I propose to take Questions Nos. 96, 119, 136, 140, 168 and 237 together.
A comprehensive settlement in the Middle East is more urgently needed now than at any time in the past sixty years. At its heart must be a negotiated two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Government has remained actively engaged in the promotion of a just and lasting solution, which was the focus of my recent visit to Israel, Palestine, Egypt and Lebanon.
Over recent months, the EU has strongly encouraged President Mahmoud Abbas in his efforts to form a Palestinian national unity Government. On 17 March, I welcomed the formation of the new Government following its approval by the Palestinian Legislative Council the same day. We are greatly encouraged by the efforts of President Abbas, in extremely difficult circumstances, to create a political consensus around the concept of a two-State solution, and to end the terrible violence in the Occupied Territories between armed Palestinian groups.
I believe that there is now a major opportunity, which must not be lost, to build a real momentum for lasting peace. In the coming days and weeks, the Government will work closely with our EU partners for a positive and creative response by the Union. We must be ready to work with President Abbas and with the new Government, on the basis of an active commitment to a two-State solution and a clear end to all violence. The urgent challenge now is the resumption of a credible political process which will provide lasting peace and security to the Israeli and the Palestinian people.
Other Arab States, especially Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have been playing a crucial role. The forthcoming Arab League Summit in Riyadh on 28 March could be particularly significant, if it sets out a clearly united Arab position on readiness to recognise Israel in return for the establishment of a Palestinian State based on the 1967 borders.
In these circumstances, it remains essential that Israel and the Palestinian Authority abide by their obligations under the Quartet Roadmap, and under international law. We have called clearly for an end to all violence. The Israeli soldier captured in Gaza last June should be released immediately, and Israel should also immediately release all detained Palestinian legislators. All rocket attacks on Israeli territory should end, and Israel should end its military operations in Gaza and the West Bank.
The recent Israeli military incursion into Nablus was launched on 23 February, and finally ended on 2 March. There are conflicting claims about the operation, but it is clear, according to the UN, that some 20,000 people living in the densely populated Old City were under curfew for several days, causing significant disruption to their lives and welfare. The priority now must be to try to ensure that the ceasefire in Gaza is extended to the West Bank, and that a genuine focus can be maintained on the possibilities for political progress. It is very clear that there can be no military or unilateral solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Deputies will be aware that the Government, and our EU partners, continue to be very seriously concerned at the expansion of Israeli settlements, the construction of the security barrier on occupied Palestinian land and the practice of house demolitions in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. These practices are contrary to international law, and threaten to undermine the viability of a two-State solution. I set out the Government's concerns on these and related issues during my meeting with the Foreign Minister of Israel, Ms. Tzipi Livni, in Jerusalem on 31 January. I also expressed serious concern about the proposed construction of the E1 corridor between East Jerusalem and the large settlement of Maale Adumim. The construction on E1 would cut across the main route for Palestinian traffic between Bethlehem and Ramallah, and would effectively divide the West Bank into two separated enclaves.
I briefed a delegation from Trócaire on my visit when I met them at Leinster House on 27 February. We also discussed the position paper published by the Irish Commission for Justice and Social Affairs on the situation in Palestine, which is an important contribution to the debate on the role of the international community in assuring a just and lasting peace. The delegation raised with me the question of review or suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement. It remains the view of the Government that any proposal for suspension, which would require consensus within the European Union, would not serve the interests of any of the parties. The objective at this point is to enhance dialogue with all of the parties. The annual meetings of the Association Council under the Agreement provide the opportunity for the EU to highlight its concerns on a wide range of issues. There is also a strong argument that suspension would seriously undermine the role of the EU in the peace process and create difficulties in implementing programmes of assistance to the Palestinian Authority.