LONDON (Oct. 29)
Sir Geoffrey Howe, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, is on his first visit ever to Israel. On the eve of his departure yesterday, he said he was taking “no preconceived ideas or blueprints” for solving the problems of the Middle East and that he would show “a deep personal concern and a willingness to listen” to his Israeli hosts.
Although he seems anxious to contribute to an improvement in Anglo-Israeli relations, his hosts will find no softening in his view, expressed nearly a year ago during a visit to Saudi Arabia, that Israel was partly responsible for the lack of progress towards on Arab-Israeli settlement.
Sir Geoffrey maintains that Israeli settlements on the West Bank are illegal and that there should be self-determination for the Palestinians. He regards a resuscitation of the Reagan Middle East initiative after the forthcoming American Presidential elections as the best prospect for renewing the diplomatic process.
He will also urge Israel to speed up its withdrawal from south Lebanon and may even consider sending British troops to expand the United Nations forces there. He is placing at least as much importance on his discussions about direct relations between the two countries, particularly trade, and the implications of Spain’s and Portugal’s entry into the European Economic Community for British purchases of Israeli citrus products.
DISLIKES THE ARAB BOYCOTT
Like many other British politicians, Sir Geoffrey readily expresses his distaste for the Arab boycott, which he regards as an interference in free trade. However, as he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency here last Friday, the government is still not ready to permit the sale of British North Sea Oil to Israel.
He denies that any discrimination is involved since Israel is only one or many countries who are not members of the EEC or the International Energy Agency and therefore do not qualify to buy British oil.
He recognizes that this policy was laid down five years ago when there was a worldwide oil shortage, but even though there is now a glut of oil, with prices falling, the guidelines are not to be changed.
Sir Georffrey was to have visited Israel earlier in the year, but the trip was postponed because of the Israeli general elections. Besides meeting Israeli leaders, he will visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem and tour northern Galilee.