Written Answers. - Middle East Peace Process.

Jim Higgins

Question:

28 Mr. Higgins (Mayo) asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the Middle East peace agreement. [22068/98]

Brian O'Shea

Question:

59 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the activities he or his EU counterparts have engaged in to assist the Middle East peace process. [22162/98]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 28 and 59 together.

The Government has been following the Middle East peace process very closely and has been heartened by the developments which resulted in the reaching of the recent agreement at Wye, Maryland. I would like to congratulate all concerned, in particular President Clinton who clearly played a crucial role in the negotiations. The agreement is of the utmost importance as it revives the Oslo process which has been stalled for over 18 months. It re-establishes the basic principle of the entire process — the "land for peace" concept — which had been laid down at the Madrid conference in 1991. It addresses in a very detailed manner the key issue of security. It provides for a meeting of donor countries at ministerial level before the end of the year. There will also be a meeting of the Palestinian National Council which will take place in Gaza and which will revise the Palestinian National Charter. Finally the Wye Agreement opens the door for the final status negotiations which hopefully will lead to the settlement of all outstanding problems between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

It does not address two other very difficult issues — the question of Israeli withdrawal from Southern Lebanon and the settlement of the Golan Heights issue. Hopefully, however, it will have brought the resolution of these issues nearer.

Signing an agreement is one matter, implementing it is another. A very great deal now depends on the implementation of this agreement. There are onerous obligations accepted by both sides which have to be met within a definite timetable. I note with some concern that the start of the implementation process has not been as smooth as we would have liked. In particular, there is the risk of the process being derailed by incidents such as the terrorist attack in Gaza last week. We condemn all such attacks and violence, whatever the source. I therefore strongly urge both sides to adhere to the precise terms and the timetable contained in the document to which they both committed themselves.
From the outset, the EU actively supported the mediation efforts of the United States. Ambassador Moratinos, who was appointed during the Irish Presidency in 1996 remained in close touch with the two negotiating teams throughout, encouraging them in their endeavours.
As regards Irish support for the agreement we will, of course, in conjunction with our EU partners do everything we can to encourage both sides to adhere to its terms. We took particular note of the provisions regarding the international donor conference to which I referred earlier and will play our part when that conference is convened.
Much of course, remains to be done. Real negotiations have not yet started on what are known as the final status issues. These include highly sensitive issues such as refugees, water rights, settlements and the status of Jerusalem. These negotiations will be difficult, but the Wye agreement has given us hope that they will be undertaken in a sense of confidence and mutual respect that did not exist before that agreement was signed.