Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 4 Jun 1998

Vol. 155 No. 18

Middle East Peace Process: Statements.

I would like to congratulate Members of the Seanad for this timely debate on the Middle East peace process. In recent weeks the process has reached a most serious impasse. The Government, together with our partners in the European Union, is most concerned at this development. This debate is, accordingly, very opportune.

Before exploring the current situation, however, I would first like to set this debate in its historic context. As Senators may recall, the Middle East peace process saw the light of day in November 1991 at Madrid when a multilateral conference, co-chaired by the US and the then USSR, was opened. The purpose of this conference was to inaugurate two separate yet parallel negotiating tracks — a bilateral one aimed at resolving problems between Israel and each of its immediate neighbours and a multilateral one designed to address regional problems on subjects such as arms control and economic development.

In October 1994 the bilateral track saw a major success with an agreement between Israel and Jordan. However, the multilateral track discussions have produced no real result to date.

Shortly after the Madrid Conference got under way secret talks were initiated, under the auspices of the Government of Norway, between the Israelis and the Palestinians. These resulted in what has become known as the Oslo Agreement of September 1993. This agreement was truly historic. In signing it, Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation had moved beyond their previous positions. Israel recognised the PLO and accepted the principle of "Land for Peace".

For its part, the PLO recognised Israel, renounced terrorism and reaffirmed that those articles of the PLO charter which deny Israelis the right to exist were inoperative and no longer valid. The Oslo accord, therefore, contained the essential ingredients for a just and durable settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

We, in Ireland, and the international community generally were greatly heartened and fully supported what was seen as a major step forward. The Oslo Agreement and the secondary agreements, which came later, contained provisions which envisaged a series of Israeli redeployments from the Occupied Territories — the West Bank and Gaza — overrun by Israeli forces during the 1967 war.

These redeployments were to take place simultaneously with the growth of local Palestinian self-government in the evacuated territories. It was intended that once these redeployments were completed — and the Palestinians were hoping that by then they would have upwards of 80 per cent of the Occupied Territories under their jurisdiction — what are known as the Final Status Talks would begin to address the remaining highly contentious outstanding issues, such as water, refugees and above all the status of Jerusalem. The entire process was to be concluded by May 1999.

Given the history of the Middle East since 1948 and the extremely strong and deeply rooted emotions on both sides, it was not surprising that the Oslo Agreement faced many obstacles in its implementation. Nonetheless, progress was being made. These obstacles were gradually being surmounted when, in November 1995, there took place the tragic murder of the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Rabin, one of the co-signatories of the Oslo Agreement.

This was followed a few weeks later by a series of appalling suicide bombings in Israel with very heavy loss of civilian lives. These events contributed to the election in May 1996 of a new government in Israel led by the more right wing Likud Party of Mr. Nethanyahu. Prime Minister Nethanyahu, who was elected on a strong security platform, took a very different approach to the agreements than his predecessors. Discussions with Syria about a possible Israeli-Syrian peace agreement were halted. A number of high profile unilateral Israeli actions, such as the building of new Israeli settlements at Har Homa and Abu Ghneim in East Jerusalem which were seen as particularly provocative by the Palestinian inhabitants of the occupied territories, were undertaken. What was perceived as the relentless efforts of the Israeli authorities to reduce the number of Palestinians living in Jerusalem continued unabated. The situation was further exacerbated by a number of suicide bombings undertaken by Hamas terrorists with serious loss of life. The result was that negotiations came to a very definite halt.

With the virtual collapse of dialogue between the two parties most affected, the US Administration has since last summer been making strenuous efforts, which Ireland and other European Union member states have fully supported, to restart the process. The basis of this approach has been to link progress in redeployment by Israel with progress by the Palestinians in tackling terrorism.

During a visit to the region last September, the US Secretary of State, Mrs. Albright, tried to persuade the Israeli authorities to freeze settlement expansion but her request was, by and large, ignored. Her visit did lead to talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators at Washington but these achieved very little.

In recent months the US has mounted a major diplomatic effort to persuade Israel to accept proposals which it put forward with the aim of breaking the deadlock. The US has concentrated its attempts on achieving agreement on the terms of a second redeployment. The key element of this was that Israel would redeploy from an additional 13 per cent of the land in the occupied territories; the Palestinian Authority is currently responsible for only 3 per cent of these territories. However, Mr. Nethanyahu is vehemently opposed to considering any redeployment exceeding 9 per cent of the territory in question. The Palestinians, for their part, originally sought a redeployment of 30 per cent but eventually and reluctantly accepted the US figure.

During the talks last month in London, the US Secretary of State, Mrs. Albright, held direct negotiations with the Israeli Prime Minister. When agreement was not reached in London, negotiations were once again resumed in Washington the following week but failed to reach a result. Since then the US has sent a number of negotiators to the region in an attempt to keep the talks on its proposal alive.

The Israeli Government recently announced it was prepared to implement Security Council Resolution 425, passed in 1978 following the first Israeli invasion of Lebanon. This resolution called for Israel's immediate withdrawal from Lebanon at that time. However, in the meantime the issue of Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon has become coupled with the issue of Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, which is Syrian territory. There is no indication that the Israelis are yet prepared to discuss withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

The EU has played a complementary role to that of the US in supporting and promoting the peace process. The EU remains constantly seized of the issues raised in the process which directly affect its interests, both political and economic, in the region and the subject is discussed at virtually every meeting of the General Affairs and European Council. The Luxembourg Council of last December issued a detailed and balanced declaration calling on both sides to implement the agreements which they had entered into. Each Presidency involves a visit to the region of the current Chairperson of the Council of Ministers. The current EU Presidency has, with the backing of the member states, been particularly active on the issue. There were, for example, separate visits to the region by Prime Minister Blair and the British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, since the end of February.

The European Union has also made significant contributions of 700 million ECU to the Palestinian economy in terms of aid since 1993. Indeed, the EU is the biggest contributor to the funds of the United Nations body responsible for running Palestinian refugee camps — the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA. It has provided direct assistance to the Palestinians in the field of combating terrorism. The EU has been particularly active in the economic sphere. It has endeavoured to promote several projects of importance to the Palestinian side such as the development of an airport and seaport at Gaza. However, both these projects are currently being held up due to the lack of progress in the peace process.

The EU role in the peace process was also enhanced when, in late 1996, during the Irish Presidency, Ambassador Moratinos was appointed EU Special Envoy. Since then Ambassador Moratinos has endeavoured to promote a stronger EU role in the peace process and has had a series of talks with all the main parties in the region with some significant results to show for his efforts.

For its part, Ireland has taken a very active interest in the Middle East situation. We have not hesitated to speak out on issues such as the new settlements at Har Homa and Abu Ghneim or to condemn the horrific suicide attacks last year. The Irish aid programme for Palestinians offers support in the educational sector as well as providing assistance for economic and rural development. We also make a significant contribution to UNRWA. Since its inception, we have been one of the main troop contributors to UNIFIL, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, where nearly 40 Irish soldiers have lost their lives.

Ireland also plays an active part in the internal deliberations of the EU. The Middle East was one of the priorities of Ireland's Presidency of the EU in the second half of 1996 and we are supportive of the current active role being played by the UK Presidency in this context. Ireland has, in its frequent contacts with representatives of both sides, endeavoured to encourage a spirit of greater compromise.

We are conscious that time is running out for a settlement under the Oslo Agreement. It is very clear that in spite of vigorous efforts by the US and the EU Presidency, the necessary common ground has not been found between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Indeed, rather than having confidence that progress is being made, I am concerned that the Middle East peace process is facing its most severe crisis to date, a crisis which affects its very foundations. There is a real and growing danger that the men of violence will again endeavour to seize their chance. It would be tragic if the small measure of achievement made since 1993 were to be swept away by more bloodshed.

Efforts are still underway to rescue the process at this eleventh hour; France and Egypt have proposed an international conference on the matter. It is too early to be optimistic about the outcome of this proposal but we are of course willing to discuss and support every effort at progress. It is clear that progress in the Middle East peace process has been depressingly meagre. However, it is equally clear that ultimately the final decision on the peace process will be made by the representatives of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. To date, the insistence on short term advantage has bedevilled the evolution of that process and the chance of longer term agreement. In spite of the dismal record of progress to date, I am sure Members will agree that we, both nationally and with our partners in Europe, must continue to remain involved and continue to support the search for peace in the Middle East.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. His speech outlined the difficulties experienced in the Middle East in recent years and the current state of affairs there. Ireland is possibly in a better position than any other EU member state to appreciate the particular difficulties surrounding a peace process and is in a unique position within the EU to adopt a more proactive role in regard to the Middle East. The Minister did not outline what the Government has done within the EU or the United Nations in recent months in this regard. In view of the mandate the Irish people have given to the Irish peace process, we could use platforms such as the EU and the United Nations very successfully.

It is very important that politicians outside of the country in which difficulties are being experienced are careful about what they say. Sometimes politicians from other countries making statements can create difficulties. It is important that people are prudent in what they say about any side in a situation with which they are not totally familiar. On this side of the world we have certain knowledge but we are not 100 per cent familiar with the fine detail.

The Oslo Agreement was the perfect formula through which peace could be achieved. It provided an opportunity from the Israeli point of view to end the terrible loss of life in that part of the world. From the Palestinian point of view, this agreement provided them with their homeland. Unfortunately difficulties have arisen and governments and personnel have changed. It is easy to say that the government has taken a different approach but it is the people on the ground who elect the government. They changed the government because they were not happy with the previous administration. If a change of heart occurred it reflected the views of the people. This must be recognised.

The situation cannot be analysed in a simplistic manner. There has been terrible loss of life in cities such as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Equally, the Israelis have not withdrawn from the West Bank as agreed. There may be security reasons for that. We are not in a position to make a judgment but we are in a position to make a constructive contribution.

The American Government has appointed Dennis Ross as special envoy. Hopefully, he will be as successful as Senator Mitchell was here. Eventually the people on both sides will have the opportunity to consider a proposal put to them for consideration.

It is easy for the EU to castigate either side but that should not happen. We must realise that their row is not just about land or security, it is also about tradition and symbolism. It is important that the parties concerned talk directly. Mr. Nethanyahu and Mr. Arafat talk through intermediaries, not directly. That is unsatisfactory because it means they receive second hand information. Senator Lanigan may find this difficult to appreciate but the reality is that Mr. Nethanyahu and Mr. Arafat should be talking directly and taking a responsible approach. While those discussions are taking place they should ensure that no serious incident is perpetrated by either side.

EU and world opinion can direct them to engage in such discussions. It is important that this engagement starts immediately because people are being killed and the situation is intolerable. There is, however, a difficulty there. Some of us have had the privilege of visiting Lebanon, the Syrian border, the Golan Heights and various parts of Israel. There is inherent fear there about security. The Golan Heights is a very strategic area. Agreements were made in the past but not carried through. The Israelis have not pulled back from certain points. If you talk to them you find they are extremely concerned about incursions by Hamas from Lebanon into Israel. These issues must be addressed but they can only be addressed by the parties themselves with the negotiator. Until they sit down and treat the issue seriously, it is pointless for us to talk about it in this House.

However, there are problems. In Palestine there were calls by members of the Palestinian Authority for Mr. Arafat to sack half of his Cabinet because of corruption. There are concerns within Palestine about human rights and the judicial system. These are realities but they are issues which should be addressed in a sensible manner by the parties concerned in the course of negotiation.

As a member state of the EU we should take a more proactive role in making the EU put pressure on these two gentlemen to sit down together to discuss these issues. We are in a position to do that. I urge the Government to take that approach within the EU. We have the moral responsibility to do so at this time.

I welcome this discussion but it is important that we do not stick to one line of attack. We should use our experience of the peace process here to assist the situation in the Middle East and to support and encourage the process there. The United States Government is actively facilitating the process. It has put forward various proposals, some of which are acceptable and others are not. It is a matter of getting round the table and thrashing out a deal because people being killed indiscriminately by all sides is intolerable. We should not stand idly by. I ask the Minister to speak to the Minister for Foreign Affairs about this and to be more proactive on the issue now that he has brought the peace process on this island to a successful conclusion. His possession of the high moral ground enables him to take a more proactive position in the EU. I look forward to the Minister returning to the House with a positive report from Minister Andrews.

I thank the Senator for her positive contribution. In an Israeli newspaper interview Mr. Nethanyahu threatened to burn Washington should President Clinton attempt to force Israel to accept a 13 per cent withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. Does that sound like a man who would sit down and discuss matters rationally?

On a point of information, I did not refer to——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The Senator is experienced enough to know there is no such thing as a point of information. If the Senator continues to interrupt, I will have to ask her to leave the House.

The Leas-Chathaoirleach is getting very fussy.

I asked for this debate because Israel is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

While they celebrate their 50th year, the Palestinians have experienced 50 years of catastrophe. They are the dispossessed of the Middle East and of the world. Not so long ago people from the Ballingarry area came to the Minister and me and they were able to show us maps of the lands which were taken from them in the 1840s and 1850s. They did not forget the dispossession which had taken place. How can we expect the Palestinians, who have been dispossessed within the past 50 years, to do so? No doubt an historic injustice has been perpetrated upon the Palestinians. They have suffered enormous national, social and psychological damage and lost.

Why does the Senator not return all of the itinerants of Ireland to the lands from which they were displaced hundreds of years ago?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Senator Taylor-Quinn, you should know better than to interrupt.

Half were up-rooted from their homes and went into exile while the other half remained in their homeland under a hostile Government. In 1948 some were partially saved from the full brunt of Israeli occupation, but the aggression multiplied in 1967 when anybody who had been spared the problems of 1948 now had to face them.

United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181-(II) suggested that there should be two states in the area. This has not happened. There is only one statelet in the area. I acknowledge the rights of the Israelis to have a state, but the Palestinians should not suffer as a result.

There are a number of things which could be said in this debate but time is limited. If Ireland is to pursue the peace process within the EU, we must look at the trade agreement between the EU and Israel. That agreement was made at the time of the Oslo Agreement because it was thought it might help the resolution of problems in the Middle East. That trade agreement is a de facto agreement without legal standing because Belgium and France have not yet ratified it. It should be put to the EU by the Government that unless there is a change of attitude by Israel towards what was the peace process, because there is no peace process at present, we should deny Israel its favourable trade relations with the EU. It is about time we realised that fruit which is being grown in the settlements in the occupied territories at present is entering the EU under that trade agreement with “Made in Israel” written on the containers. This is totally illegal. It is against every principle of international trade and against the principle of the EU/Israel trade agreement. The goods enter from the settlements and no duty is paid on them. However, if the Palestinians want to export goods, they cannot do so as was suggested in the peace accord.

The Minister mentioned in his speech the amount of money which the EU has contributed to the peace process and, in particular, to the airport and port at Gaza. The EU has contributed 100 per cent of the moneys for the airport at Gaza which is ready for operation. However, it cannot be made operational because the Israelis will not allow it. This is a total waste of EU money and again it is the Israelis who are responsible.

At present the peace process is going nowhere and anybody who thinks othewise is a fool. The situation since the peace process started has been traumatic for the Palestinians. The Palestinian people who depended on work in Israel are 33 per cent worse off than they were before the peace process started. There has been no benefit to the Palestinian people who were migrant workers in Israel. Since the Oslo accord the borders have been virtually closed to immigrant workers to Israel. There were over 200,000 Palestinians working in menial low-paid jobs, for which they had to leave home at 4 a.m. and be back before the 8 p.m. curfew. If Palestinians work in Israel they pay Israeli taxes but they get no benefits from these taxes.

In and around Jerusalem settlements are increasing at an enormous rate. In a recent television programme, Mr. Edward Said, one of the best Palestinian writers, who has been living in America for years and is terminally ill, returned to visit his homeland. He came across some Israeli soldiers knocking down farm buildings on the outskirts of Jerusalem and the demolition of Bedouin settlements. When he asked the army officers why they were doing it, they said they were doing it because they were told to do it. If we go back to the history of the founding of the state of Israel and the genocide which occured in Europe against the Jews, what was the excuse always put forward by the Nazis throughout Europe, whether in Poland, Hungary or Germany? They said that they were told to do it, that they were obeying the law, and this is the excuse which is being given by the Israelis at present.

Yesterday the headline to Mr. Robert Fiske's article in the Irish Independent was “Middle East Faces a Summer of Hate”. That is a terrible headline, but unfortunately I believe it to be true. There is no point in pretending that Prime Minister Nethanyahu will sit down and deal with the problem of the Middle East and the Palestinians in a fair and equitable way. He will not do so. The 13 per cent of the land which was supposed to be given back to the Palestinians has now been diluted. Prime Minister Nethanyahu wants it reduced below 9 per cent and after the settlement is completed it might rise to 13 per cent. However, it is 13 per cent of land which was owned by the Palestinians, not land which was owned by the Israeli state. This land was taken from the indigenous people of the area.

Unfortunately, the Palestinians are paying the price for what was done to the Jews in Europe. We must not forget that. If there is to be peace in the area, it is about time realism entered the debate. The 1948 UN suggestion of two states should be implemented. If I were the Palestinians, this year, on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel, I would declare a state of Palestine. I expect that state would be recognised internationally because if a vote of the UN set up the state of Israel, it equally set up the state of Palestine. It is about time the Palestinians rejected all this rubbish about a peace process which is going nowhere and sat down and declared their state. Then the world will look more favourably on the situation there.

There is a second solution, that a fully democratic state should be set up on the territory which is now Israel and the West Bank in which the Palestinians and Israelis would live in harmony. Obviously, it would be hard to do. However, if they do not do that there will be a series of cantons in the West Bank and to get from one town to another will involve crossing the Israeli border. The area is not as big as Ireland; it is only as big as two Irish provinces. If one must leave the territory to get from one canton to another, as is the case at present, and one is stopped every ten miles to go through a border post, it is a nonsense.

The Minister of State correctly stated that Israel recognised the PLO and accepted the principle of land for peace. However, Israel now wants land and peace. The principle of land and peace is not acceptable. The people of the area must be able to participate in statehood. Whether or not that is within separate Palestinian and Israeli states, it has to be built on mutual respect and ensure that the catastrophe which the Palestinians have suffered over the past 50 years will not continue for another 50 years.

Since 1948, 418 villages have disappeared from Palestine. People have keys to houses on these sites and still talk of going home. They have the keys and the deeds but they cannot go home because of the illegal occupation.

The way forward will be very difficult. We are at a crucial point at which many would ask "Why Palestine now"? The question should be "Why not Palestine now"? Kosovo is not too far away and there are other areas of conflict. However, just because a new catastrophe emerges we should not forget the Palestinians or the plight of those in Israel who want to live in peace. These people want a future for their children and grand-children and do not want the burden of the past placed on the next generation and to continue into the next millennium.

The EU-Israeli trade agreement is illegal as it has not been sanctioned. It was introduced at the time of the Oslo Agreement to help the situation. We must ensure that Belgium and France do not sign this agreement until Israel recognises that the Oslo Agreement was a step into the future.

This is an important debate at a sensitive time. There are many predictions of gloom but I hope that the prophecies prove unjustified. Yesterday's Irish Independent included an interesting article by Robert Fisk, who is always a shrewd observer although not sympathetic to the state of Israel. He states that some sources in Jordan and Egypt predict an explosion by the autumn but in the Lebanon they are suggesting that this will come in the summer. Perhaps these predictions are right and we must do everything possible to avoid such an explosive situation.

There is no point in my attacking or denigrating Mr. Netanyahu. I would not have voted for him had I been a citizen of Israel with voting rights. Tragically, a man of vision — Shimon Peres — was removed from the driving seat. If he had still been in office we would have moved much more rapidly. However, we are stuck with Mr. Netanyahu. Mr. Peres had a vision whereas Mr. Netanyahu is an extremely astute politician who is able to manoeuvre and has saved his neck in a number of extremely tight domestic political situations. It looks like we are stuck with him until the natural end of this Government. For that reason there is no point in denigrating him as that would only alienate whatever relationship exists.

For practical reasons a unilateral declaration of statehood by the Palestinians, backed by the UN, might not be the most advisable development, even in the terms suggested by Senator Lanigan, who knows the region as well as I do. When the state of Israel was called into being in 1948 by the heroic attitudes of the people of Israel and supported by the UN they were on the brink of the legitimate possession of a coherent territory and a united people. That is not the case for Mr. Arafat. Many would say this is unfortunate, but it is not the case. The demography of the rump of Palestinian he now controls is such as to make the establishment of any such state unrealistic. The Gaza Strip is separated from the administrative headquarters in Jericho, sections of east Jerusalem and so on and it is not very coherent.

I agree with Senator Lanigan's proposals for the reunification of the whole territory of Israel-Palestine and the creation of a fully democratic, secular state. That is the way forward and it is what we also found to be the case in Northern Ireland. People have to be included — one cannot keep splitting them. However, there are great difficulties with this proposal. First, there is the awful history of the Jewish people. Although I intensely dislike any confessional state, I suspend some of my reservations on Israel because of that history. I read with a degree of agreement an argument in Golda Meir's autobiography that after the treatment of the Jews all over the world for 19 centuries it was clear that there was no country in which they could be safe and therefore they had to have their own state. It is regrettable that this happened. Certain rights were abrogated among the Palestinians. However, we cannot reverse history. We must look at Israel; the international community has accepted its right to exist. We must start from that complex situation.

Unfortunately, one of the problems is that there is fundamentalism on both sides. The Palestinians regard the 50th anniversary of the state of Israel as "the disaster" and have named it so in Arabic. They do not feel able to celebrate this event and it is very difficult when these tensions exist. The Minister of State stated:

For their part, the PLO recognised Israel, renounced terrorism and reaffirmed that those articles of the PLO Charter which deny Israelis the right to exist were inoperative and no longer valid.

However, has this been removed from the PLO Charter? Perhaps this could be done.

Senator Lanigan mentioned France and Belgium's ratification of the EU-Israeli trade agreement. However, look at the record of these two countries. Their records in foreign policy and trade are as unpolluted by principle as that of any other European country and I doubt if they will take a principled stand on this matter; nor am I convinced that a hostile attitude to trade would be beneficial. Such measures further excite the Israelis. I agree with Senator Lanigan's comments that at least 13 per cent of territory should be ceded and that the Oslo principles must be put back on track. If I thought that trade pressure would lead to such a result I would say yes but I do not believe that that would occur.

Reference was also made to suicide bombings and this is an important element. Invariably, Israeli extremists are uncannily parallel to republican terrorism, which is largely funded from the USA. Any time there is a massacre of innocent Palestinians my initial reaction is to ask from what part of New York the culprits came. It will often be the case that they are Americans who had a dream which went sour.

There is a development on the other side which ought to be dealt with, which is the encouragement by religious authorities of suicide bombing. They even put a new gloss on the Koran to justify the bombings. I greatly regret that because there are many beautiful and wise things in Islam and the Koran. One of the leading religious commentators, Sheikh Al Azhar Muhammad Sa'ad Tantawi, said: "One who blows himself up among enemies, in order to defend his land, is considered a martyr". That was reported in the Egyptian newspaper Alwafd on 27 April 1996. The same gentleman said at a widely reported meeting at the University of Alexandria that those who carry out suicide attacks are in a “situation of self defence against their attacker and therefore do not regard him as an old person, child or woman”. These are categories of people against whom such attacks are particularly heinous. In response to a question about the verdict of the Sharia on someone who blows himself up, he said:

To those who say that this is prohibited, you must first ask what motivated the act, and why the youth are compelled to sacrifice themselves. What can we expect from the Palestinians when the Prime Minister repeats, every morning and evening, that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel, when this statement contradicts logic, religion and the law? Oppression gives birth to the attack and a person on whom the oppression weighs is liable to sacrifice himself: for those with dignity prefer death to a life of submission.

He further stated:

.. the youth of the Islamic resistance who blow themselves up in order to cause casualties, are considered the greatest of those who die, because they die as martyrs.

This view from those at the top seems to affect — not infect — young, idealistic people who undoubtedly have been the subject of discrimination in their own land and feel very bitter.

According to the members of the Islamic Action Front in the Jordanian Parliament as well as several Islamic religious scholars:

.. the Jews occupying today the entire land of Palestine are infidels, enemies, fighters and thieves who robbed the entire land of Palestine, including Jerusalem, and built on it their predatory entity. Therefore it makes no difference whether they are soldiers, civilians, men or women, or to which party they belong. The Jews are a foreign implant in Palestine who arrived there on the basis of the "Promised Land" ideology and they have no alternative but to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque and build the temple in its place, and to conquer the land of the Moslems from the Nile to the Euphrates. According to religious law, it is our duty to kill these Jews, to rout them from Palestine and to imprison their supporters.

It goes on to indicate that those who engage in suicide bombings merit the title of "shahid", a glorious martyr. That is an extreme and it is paralleled on the Jewish side, something I must accept. It is a pity that when liberal rabbis appeal to the Moslem leaders not to endorse such views, they are ignored.

It is important to monitor the situation. Both Senator Lanigan and I are on the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and I do not believe I am breaching confidence by saying that a visit to Palestine is contemplated. I welcome that because it is important we go there and see the situation at first hand. I was part of a delegation which visited Israel 18 months ago and it was extremely useful. We met with Shimon Peres and realised what a tragic loss he was to the Israeli people and to the peace process. We subsequently had a meeting with Mr. Arafat, which was the second time I met him. He looked under considerable strain. We could see the problem with the harbour and fully appreciate the difficulties he had in terms of both commercial and diplomatic life with the absence of a proper port and airport. When I raised it with the Israelis, they stated that they had security concerns. I am not expert enough to say whether those are justified but pressure could be brought to bear on the Israelis in this area.

When we visited an army camp north of Tel Aviv, we met with Brigadier General Mordechai Tzur who came by helicopter from an operational command post. We had a useful briefing with him and it was absolutely frank. Both sides said what they wanted. Members of the delegation published a report on which, regrettably, a spin was put by people who were not at the meeting. It suggested that the brigadier general spent his entire time maliciously attacking and impugning the honour of the Irish troops. This led to a hysterical outburst in the Irish press and was undoubtedly deeply embarrassing for the general. While we may not worry too much about his feelings, it is important there is this kind of open and honest discussion. However, that will not happen if we do not treat such discussions with the respect to which they are entitled.

It is regrettable that President Clinton is viewed in the Middle East as being in a weak position because he ought to be able to apply pressure. We should also be aware that, under pressure from various sources, the Palestinian authorities have violated people's human rights. Twelve people have died in mysterious circumstance because they were arrested on suspicion of terrorist involvement. I am not in favour of terrorism but I am in favour of human rights being extended. I have raised issues such as detention and interrogation with the Israeli Ambassador and have received a courteous and detailed reply.

The Norwegians played a crucial role in the Oslo accord. Could we, using the resources of people in the public eye who are well disposed to the Israeli situation, discreetly attempt as a small, neutral country to initiate dialogue between the parties in the Middle East and offer the people involved a location here which would be far away from the oven-type situation in which they live? Dr. Conor Cruise O'Brien has a long standing relationship with Mr. Netanyahu and it might be useful to make use of such a contact to see if we can play a small role in resolving a situation which, as Senator Lanigan said, is to the prejudice of the majority of decent people and their children. I felt this when I listened to the remarks about the bombing of Mahane Jehudah, the old market to which I go every Friday when I am in Israel.

I often sit in Ben Yehudah Street. A friend was sitting in a solicitor's office at the time of the last bombing. He heard something and did not know what it was. He saw what he thought was a football rolling down the street into the gutter. It turned out to be a human head which belonged to one of those misguided Palestinian bombers, people for whom I feel compassion. I am returning there in September. I hope the predictions by Robert Fiske do not come true and that there will be a peaceful Middle East in the autumn.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 tomorrow morning.

The Seanad adjourned at 3 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 5 June 1998.