I am sharing time with Deputy Costello who is taking the last three minutes. I welcome this opportunity. Let me start by recalling that the Middle East peace process is a key priority for Ireland including during our tenure on the Security Council. There have been a number of recent developments on the ground that make this discussion very timely. I wish to underline my serious concern, which I know many Deputies share, regarding the designation by Israel's Ministry of Defence of six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist entities on 22 October last. This includes organisations in receipt of support of Irish Aid and EU money. We were not informed in advance of these designations, nor have we received substantial evidence to support them. I made a statement on this matter on 27 October and raised the issue directly in my meetings in Israel during my recent visit to the region on 1-5 November.
We are working closely with our EU partners on the issue and EU officials have met with Israeli authorities to seek further clarification. Ireland took part in the discussion at the Security Council on 8 November on the designations as well as on the recent settlement announcements. In a joint statement afterwards we, alongside France, Estonia, Norway and Albania, underlined our serious concern at the designation and the potential political, legal and financial consequences. Terrorism is of course a very serious issue that needs an unambiguous response but it must be addressed on the basis of evidence to back up decisions also. However, these designations have the potential to impact not only six organisations but civil society more broadly and to undermine legitimate humanitarian and human rights work seriously in the Occupied Territories.
Ireland has consistently and strongly opposed illegal settlement activity.
We do so on the basis of international law and the resolutions of the UN Security Council, including Resolution 2334, which states settlements are illegal under international law and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of a two-state solution.
On 28 October Ireland released a joint statement with 11 other European countries urging the Israeli Government to reverse its decision on more than 3,000 additional settlement units in the West Bank and reiterated its strong opposition to Israel’s policy of settlement expansion. In May this House declared the extent and scope of settlement expansion in the West Bank and its intended permanency amounted to de facto annexation. It reflected our collective concern about the intent of Israeli actions and their impact on Palestinians. Ireland has addressed this issue at the Security Council and will do so again at its monthly meeting on the situation in the Middle East today.
My visit to Israel, Palestine and Jordan at the start of this month was an important opportunity to meet the new Israeli coalition Government, the Palestinian Authority leadership and civil society. During my visit to Israel, I had useful and constructive exchanges on a range of issues, including the situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, antisemitism, the response to Covid-19, and the situation in the wider Middle East region. I met President Isaac Herzog, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Lapid, and the Minister for Health, Mr. Horowitz. I restated Ireland’s commitment to constructive engagement on the Middle East peace process. I welcomed the outreach by members of the new Israeli Government to their Palestinian counterparts. We know from our own peace process the importance of building these relationships and rebuilding trust between all parties.
On Israel’s policies on Palestine, I was very clear in my engagement with the Israelis that settlement expansion needs to stop. I heard in detail, from the Palestinian Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, about the increased impact of settlements on communities and the contiguity of Palestinian territory in a future state. I visited communities in the West Bank, where I saw at first hand the impact of the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on local Palestinian populations. It is not just a matter of the settlement units themselves but also of the associated infrastructure projects in area C designed to meet the needs of ever-increasing settlements, which entrench division and inequality. These projects erode political trust in addition to degrading adjacent Palestinian agricultural land and affecting negatively the availability of already scarce water resources.
Separately, in my meetings with Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh and Deputy Prime Minister Abu Amr, I emphasised the need for democratic renewal in Palestine, particularly in light of the postponement of the May elections. I also underlined the importance of the Palestinian Authority assuming its responsibilities with regard to the rule of law, the freedom of expression and civil society engagement. These issues, and the Middle East peace process more generally, continue to be a significant priority for me as Minister for Foreign Affairs. I regularly discuss Ireland’s position on outreach with key officeholders in the EU and UN, including the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Tor Wennesland, whom I met in Jerusalem during my visit, and the EU Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Sven Koopmans.
Progress requires dialogue, and ultimately there can be no substitute for direct negotiations between the two parties. I remain committed to taking all appropriate actions to assist in resolving this conflict and ensuring equitable treatment for both peoples. I hope I will get cross-party support in those efforts. Ireland is most impactful when it remains credible, persuasive and consistent as an international actor in using its influence, whether it be in the EU or at the UN. We have a unique opportunity for the next 12 months as Ireland continues to be a member of the UN Security Council. I hope I will be able to use that position to generate new momentum and positivity in the context of the Middle East peace process next year.