Tuesday, 19 October 2004

Questions (21)

Eamon Gilmore


162 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his position on the roadmap for peace in Palestine and Israel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25293/04]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The Government believes that the roadmap remains the most likely framework within which to achieve a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The members of the international quartet — the European Union, Russia, the United States and the Secretary General of the United Nations — remain committed to the roadmap. This commitment was reiterated in the quartet's statements of 4 May and 22 September.

The General Affairs and External Relations Council considered this issue again on 11 October in Luxembourg and in its conclusions reaffirmed the EU's long-standing positions on the quartet roadmap and Israel's proposed unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. While an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip could represent a significant step towards the implementation of the roadmap, the council underlined that the withdrawal must not be an attempt to replace the roadmap and the two-state solution it encompasses. It also recalled that settlement activity is contrary to the roadmap.

The council reaffirmed the conditions endorsed by the Tullamore declaration on the conditions which must be met by any Israeli withdrawal plan. The following five elements are essential to make a Gaza withdrawal acceptable to the international community: it must take place in the context of the roadmap; it must be a step towards a two-state solution; it must not involve a transfer of settlement activity to the West Bank; there must be an organised and negotiated hand-over of responsibility to the Palestinian Authority; and Israel must facilitate the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Gaza.

It is of the utmost importance that no further time should be lost in implementing the provisions of the roadmap. I call on both sides to make every effort to fulfil the commitments they have entered into in respect of the roadmap.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply on what is a complex set of affairs. What is the Government's attitude to the status of President Yasser Arafat? Is it of the view that he continues to retain the support of the Palestinian people or does it share the view expressed by Ariel Sharon and others that he is a discredited leader with no effective mandate and with whom they cannot do business?

The Government still regards Yasser Arafat as somebody who has significant influence and input in respect of this matter. From discussions I had with Kofi Annan in the past week, I am aware that this is also the position as far as he is concerned. I do not agree that Mr. Arafat has been discredited and I am of the opinion that he has an important role to play. One of the main things we must do is ensure that the Palestinian Authority has the wherewithal and status to move forward in respect of the roadmap.

Does the Minister accept that the attitude of Ariel Sharon, and the position he has adopted, to Yasser Arafat is a major impediment to the implementation of the roadmap?

It is important that we are not overly critical of one side or the other in respect of this matter. We must contend with the violence perpetrated by Hamas on one hand and the over-reaction of the Israeli Government on the other. However, we must also accept that people on both sides, including Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon, are endeavouring, as best they can, to bring peace to that part of the world. The unrest there is leading to instability in the wider region. As I stated at the first meeting I attended of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, the violence perpetrated on this island drove people further apart. Unfortunately, the same is the case in the part of the world under discussion. The longer the conflict goes on, the worse matters will become and the more destabilising an influence it will have in the general region. That is why the council in Luxembourg reiterated the view expressed in Tullamore in respect of the roadmap and the two-state solution.

Does the Minister agree that building of a wall by the Israelis is a symbol of a type of apartheid? Does he agree with the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign that it is time to introduce a boycott of Israeli goods in light of the repression we are witnessing, similar to that which occurred in South Africa in the past?

Does the Minister agree that Israeli actions in Palestine in recent months run contrary to the roadmap? Does he also agree that extending the privileges of the European neighbourhood policy, including everything except institutions, would send the wrong signal to the Palestinian people? That signal would be to the effect that human rights abusers will be rewarded. What action will the Government take in respect of the debate on 5 November?

First I will answer Deputy Ó Snodaigh's question on the European neighbourhood policy. It is a policy of the EU to maintain good relations, from a political, economic and institutional point of view, with nations in and around its borders and we support it. As regards Israeli participation in the plan of action in that respect, we also welcome their involvement. By getting Israel involved in the ENP, it is hoped that stability will be brought to that part of the world.

With regard to Deputy Gormley's question, we intend that the vast majority of what we will do in respect of this matter will be done through the united voice of the EU. The issue of a boycott has not been raised in that context. We would be more willing to proceed on the basis of using the greater power the EU possesses, as one body, in respect of putting pressure on Israel and the Palestinian Authority.