I propose to take Questions Nos. 10, 16 and 44 together.
The questions cover a range of issues. Ireland and the European Union regard all Israeli settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territories as illegal. The partial freeze on new settlement construction in 2010 was, nonetheless, an important element in creating the atmosphere to allow substantive political negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to begin. The freeze expired on 26 September and, as I reported earlier in my reply to a Priority Question on the peace process, efforts to persuade Israel to reinstate it have failed. We have made clear our profound disappointment at the resumption of settlement building, as have many others.
Settlement expansion aims at changing the demographic balance on the ground, and creating facts which will dictate the shape of any future peace agreement, which is simply not acceptable. It also involves the progressive expropriation of Palestinian lands, expulsion of families, and destruction of their homes. Again, all of those actions are unacceptable. Since the partial moratorium ended, settlers have pushed ahead with new house starts or foundations for new building. That again, is unacceptable. At the same time, there have been a number of announcements of construction permits, building plans and other planning stages, particularly in the area of East Jerusalem. I am kept informed of these by reports from our own missions on the ground and from other sources. These announcements are part of the ongoing and relentless process of settlement expansion, the details and stages of which are kept deliberately opaque and unclear, including, many observers believe, to public opinion in Israel.
These developments inflame Palestinian public opinion, which is hardly surprising, and destroy public support for their leaders to engage in serious negotiations with Israel. They increase support for the people who would have a different view. It must be a matter of the greatest concern that the Israeli Government does not recognise that, or accord it sufficient importance. I would appeal to all sides, particularly the Government of Israel, to recognise that the greatest possible restraint should be the highest priority at this time. The European Union restated its views on settlements, and the importance of this issue, in the conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Council in December 2010.
The related issue of settler violence is an important and shocking one, to which Ireland has drawn attention at EU level and elsewhere. The majority of individual settlers, it should be stressed, are mostly driven by purely economic motives, namely, direct incentives from the Israeli Government or conservative charities to encourage them to live in settlements. But there is a substantial fringe of ideologically committed settlers who are consistently aggressive both in terms of occupying land and of direct violence against Palestinians in their neighbourhood. At the same time, Israelis living in and travelling to illegal settlements in the Palestinian Territories fear that they themselves are being put at risk because of the exacerbated sense of tension all of that activity creates.
I am deeply concerned about the specific allegations of violence against Palestinian children contained in the report by Defence for Children International, DCI. DCI Palestine has documented 38 incidents of settler violence towards children in the period from March 2008 to July 2010, including six very disturbing cases where settlers reportedly shot and wounded children, some as young as 15. That is simply not acceptable.
The allegation of Israeli military collusion in some of these attacks is a matter of grave concern. Israel has a legal obligation under international law to protect Palestinian civilians in the occupied territories. This report and reports from other NGOs suggest there is instead a culture of impunity, with the authorities failing to hold settlers accountable for their actions under Israeli law. That is deeply regrettable. Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organisation funded by Irish Aid, estimates that only 10% of Palestinian complaints to the police about settler violence result in a prosecution, and a number of these prosecutions have publicly failed to proceed. That creates an atmosphere of fear and anxiety among the Palestinian community. It is imperative on Israel to take steps to ensure that all civilians under its jurisdiction, whether Israeli or Palestinian, are held accountable for their actions to the same standard in the appropriate courts.
The Government has argued strongly at EU level for a firmer approach to settlements and settler violence. We would support, for instance, discussing the possibility of excluding settlement produce from the European Union, although it is clear that this would not yet command general support in the EU. As successive Ministers have made clear, however, I do not believe in a policy of general sanctions against Israel, which would be both futile and counterproductive. It is clear and obvious to me and other Members that every effort must be made to stop this behaviour, which exacerbates an already difficult situation and which makes the cause of peace more difficult to achieve.