I propose to take Questions Nos. 14, 17, 57 and 160 together.
Ireland, together with its EU partners, is committed to a negotiated and comprehensive settlement in the Middle East, with a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at its core.
Ireland strongly supports the Annapolis process, launched under US auspices in November 2007, aimed at reaching agreement between Israel and the Palestinians by the end of this year. While few now expect that this deadline will be met, it is understood that some progress has been made in the discussions, which have been led by out-going Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, and Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas.
President Abbas briefed me during his recent visit to Dublin, explaining that while considerable work remained to be done, greater clarity and understanding has been achieved between the parties.
Following its most recent meeting in New York on 26 September, the Quartet commended the parties for their serious and continuous efforts to reach agreement, and expressed its desire to see the process continue. I hope that such progress as has been made can be built upon when new administrations are in place in Israel and the US, and that the process will lead to a lasting and just settlement.
I am encouraged by comments made by Prime Minister Olmert in an interview with an Israeli newspaper on 29 September. He acknowledged that, in order to make peace with the Palestinians, Israel would have to withdraw from "almost all the territories" seized during the Six-Day War in 1967, and clarified that his comments also applied to Jerusalem, "with specials solutions" for sacred and historical sites. He also made clear that any part of the pre-1967 Palestinian territory which was not returned would have to be compensated by the granting of a similar percentage of Israeli territory.
The question of borders is one of the key ‘final status' issues for negotiation between the two sides. I firmly hope that Prime Minister Olmert's successor will continue to adopt a realistic approach.
Similarly, it is clear that there will be no overall settlement without agreement on the question of refugees. While it is, of course, primarily a question for resolution between the parties — and I don't believe that it would be helpful to the process for others to seek to impose conditions on one side or the other — Ireland and its EU partners will do all within our means to support any just, viable and agreed solution.
More generally, I welcome the improved security situation in the West Bank, and hope that it will result in the urgent lifting of restrictions on access and movement for ordinary Palestinians, facilitating greater economic activity and growth.
However, despite the ceasefire that has been in place between Israel and Hamas since June, the situation in Gaza remains critical. I have consistently called for an end to the isolation of the people of Gaza, in particular through the re-opening of crossing points for people and goods.
The continued construction of Israeli settlements also remains of serious concern. In my recent speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations, I urged Israel to listen to the concerned voice of the international community on this question. An end to settlement construction would be a strong and welcome signal of good faith.
Finally, I support and commend efforts being made by Egypt, on behalf of the Arab League, to advance reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. Success in these discussions is greatly in the interests of the Palestinian people, and can only help to underpin efforts to secure a lasting peace.