palestinian finances? As it now has that access to the occupied territories' markets, it is not much of a loser.
None the less, the world community, including this country, finds fault with the Palestine National Authority and asks why it has not done this or achieved that, without realising, understanding or accepting the imbalance in its relationship with Israel. It is perhaps ironic that it took 26 years thoroughly to reduce the occupied territories' economy, yet the international community expected a massive turnround in the space of months. When Israel's disengagement fell behind schedule and elections failed to materialise, Israeli closures strangled the lifeline of the Palestinian income, aid only dripped into the west bank, Gaza and the occupied territories and living standards fell, the result--not surprisingly--was a loss in public faith in the opportunities presented by the deal and a rise in political tensions.
It is crucial that those issues are understood. For the benefit of the hon. Member for Hertsmere and with the agreement of Emma Murphy, I shall place her extremely enlightening document in the Library so that the hon. Gentleman and other colleagues can read it. The benefits for Israel are great. The Troika visited Israel recently for discussions with Prime Minister Rabin and Foreign Minister Peres. Apart from correctly raising issues which it regarded as blocks to the success of the middle east peace process--the settlements and the failure of the international community to help Palestinians in Gaza--it also discussed special, favoured terms for Israel. The European Mediterranean Association agreement, which I understand is 95 per cent. agreed--we are arguing over the last 5 per cent. --will give Israel, the only non-European Union member, privileged access to research and development and bidding for projects in European countries. It has gained that privileged access because of its commitment to resolving peacefully the problems in the middle east.
Column 990At the same time, Israel is telling the European Union, which is the largest single contributor to the peace process--it is giving 500 million ecu--that it must keep its nose out of the political side of those negotiations. That is no longer possible. Without seeking to attack Israel, we must remind it, as the United States Government did when they temporarily suspended $10 billion of aid some years ago because Israel was not working as hard as they thought it should, that if it wants that association agreement to be concluded, we expect certain measures from it. If it intends to be a partner to the European Union, it is not too much to ask that it listens to what we have to say.
One of the most important measures is Palestinian elections. It is essential that the Palestinians can sit down at the negotiations as an elected authority to negotiate with their elected counterparts in Israel. It is also important that we understand the conditions under which those elections can and will take place. The International Human Rights Law Group, in its book, "Guidelines for International Election Observing", defines the following minimal conditions for free and fair elections:
"no unreasonable limitations placed on a citizen's ability to participate in the political process, including the right to a secret vote and the right to be elected to office; and respect for the rights of freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly for a period adequate to allow political organizing and campaigning and to inform citizens about the candidates and issues." There must be a full withdrawal of Israeli military presence if those elections are to take place. I firmly believe that, if an elected Palestinian authority can negotiate with its Israeli counterparts, a comprehensive peace plan will be well on the way to being established. That is the best and only security that Israel can possibly want.
Sir Timothy Sainsbury (Hove): It is some 13 years since I last had an opportunity to participate in a debate on the middle east and Israel. During that time, while other responsibilities enforced my absence from such debates, a great deal happened--most recently, an advance in the peace process. I therefore warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) on initiating this debate and welcome the opportunity to make a new contribution to it. The hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) emphasised several times that, in his view, the best way to obtain security for Israel was a "comprehensive peace". In a speech 13 years ago, I made the obvious and, I hope, now generally agreed point that the best way to advance the peace process was to promote direct negotiations between Israel and her neighbours. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that, given everything that has happened since then, that is not just the best way but the only way to achieve substantial progress in the peace process. Intermediaries have an important role, but it should be restricted to bringing about direct negotiations, which have achieved results in respect of Egypt, Jordan and the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
A powerful message must be given to Syria. If it refuses to participate in direct talks with Israel, it is effectively saying that it has no interest, in advancing the peace process and bringing about de tente. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere said, a second message
Column 991that we should give Syria is about terrorism. Eliminating terrorism is the best confidence-building measure that one can have. Syria must not only say that it opposes terrorism but show that it will do something about it, instead of accepting the presence in its capital of many terrorist organisations, which seem to be able to operate with no interference and perhaps even with encouragement from the Government.
Mr. Cyril D. Townsend: My right hon. Friend made an interesting argument about the need for negotiations between the two partners to the accord; but is that the whole picture? Surely the United Nations has some part to play. What about United Nations resolutions 242 and 338? At a time when Israel is obviously breaking international law in the occupied territories, surely the wider community and the world has a part to play.
Sir Timothy Sainsbury: As I said, intermediaries do have a role, and I recognise that the United Nations can be an intermediary. Nevertheless, the history of efforts to obtain peace and improve security in the region shows that the only effective way to make real and lasting progress is for the parties to sit down face to face and negotiate--although that may be the result of a process and work by intermediaries. It is common sense that one will be unable to build confidence with a neighbour unless that neighbour is prepared to come and talk directly, instead of, so to speak, corresponding through solicitors. I reiterate that.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hogg) indicated assent .
Sir Timothy Sainsbury: And also on many other occasions. Obviously, it is also important that we do everything possible to retain and build on confidence in the peace process throughout the region. I support, in part at least, what the hon. Member for Dundee, West said about that.
The first effective way to do that is to improve the safety and security of all parties in the region, not only by negotiations between countries, but by eliminating terrorism, which is very destabilising to the process, and not only life-threatening but worse.
My right hon. Friend has mentioned terrorism. Does he agree that one needs to widen the net, and that, as it is now public knowledge that the Hamas illegal money is probably laundered through London, and as President Clinton has frozen similar assets in the United States since 24 January 1995, Britain should do the same?
Sir Timothy Sainsbury: My hon. Friend, who is a staunch supporter of Israel and who I know takes a close interest in these affairs, makes a valid argument. I entirely agree that attacking money laundering, whether it be in connection with drugs, terrorism or any other aspect of criminal behaviour, is an important way of fighting crime.
Column 992The second way to enhance confidence in the peace process, which has already been mentioned, is very important--it is to promote economic co-operation and trade. That will enable the people of the region--the people of Gaza and of Jericho as well as the people of Israel, Jordan and all the surrounding areas--to witness direct economic benefits in their lives, such as more jobs and greater prosperity.
There is enormous scope for advances to be made by co-operation between Israel and her neighbours. That co-operation can bring benefits, whether it be on transport infrastructure, tourism or water resources. Everyone recognises that there is an enormous number of ways of advancing co- operation.
I hope, and I am sure, that the United Kingdom Government will do all that they can to promote that co-operation and to bring about those benefits. The forthcoming visit of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to Israel will provide an opportunity to do that, especially as he will be accompanied, not only by right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, who will respond to the debate, but by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Export Trade, who I hope will build on the target set by one of his predecessors--me--to double trade flows between Israel and the United Kingdom. I am happy to say that we have made good progress towards that object.
Mr. Gerrard: In considering the economic developments that I am sure that we all want, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be helpful if, during the visit by the Minister for Export Trade, the Minister will argue that the policies of economic separation between the Palestinians and Israel that appear to be being pursued and actively encouraged by the Government of Israel are of no help in that process?
Sir Timothy Sainsbury: With the time limitations, I should not like to go too far down that route. Obviously there are ways of developing co- operation, which, for instance, might take the form of development of industrial estates on the borders between Gaza and Israel, which would provide job opportunities and opportunities for the use of Israeli capital and skills to provide work for inhabitants of Gaza.
Something else that would be essential to taking best advantage of opportunities for economic co-operation is the dismantling of the remaining and distasteful aspects of the boycott. Undoubtedly, we now have the best opportunity that we have ever had to give the people of Israel, and indeed her neighbours, peace and economic advance. I am sure that we in the United Kingdom--including my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State in his negotiations and all his contacts--will take every opportunity to advance that process and to build on what has been achieved.
Column 993The last time that I was in the middle east was about 18 months ago. That was at a time when the Madrid and Washington talks were generally felt to be on the rocks, at least by people living in the middle east. There was pessimism at that time among the people of the west bank and the Gaza strip about what the future held for them. Few people at that time knew--certainly I did not--of the talks that were going on in Oslo. Yet as soon as a couple of months later we witnessed that historic moment on the White house lawn when the peace accords were signed between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin. Much has been achieved. Much was achieved in that moment. The declaration of principles achieves a great deal. However, since that day in September 1993, there have been some reminders of the great importance of the peace process. Some of those reminders, as the hon. Member for Hertsmere reminded us, were the attacks of Islamic fundamentalists. There was also a reminder, in February 1994, when Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 people at the Ibrahim mosque in Hebron. That was a salutary reminder of the importance of the peace process. We all support the peace process, but one thing must be understood; it cannot stand still. It is a fragile process, and unless it constantly moves forward it is likely to fall apart. As time is short, I shall concentrate on two aspects that are vital in ensuring that the peace process moves forward and does not fall apart.
The first aspect has already been alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross)--the necessity for early elections to the Palestine National Authority. One of the top Palestinian negotiators on elections, Dr. Saeb Erekat, has said that the issue of elections is the make-or-break issue for the peace process. Elections will be the cement that binds that process together, which allows the Palestinians to act as full partners with Israel in making progress in the peace process.
A great deal of emphasis has rightly been placed on the need for economic revival in that part of the world, yet, if that is to happen, elections are a vital component. The fact that elections have not so far been held is one reason for delay in the provision of some of the aid that was promised by World bank donors as long ago as 1993. We need to consider the ways in which barriers to those elections may be removed. An early redeployment of Israeli troops away from the population areas must be a central part of that process. I welcome the fact that the Minister of State made that argument in the House on 1 February 1995, and it was made again much more recently by the European Parliament.
Political legitimacy requires democracy. For democracy to thrive, the participants in it must be confident. It is very difficult for the people of the west bank and Gaza to have that confidence if they feel that their elections are being supervised by what they still regard as an occupying power.
I refer briefly, and secondly, to the settlements, which are central to the success or otherwise of the peace process. I welcome the fact that the Minister recently acknowledged in the House that the settlements in the west bank and Gaza are unlawful--under international law and under article 49 of the fourth Geneva convention. There was a time when the former Government of Israel
Column 994seemed to think that it was open season for building settlements. I am pleased that the present Government do not see them in those terms and have declared a settlement freeze. If that settlement freeze is to be meaningful it has to be consistent, and seen to be so by the Palestinians living in the west bank and the Gaza strip.
I accept what the hon. Member for Hertsmere said about the issue of Jerusalem being left to future negotiations, but they must include all aspects of Jerusalem. The future status of Jerusalem should not be pre- empted by continued settlement building on the borders of east Jerusalem-- which is what is happening. On 23 January this year The Guardian described the Israeli Housing Minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, as having
"backed further expansion of the arc of burgeoning dormitory suburbs around mostly Arab East Jerusalem. He told Israel radio: `I will continue to do my best to convince my colleagues in the government that the only thing we have to do is to continue to reinforce the defences of the capital of Israel.'"
Faced with that, it is hardly surprising that Palestinians will see the so- called freeze on settlement building as not all that it is cracked up to be.
When I was in the middle east about 18 months ago, what was going on around the outskirts of east Jerusalem was obvious: an arc of settlements being built around Arab east Jerusalem. Those settlements are not only a barrier to peace, but they have an impact on the Arab quarter that is psychologically dangerous. That too serves to underline the inequity in the negotiations.
The settlements are a major obstacle to Palestinian confidence in the peace process. Should hon. Members wonder why that is so, let us remember, for instance, what was said by the Israeli military commander responsible for the west bank area when he testified before the Shamgar commission, set up to investigate the Hebron massacre: "You have to understand the basic situation. A Jew has a weapon to defend himself. An Arab who is carrying a weapon is a terrorist. A Jew with a weapon is defending himself and he is allowed to shoot. We forbid soldiers in the IDF to open fire at them."
We need to get away from this sort of attitude and to state clearly that peace is indivisible: it must be respected on both sides. As we rightly condemn attacks made by Islamic fundamentalists and others on Israelis, so too we expect the Israeli Government and Israelis in general to respect the basic rights of the Palestinians. They have to recognise the role that the settlements play. They must also recognise the force of what Hanan Ashrawi said some time ago. It spoke volumes about the settlements which, she said,
"cause friction, are a blatant injustice to Palestinians, fragment Palestinian land and prevent the emergence of a geographically contiguous Palestinian entity. Leaving the settlements untouched is like putting a flame next to a powder keg and saying: co-exist." There are many difficult issues to be faced. The Oslo accords and the peace agreement signed on the White house lawn were but the start, not the end, of a difficult process. We have the chance now of a real and lasting peace in the middle east; but if it is to be meaningful, it must be based on equality. To be equal, it has to be legitimate and democratic. Two necessary prerequisites for that would seem to be early Palestinian elections preceded by an early redeployment of Israeli troops away from populated areas. There must also be a proper freeze on settlement building, to include the outskirts of Jerusalem as well as other parts of the west bank and Gaza.
Column 99512.24 pm
The middle east peace process always seems to proceed in fits and starts. Temporarily we appear to be in the doldrums again, but middle east instability remains, as it always has been, an immense danger to the west. Apart from our long historical connection with the area, it surely remains in the British national interest that we should play a positive role in the middle east.
As this is a short debate I want to make just three brief points. First, I applaud the fact that Mr. Rabin's Government in Israel have taken risks for peace and have some considerable diplomatic triumphs to their credit-- especially the agreement with Jordan. Like my hon. Friend, I give credit to the part played in that by King Hussein and his Government. Inevitably, the problem of the settlements in the west bank and Jerusalem is making further progress in the talks between the PLO and Israel extremely difficult.
When Mr. Rabin's Government came to power in 1992 they said that they would freeze settlements. Settlements policy is bound to be hotly contested when Israel holds general elections next year, but of course it will not be the only issue that the Israeli electorate will have to consider. It would surely help the peace process along if the Israeli Government announced an immediate and stronger freeze on the settlements, not least because that would deny the extremists who want to wreck the peace process easy propaganda to use against the Government of Israel, who are striving on all fronts to achieve a peace agreement.
The peace process is certainly dangerously incomplete without the positive involvement of Syria. It is important to remember that the dispute between Israel and Syria did not start in 1967. There was constant trouble and warfare on the armistice lines between 1949 and 1967, and everyone who takes an interest in the subject must realise the extreme Israeli sensitivity about future security on the Golan heights.
This year, 1995, is surely the year in which progress on this dispute can be made. First, there is Syria's need for more economic aid, now that the Soviet Union no longer exists to back it up. Israel does not have elections this year and so has time to prepare a package to put before the electorate in 1996. President Clinton does not have elections this year either; without big American involvement, I do not believe an agreement to be possible.
There will surely have to be a step-by-step approach to the problem. Initial territorial compromise will be needed before a complete solution is achieved. I do not believe that a non-aggression pact between Israel and Syria will be adequate, but America will need to give as strong a guarantee for the security and stability of the Golan heights as she gave to west Berlin at the time of the cold war.
It is impossible to overemphasise the fact that a poor middle east is a dangerous middle east. Enormous improvements in living standards could be made if only these countries would reduce the amount that they spend on arms. Wild talk of an Islamic nuclear bomb and the dangerous unpredictability of Iran, to say nothing of the situation in Algeria, make it all the more important that
Column 996we make progress in 1995; and that peaceful co-existence, with all the advantages that it would bring to Israel and her neighbours, becomes a reality, not a dream.
Mr. Norman Hogg (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth): I congratulate the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) on securing the debate and making an excellent speech. I thought that some of my hon. Friends' observations assumed an influence for this country that we simply do not have--and have not had for a long time. The Foreign Office does not enjoy the influence in the middle east that it thinks it should have. It has forfeited that and has not made a particularly good job of affairs in the middle east. I am even handed about that. That has been the position since Ernest Bevin. I absolve the Minister of State. He enjoys a good reputation in the House and a growing international reputation on the issue. I do not blame him for the lack of influence that the Foreign Office appears to have in the middle east.
The hon. Member for Hertsmere mentioned a number of points which should be pursued. He mentioned Europe, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross). It is true that Israel was among the first non-European states to recognise the importance of the Common Market and it signed an economic accord with the trading bloc in 1975. Today, after all that time, Israel's trade deficit with the European Union amounts to about £7 billion per annum. The British Government should do something about recognising that. They have failed actively to encourage our European partners to support Israel's trade agreement and they should do more in that regard. The key issue involving Israel today is the peace process and what is going on in the nations that surround Israel. The biggest worry of all is Syria and the Syrians' failure to take a much more positive attitude to the peace process. Syria's main interest focuses on the return of the Golan heights to Syria and no one can underestimate their strategic and military importance. But Mr. Rabin's Labour Government have made it clear that they are prepared to withdraw on the Golan heights for a full and comprehensive peace with Syria. Unfortunately, our Government are not positive enough in pursuing that. We should take a far stronger line with Syria on the question of Hizbollah and other terrorist groupings, to which the hon. Member for Hertsmere referred, and the fact that they find a safe haven in Syria from which to conduct attacks on the state of Israel. The British Government should be much clearer in what they are saying to the Syrian Government about that and be much more demanding that they desist in order that the peace process may be progressed. Likewise, the British Government, despite our long friendship with King Hussein and the people of Jordan, are not positive enough about Jordan. Jordan has acted with great courage in the peace process. King Hussein and his Government are to be warmly congratulated on what they have done. But, again, there is a trade deficit between Jordan and the United Kingdom and, despite promises, the United Kingdom has agreed to write off only approximately 10 per cent. of Jordan's debt. I hope that the Minister will say something about that.
The hon. Member for Hertsmere also referred to the £75 million available to the Palestine National Authority. He made a good point about that, but so far only
Column 997£10 million has reached the Palestinians. That is not a good record. I accept that circumstances have not been as conducive to the delivery of aid as we had hoped, but I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about that in order to assure us that the money that has been earmarked for the Palestine National Authority will reach it as a matter of urgency.
On Europe we have not done enough; on Syria we have not done enough: on Jordan we have not done enough: on the Palestinian question we have not done enough. Those questions must be addressed by the Government. When they are addressed, then and only then will the Government be able to say that they are making a positive contribution to the peace process.
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) on his success in securing the debate. I do so with some feeling because he and I applied for a one-and-a-half- hour debate on peace in the middle east: he was successful and I was not.
Peace in the middle east will come only when there is mutual trust. That mutual trust would be helped if the people of Israel could be told of the fate of the Israeli hostages, if those who are alive could be returned to their families in Israel and if the remains of those whose death has been confirmed could be sent back to their families.
We must remember that John McCarthy and Terry Waite live in freedom because Israel kickstarted the release of hostages in the middle east by releasing a large number of prisoners. That decision meant that the west owed Israel a debt of honour. Israel had a right to expect that she would receive something in return. In fact, all she received in return were the bones of a dead Druze soldier.
The parents of Zachary Baumel still do not know his fate 12 years after he was captured; Joseph Fink's parents have been told that he is dead, but they have still not been able to give him a burial; but much worse is the case of Ron Arad. On 31 December, when the people of England were celebrating new year, Ron Arad was celebrating his 3, 000th night in captivity.
Ron Arad was shot down on 16 October 1986. It is known that he was captured by the Amal and it admitted that it was holding him. In the first year of his captivity, he was allowed to write three letters to his wife, Tami, who also received two photographs from him, but since 1987 there has been a ghastly silence from that poor man. His relatives have not received a message and he has not been allowed to receive any messages from them.
In 1988, he was removed from the care of Amal and transferred to the care of the Resistance of Believers. In 1989, he was transferred to that benevolent organisation, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Until recently, we have had only rumour to go by, but this weekend an Iranian appeared on Israeli television to say that he had seen Ron Arad alive in 1994. Mr. Manucher Matumer--I apologise to the gentleman if I have mispronounced his name--appearing on Israel television on 25 February this year, said: "I have a message both for the wife and the mother of Ron Arad. The message is: your husband is alive; your son is alive."
Column 998It is surely a scandal that, some eight and a half years after that man was captured in Lebanon, he is being kept in solitary confinement, against all the rules of the Geneva convention, and that his mother, his wife and his young daughter have not heard from him. Surely if we are to have peace in the middle east, Ron Arad should be allowed to return to his family rather than being kept in solitary confinement in Iran. His continued incarceration is an act of sheer barbarism. There is always a risk that a new peace process will create a crisis of rising expectations. We know that Camp David did not yield the immediate dividend that everyone expected. There was not the anticipated increase in tourism and trade from Egypt to Israel. One of the tragedies of the middle east is that the bus that used to go from Tel Aviv to Cairo was full of Israelis, but the bus from Cairo to Tel Aviv was only infrequently full of Egyptians.
I believe that the peace between Jordan and Israel will be a very warm peace. I pay tribute to the courage of King Hussein, who must always have been reminded of the fate of his grandfather. Anyone who has stood on Allenby bridge knows that people and goods have moved between Israel and Jordan for a very long time. One of the risks involved in the peace must be that the people of Jordan may feel that their economy is not expanding quickly enough. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, when he visits the middle east later this month, will be able to give them economic hope.
When the people of Israel signed the Oslo agreement, they hoped that they were getting security. We have seen in Argentina, London and Israel how Hamas is determined to try to defeat peace in the middle east. The people of Israel deserve our understanding when they have to act to try to ensure security and peace for their own people, because if they do not succeed in doing that peace in the middle east will be very much at risk.