Written Answers. - Middle East Peace Process.

Dinny McGinley

Question:

53 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the status of the Middle East peace process. [8233/98]

The Government is very concerned at the current stalemate in the Middle East peace process.

Last week, the US mediator, Dennis Ross, put to the parties a new proposal to unblock the second deployment of Israeli troops from some areas of the West Bank, in accordance with the Oslo agreements. I understand that the proposal was modest in scope, affecting about 13 per cent of the occupied area.

It was reported that, on 22 March, the Israeli cabinet decided to oppose any second redeployment that exceeded single figures. The efforts of Mr. Ross to persuade the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to set aside pre-conditions do not appear to have yielded positive results and he has now returned to Washington for further consultations with his authorities.

Following the decision of the Israeli Government in February 1997 to extend settlements into Palestinian neighbourhoods of Eastern Jerusalem, and the failure to adhere to previously agreed redeployment deadlines, the confidence essential to momentum in the process has eroded.

The European Special Envoy, Miguel Moratinos, and his team have been making an increasingly significant contribution to the search for mutually agreeable terms on issues outstanding from the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip of September 1995 — for instance, the Gaza airport and industrial zone and safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank. The European Union fully supports US efforts to bring about a resumption of negotiations.

The process process must be given every chance and support to deliver a better future to everyone in the region.

For my part, I wish to reiterate the Government's commitment to continue to work both bilaterally and within the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy and in the United Nations towards the objective of a comprehensive and enduring peace.