London (Mar. 19)
Conservative Members of Parliament who support Israel last night angrily attacked the government’s admission that Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington would probably meet Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat later this year. Members of Parliament shouted “disgraceful” when Sir Ian Gilmour, MP, the government’s foreign affairs spokesman, confirmed in the House of Commons that such a meeting might happen when Britain assumed the revolving chairmanship of the European Economic Community (EEC).
Sir Hugh Fraser, chairman of the Conservative Party’s pro-Israel lobby in Parliament, challenged Gilmour to declare that the British and European initiative on the Middle East peace process had gone totally into abeyance.
Gilmour refused to do so but, in what appeared to be a sign of discomfort caused by American disapproval of the European initiative, he admitted that the initiative had only come into being when it looked as though the Camp David process had seemed to be in abeyance. He added that he hoped that Camp David was not in abeyance.
Gilmour also came under pressure from Winston Churchill, MP, another Conservative backbencher, who claimed that the PLO was no more representative of the wishes and aspirations of the Palestinian people than the Irish Republican Army (IRA) is of the Irish Catholics in Northern Ireland.
Hotly rejecting this parallel, Gilmour said that the IRA enjoyed virtually no popular support in Ireland but that if Churchill doubted the amount of support for the PLO on the West Bank, refugee camps and elsewhere “he should go there and find out.” Answering another question, Gilmour said: “I do not believe to cut off contact with the PLO is likely to bring about a possible settlement.”
The British government’s Middle East policy will come under further pressure when U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig visits London April 9 and 10 after his first Middle East tour since taking office.