Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Interview for Jewish Chronicle

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Jewish Chronicle , 19 June 1981, pp24-25
Journalist: Monty Modlyn, Jewish Chronicle
Editorial comments: 1130. MT’s next appointment was at 1300. No COI transcript appears to have been made and the interview is reproduced from the newspaper itself. But the interview was taped by Monty Modlyn’s wife and in the form in which it was published resembles a transcript.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 3001
Themes: Economic policy - theory and process, Education, Industry, Energy, Trade, Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Northern Ireland, Religion & morality, Terrorism

Prime Minister, one aspect of your policy is particularly disturbing to the Jewish community, that which seems to make Britain the leading advocate of the Arab case against Israel. Knowing your past admiration for Israel, where do you personally stand now?

I'm not an advocate for any particular cause of any particular country. I am an advocate, have always been an advocate, of fair dealing between countries, and an advocate of steadily trying to improve the democratic rights of people, because I believe passionately in a free society. Because of that, I have stood in the middle of Damascus and said, “I will not see the PLO.”

Because of that, I have said frequently in the House to the PLO, “if you demand self-determination for yourself and the right to live within secure borders, you cannot deny those same things to other peoples.” Because of that, I have said “I uphold international law. Once we go away from that we shall not know where we are.”

So if any country is an aggressor, an unprovoked aggressor on another, I will condemn that country whatever that country is, and against whomsoever it operates. I believe firmly in fair dealing and fair principles, the right of each country to live at peace and security within its own borders.

You have described the Israeli attack on the Iraqi nuclear plant as a grave breach of international law.

Most certainly it is.

But surely the fact that the Iraqis are in a self-confessed state of war with Israel, have never even signed an armistice with her, let alone a peace treaty, puts the Israeli raid in a different light?

Well, hardly. Are you saying that, while there have been absolutely no aggressive attacks between Iraq and Israel for what, many years, something like that, yet all of a sudden it's right to go in and bomb? No. If anyone had done that to Israel, my goodness me, I should have been the first person to be up in arms about it. Is Israel saying now that she is at open war with Iraq?

But should Israel have waited until she was attacked?

Is Israel or any other country saying that because some other country happens to start up a nuclear plant, that warrants a bombing attack by another country? What sort of international anarchy is that?

Can you not appreciate how worried the people of Israel must feel when they are surrounded by those who don't recognise her—the PLO, Syria and others? Israel has to be in a state of preparedness—do you appreciate that?

You can always be in a state of preparedness. We are in this country. Every country has the right to defend herself, every country in the world.

If we are not going to live by a system of international law, we are going to live by international anarchy. Then no people anywhere in the world are safe. That is why we do struggle hard to try to get a Middle Eastern settlement. It is why I openly say and condemn the PLO for not recognising the right of Israel to exist. I openly condemn them for terrorism—but don't you see, if I openly condemn the PLO for terrorism, I have to condemn everyone for the use of violence and terrorism. They will say to me, “You condemn us for terrorism, but now look, there has been an attack on another country by bombing.”

But Israel doesn't want to wait to be bombed.

You cannot be selective in your defence of law—you cannot say, “I like that law, I will uphold that one, I will not uphold the other.” Is anyone saying that because any country has a nuclear installation, that another country is justified to bomb that nuclear installation? Of course not. As a matter of fact, Israel and Iraq belong to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

But they are still at war with Israel

Are you saying that Israel and Iraq are in open war with one another, although, Mr Modlyn, there have been no hostilities for many years? Look, I do beg of you, never espouse the cause of violence; if you do, then you are saying, other people are entitled to be violent against your own people. I would never say that. I try to stop it wherever it happens.

Many readers of the “Jewish Chronicle” are puzzled and concerned by one fact—if it is wrong for Britain to talk to leaders of the IRA because they are terrorists engaged in the killing of innocent people, why is it all right for Britain to talk to the PLO, whose members are also terrorists and engaged in killing innocent people?

Well, look, the IRA operate in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is fully democratic. Northern Ireland is represented in the United Kingdom Parliament by some 12 members.

Northern Ireland—all the people of Northern Ireland—are free to form their own political parties, and do. They are free to form those political parties. They are free to vote for those political parties. Those political parties are represented in full by virtue of being equal citizens with equal rights in the United Kingdom. So the whole of the democratic process applies fully to Northern Ireland.

That is obviously not so in the case of the West Bank, because the situation is totally and utterly different. The IRA has no standing in Northern Ireland. The IRA is a terrorist organisation operating in a full part of the United Kingdom where all the citizens of Northern Ireland have the same democratic rights to be represented in the Parliament of the United Kingdom as I have, and can fully form their own parties, and do. The situation is totally different.

Let me make two points. It really does grieve the friends of Israel who have consistently stood up for Israel and her rights—her right to live in peace and security within her own borders—that Israel does things like going on a bombing raid of another country. It cuts the ground from under your feet. It is a matter of great grief to us that those things happen.

The second point is, it would help us enormously if there were other organisations among the Palestinian people whom we could talk to. You know, British Ministers don't talk—have not talked—to the PLO. We don't recognise the PLO. We've not talked to the PLO, and you know how strongly I feel about their terrorist ways.

And you won't talk to the PLO?

In the capacity of British Ministers, we do not talk to the PLO. But then, you see, we turn and talk and say: “Who else can we talk to? Who represents the Palestinian people?” There don't seem to be Palestinian parties in the same way as we have Irish parties. Can I talk to an organisation of Mayors on the West Bank? There seems to be no such organisation. It would help us to get to grips with this very much more if those Palestinian people were allowed to form, and did form, other groups to whom one could talk.

If they would recognise Israel—but don't.

What I have consistently said is: “Look, would you not conditionally recognise Israel's right to exist there in peace and behind secure borders—because secure borders must be important and there must be borders that could be securely defended—on condition that Israel recognises simultaneously the rights of the Palestinian people?” But it's a two-way business and the two have got to be simultaneous. We British Ministers, in the capacity of British Ministers, have never talked to the PLO. Now, you'll go on, I'm sure, and ask me, so let me raise it, whether Lord Carrington should, when we take over the presidency of Europe, talk to the PLO.

I hope you don't feel it disrespectful if I barge in, but there is a widespread feeling that you have handed over conduct of our Middle East policies to Lord Carrington and the old Arabists in the Foreign Office, and that with your policy of delegation, you don't interfere with how they carry them out. Is this justified?

No, I would not accept that the Foreign Office is Arabist in the sense that it espouses one cause. It doesn't. The whole of my approach—and, in particular, one of the things that I felt very strongly about—is that I don't wish to see another generation of young people in Israel have to go to war as in the past. I really don't—it is terrible for them. We have tried very hard to get a settlement. It matters very much to us, very much indeed. I thought the Venice communique said: “Look, there never will be a settlement unless the Palestinians recognise Israel's right to exist as a free country in peace and behind secure borders, and Israel recognises the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.” That was the way we put it.

Now, when Lord Carrington becomes president of the EEC Council of Ministers, he will have two capacities, one as Foreign Secretary of Britain, and the other the presidency of Europe. The fact is, the two previous presidents of Europe have spoken to the PLO and in that capacity, as president of Europe, Lord Carrington may have to speak to them.

But I thought one didn't speak to terrorists?

What I am saying is, in that capacity, the presidency of Europe has already, in two previous six-month presidencies, spoken to the PLO, with a view, among other things, to try to get them to carry out the terms of the Venice Declaration, one of which is to understand that there will be no settlement unless the right of Israel to exist is recognised by the Palestinian people and the PLO is associated with that settlement.

I would like to get this straightened out. Britain used to stand firmly behind the Camp David agreement, but the European initiative seems like an attempt to upstage it. How closely are our policies in the Middle East aligned with those of the Americans and do you not share the view that a Geneva-style conference such as Lord Carrington is advocating would only give the Russians a larger foothold in the Middle East?

Lord Carrington is not advocating a Geneva-style conference at all. On the contrary, we have said that the Venice Declaration is not in competition with the Camp David process. We only started the Venice Declaration when the Camp David process for a time appeared to be quiescent, at a time running up to the United States election, and we did not want there to be a vacuum. At that point of time we came up with the Venice Declaration and said: “Here we are talking about the right to exist behind secure borders, self-determination, the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. Someone has to clothe those phrases with possible reality. We ought, in fact, to do more reconnaissance on what that is.” President Reagan knows we are not in competiton with him at all … so does Al Haig, the US Secretary of State, know. We are trying to work with them.

President Reagan has said he is still going to see that Israel has military aid, to give her security.

Any country has the right to defend herself and her people, of course she has. That is not in doubt. No one is doubting that proposition.

You support President Reagan on that?

It's not a question of supporting President Reagan. I have said every country has the right to defend herself. I do not expect the United States to withhold military equipment from Israel. Of course I don't. We're not talking about taking away a country's right to defend herself in any way.

President Reagan and Al Haig know that the Venice Declaration was not in competition with the Camp David process. They know that we know that the Middle Eastern problem can only be solved with America taking a leading role. I have said it in the United States, I say it here. We know that in Europe we can help, too, and we are trying to help. I am sure the United States values the effort that we are making to try to help.

So you are going to continue to support the Camp David agreement?

We do not know what the next Camp David process will be. If you can tell me what it will be, I will be very glad to know.

But you can't, because you know, and I know, that President Reagan and Al Haig are working out what will be the next stage in the Camp David process. Of course, we owe the United States our judgement as friends. We owe every country our judgement. We are not just passive rubber stamps to any country. But we are very anxious to see the Middle Eastern problem settled in a way that will give Israel peace and security so that another generation of young people is not put in jeopardy, and we are very anxious also to see the Palestinian problem settled.

The biggest contribution to peace that we could make at present would be to get that problem settled and I have taken the view that the time to do so is during President Reagan 's presidency. Now that does not leave us that long, because you know it's only a four-year term, and inevitably they go into an electioneering process in the United States over a much longer period than we do. I want to get it solved during his first presidency.

You recently visited a number of Arab countries; have you any plans for visiting Israel, and would you accept an invitation to do so?

I haven't any plans at the moment. But I do hope one day, in my capacity as Prime Minister, to go to Israel, because we're always very even-handed. As you know, fairness is my great claim in life. I have, of course, been on two occasions before—once as Leader of the Opposition and once as an ordinary MP.

Would you, for instance, whoever the new Israeli Prime Minister may be, invite him to visit Britain after the June 30 General Election in Israel?

I have, in fact, received the Prime Minister of Israel here. It was Mr Begin at the time. We have given him a luncheon and had discussions here. Of course, when any Prime Minister comes to Britain, we receive and entertain him, and have talks with him. Of course, Because he's Prime Minister of Israel.

Prime Minister, I would like to change the subject. There is a lot of feeling, not only in the Jewish community, that Government education cuts, may threaten the development of religious day schools which lay emphasis on the ethical values we seem to be sadly, so sadly, lacking today. Can you give us any encouragement in this regard?

I am firmly behind the right of all religious groups to have their own schools. That is part of the fundamental agreement that the Government has made with the religious bodies. It is not confined to one; they can be Jewish, Catholic, or Church of England. And, after all, if other religious groupings wish to set up a school under the same voluntary arrangements, it would apply to them, too. I am staunchly and firmly behind it.

With regard to Government education cuts, of course, the number of pupils in our schools will fall by one million over a period of five years. May I make it quite clear that we are still spending as much per pupil on the education of that pupil, as we were before. But I am firmly behind it, I really would fight deeply anyone who wished to take away the rights of the religious bodies—in conjunction with Government—to organise church schools. There are certain maintenance arrangements made with the religious authorities and the money is provided for the running of the schools largely by Government.

The reason I brought up this question is that there is talk within the ILEA of resisting aid to religious schools.

That is the Labour ILEA. It will be totally and utterly wrong, in my view. Many, many people wish to send their children to church of religious schools and you know those church or religious schools often provide a superb education.

[At the beginning of his interview, Monty Modlyn asked Mrs Thatcher if she could foresee the end of the economic depression.]

Unemployment, obviously, was a great issue in the recent French election. There's much much higher unemployment in Germany than there's been for a very, very long time. Not surprising, because we have all been the subject of the immense increase in world oil prices, and that means that we have to spend more on oil. That means we have less to spend on other things, and therefore some companies and businesses have gone out of business, which is desperate for them and for the rest of us, too.

I think it is good news that the price of oil is, if not falling, at least being held.

Although we have just heard this week that some companies intend to put up their prices.

I was talking about the price of oil from the Middle East. I notice that was what the European Economic Commission said the other day: a solid basis has been laid for recovery. And I hope by the end of this year we shall see the recovery beginning.

What the oil companies are saying is that, at least, they have been subsidising some of the garages and they just cannot go on doing it. Now that does not necessarily mean that it will come through at the pump. After all, there is a drop in the world price of oil on the spot market, and my guess is that competition will prevent that full increase coming through.

But I am the first to say that any increase in the price of oil at the pump is a blow to the Government.

When shall we turn the corner in the world recession? I think because of the action taken over the past two years, British industry is now in a very much fitter state than before. Companies have got rid of a lot of the over-manning. That means they are now going to be able to compete with anyone the world over. They will get the credit for that; I hope they'll get the business. At the moment the Government gets the blame for the unemployment. That, I hope, will reduce when more businesses start and others expand. And that is happening.

I think we have laid the basis for recovery. We export a higher proportion of our national income even than Japan. In some areas of exports we are extremely good. And there are a lot of jobs in this country which depend on exports.

Let me give you one specific example. We had a protective export agreement on textiles with Indonesia. We were stopping a certain number of their textiles coming in. Because of that we were in danger of losing an engineering order from Indonesia for £150 million. John Nott, when he was Minister of Trade, had to go over there. It took us a long time to try to pull that back.

So I have to ask—are we, by keeping jobs in one area, losing even more jobs in another area? A lot of people who say that we must give more and more aid and grants abroad turn out to be the very people who say, having given aid to countries abroad to set up their own industries, you must stop them exporting the products of that aid. The two don't hang together.