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Thursday, 15 December 1988
Page: 4278


Senator JONES —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. Can he outline the Government's reaction to the latest developments that have taken place in the Middle East?


Senator GARETH EVANS —Today's developments on the Middle East represent a major breakthrough and one which Australia unreservedly welcomes. In comments at a press conference last night Australian time, following his address to the United Nations session in Geneva, the Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Mr Yasser Arafat, clarified significantly the PLO's position on peace in the Middle East. Mr Arafat said that the PLO accepted:

the right of all parties concerned in the Middle East conflict to exist in peace and security . . . including the state of Palestine, Israel and other neighbours, according to the resolutions 242 and 338.

That is to say, he expressly accepted Israel's right to exist without any accompanying qualifications. He went on to renounce:

totally and absolutely . . . all forms of terrorism, including individual, group and state terrorism.

Again this was without accompanying qualification of the kind that occurred both in the Algiers declaration and in the Stockholm statement. He accepted:

Resolutions 242 and 338 as the basis for negotiations with Israel, within the framework of (an) international conference.

This is a clear and unambiguous statement of the PLO's position and undoubtedly now provides the basis for discussions which can lead to a settlement of the Middle Eastern dispute. The statement clearly meets the three conditions spelt out initially by Prime Minister Hawke not only in Australia but in his visits to Israel, Jordan and Egypt in early 1987 and in a subsequent meeting with General Secretary Gorbachev, namely, a recognition of Israel's right to exist within secure and recognised borders, acceptance of resolutions 242 and 338 as the basis for any settlement and an unequivocal rejection of the use of terror and acceptance of the process of negotiation.

In satisfying these conditions, Mr Arafat has cleared the way for direct dealings between the Australian Government and the PLO. I should clarify that this does not mean that the Australian Government is extending recognition to the state of Palestine, proclaimed recently by the Palestine National Council. The Government has made it clear that the question of Australian recognition of a Palestinian state will arise only in the context of an overall peace settlement.

Probably the most pleasing aspect of today's developments has been the reaction of the United States of America to the latest Arafat position in separate statements by both President Reagan and Secretary of State Shultz this morning Australian time. President Reagan's statement is in the following terms:

The Palestine Liberation Organisation today issued a statement in which it accepted United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 and 338, recognised Israel's right to exist and renounced terrorism. These have long been our conditions for a substantive dialogue. They have been met.

Therefore, I have authorised the State Department to enter into a substantive dialogue with PLO representatives.

George Shultz's statement indicated that the United States had decided to nominate its Ambassador to Tunisia as the interlocutor on the United States side for the dialogue and made it clear, as I have in the case of Australia, that his statement did not imply United States recognition of the state of Palestine as declared at the Algiers conference. I think the remainder of President Reagan's statement is worth retailing in full. There are four more paragraphs--


Senator Archer —Can't you make a statement, please? You have had seven minutes.


Senator Walters —It is too important for an answer at Question Time.


Senator GARETH EVANS —It is too important to be interrupted by you two. I proceed to quote:

The Palestine Liberation Organisation must live up to its statements. In particular it must demonstrate that its renunciation of terrorism is pervasive and permanent.

The initiation of a dialogue between the United States and PLO representatives is an important step in the peace process, the more so because it represents the serious evolution of Palestinian thinking towards realistic and pragmatic positions on the key issues.

But the objective of the United States remains, as always, a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. In that light we view this development as one more step towards the beginning of direct negotiations between the parties, which alone can lead to such a peace.

The United State's special commitment to Israel's security and well-being remains unshakeable. Indeed, a major reason for our entry into this dialogue is to help Israel achieve the recognition and security it deserves.

That is the end of what President Reagan had to say. Finally, let me say that this statement is exactly the kind of positive and constructive response that the Australian Government was yesterday urging the principal parties, including the United States, to make. The Australian Government believes that it is now vital for Israel to respond to these developments in a similar manner and to open a dialogue with the PLO.