Ceisteanna–Questions. Priority Questions. - Middle East Peace Process.

Michael D. Higgins


4 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his proposals for a deeper and continuous effort by the European Union towards ending the loss of life and destruction of infrastructure taking place in the Palestinian territories and Israel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3730/02]

I am gravely concerned at the continuing loss of life in the Palestinian territories and Israel and deeply regret the substantial damage done to infrastructure in the Palestinian territories in Israeli retaliatory attacks and raids. This concern has been expressed on numerous occasions by the European Union and its member states. The European Union is engaged in a vigorous and continuous effort with all parties concerned to encourage a resumption of the peace process.

The incoming President of the Council of Ministers, Josep Piqué, visited the region in mid-January and heard the views of all the major actors. He also took the opportunity to outline the position of the European Union. The Belgian and other EU Presidency Foreign Ministers also visited the region on several occasions as have numerous Foreign Ministers from various member states, including Ireland.

In recent months I have met many of the most important regional actors, including the Presidents and Foreign Ministers of Egypt and Israel and the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, to discuss the situation. I have also had the opportunity to discuss the situation with US Secretary of State Powell and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. In October, together with the Taoiseach, I received President Arafat in Dublin. There is also frequent telephone contact between European Ministers and US, Israeli and Arab leaders.

The European Union's High Representative for Foreign Policy, Javier Solana, and the EU Special Envoy for the Middle East Peace Process, Ambassador Miguel Moratinos, are in constant contact with all parties to the conflict and are frequent visitors to the region. The EU also tries to co-ordinate its positions with those of other international actors. Last week Mr. Solana met in Washington with senior members of the US administration to exchange ideas for moving the situation forward. He also met special envoys of the United States, the Russian Federation and the Secretary General of the United Nations.

Future EU policy towards the Middle East will be one of the major topics for discussion at the Informal Meeting of Foreign Ministers this weekend and I expect that a wide-ranging review of possible policy options will take place. On the question of the destruction of infrastructure, the Spanish President of the Council of Ministers has written to the Foreign Minister of Israel expressing our concern at the damage done to facilities provided by the European Union and its member states, urging an end to these acts.

It is clear that progress in the Middle East can only come about through the establishment of mutually reinforcing political and security measures. These measures are set out in the Mitchell Report. The recommendations of Mitchell must be taken in their entirety. There is no room for either side to select those measures which appeal to it and avoid those which carry a cost. To present the current problem as one of security alone is to avoid the real issue. Terrorism is indeed a problem in the Middle East but the Middle East problem is not one of terrorism. I call on both sides to take the political and security measures, which they know are necessary, to rebuild the partnership which alone can lead to a just and comprehensive final settlement.

Will the Minister outline the actions that may be anticipated from the EU to both deepen and make its presence in the Middle East continuous? Is it correct that the figure for investment on infrastructure by the EU in the area that has been attacked and destroyed by bulldozers and such like is approximately £50 million? Has the Union been made aware of the appalling susceptibility in so many places to the destruction of olive groves, teachers' houses and the obstruction of teachers?

Does the Minister agree that Prime Minister Sharon invokes the same rhetoric as President Bush and that the suggestion that President Arafat lacks credibility as a partner in dialogue has been deeply damaging to the Middle East peace process? Given that and the reluctance of the United States to become involved as a fair broker in the region, does the Minister agree it has become more urgent for the European Union to take direct action with regard to the different parties? Given Ireland's membership of the UN Security Council, is the suggestion that the United Nations become involved – rejected by Israel – still a proposal at the Security Council as part of Irish foreign policy? Given the stalling of the peace process, the number of civilian deaths, especially of young children, and the destruction of infrastructure, what reason is there for not taking United Nations action in the region and for pressing more strongly for it?

In the past 12 to 18 months the European Union has had a growing influence, especially given that there were three Europeans on the Mitchell commission which considered the situation in the aftermath of the renewed intifada and the death and destruction that has since occurred. As we have seen in our peace process, when Governments work together – in this case the Middle East governments, the United States government and the European Union – hand in hand, based on the Mitchell report and the detailed security arrangements which are aligned with the political moves that must be made following the report, it creates the best prospect of bringing the necessary pressure on all sides to move forward.

I have expressed the view at the General Affairs Council that it is timely for the European Union to take a strategic review of its role with regard to the Middle East on the basis that it would appear that our ability to work effectively in pursuing the Mitchell report, together and consistently with the United States, is something we must consider. From the point of view of the Union, there is serious frustration at the failure to recognise that European Union assistance is providing the means by which the Palestinian Authority can maintain its viability. The attack on assets that are funded and provided by the European Union assistance programme was considered at the GAC and in its conclusions the right to seek reparation was reserved. This signalled to the Israeli Government that this policy cannot continue with impunity and without consequence.

The destruction of olive trees, the poisoning of wells and other such activity is punitive and greatly exacerbates an already deteriorating situation. The need for political direction on all sides on the activities of the military is essential. The primacy of the political power and authority must be upheld and maintained in all circumstances. I have heard stated the detail of the destruction involved. It does not come to the attention of the international media but it has a huge impact on providing any kind of decent quality of life for Palestinians on the ground.

We need to review strategically the European Union position. If there is a view that the support by the United States Government for the position of Prime Minister Sharon is such as to lessen from our perspective its effectiveness as a broker between both sides, then the European Union must take that into account in terms of where it will position itself to ensure there is progress.

If the US and the EU can agree on the implementation of a common positionà la Mitchell that greatly increases the prospect of political movement. In the event of that not being available the EU must review its position to the maximum advantage in the interests of upholding the integrity of the process. The strong view of the Irish Government is that President Arafat remains an indispensable partner in this process. The absence of trust on both sides is militating against any prospect of a sustained step by step approach that would lead us out of this spiralling conflict.