The Middle East Peace Process is at a critical impasse and the actions taken by both sides in the conflict can have serious repercussions. Promises made during the recent elections in Israel, including some reportedly threatening to annex lands in the West Bank, are unhelpful and have a damaging impact on the prospects for a positive outcome.
Unhelpful election rhetoric is not unique to Israel, and Ireland and the EU will judge the new Government, which is still to be formed, on what it actually does, rather than on what may have been said in the heat of the campaign. But that does not mean such words are of no consequence, since they send dangerous messages to militant settlers, and contribute to a climate of fear and insecurity among Palestinians.
Annexation of territory by force is illegal under international law, including the UN Charter, and the position of Ireland and the EU is clear on this.
In a statement on 8 April I condemned the reported decisions by the Israeli authorities to advance plans for further settlement construction and related activities in the West Bank. On 11 April, there was a clear and principled EU statement, also referring to these decisions on construction in settlements and on the legal status of settlement outposts. The statement reiterated that "The European Union's position on Israeli settlement policy in the occupied Palestinian territory is clear and remains unchanged: all settlement activity is illegal under international law. It erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace..."
The relentless process of settlement expansion and related activities in the West Bank, including forced removal of Palestinians from their homes, is critically damaging the viability of a future Palestinian State, and thus the prospects for a peace agreement and an end to the conflict. I have consistently made this view very clear - in the Oireachtas, at EU and international level, and directly to the Israeli authorities during my visits to the region.
Settlements are illegal under international law, undermine the very basis of the two state solution, and erode the credibility of Israel’s commitment to a peaceful solution to the conflict. The pursuit of the settlement project also inevitably involves a range of injustices to Palestinians, such as evictions, demolition of homes, and seizure of land, and a wide range of security and other measures discriminating against Palestinians in their daily lives for the benefit of settlers. For all these reasons Ireland has focussed on settlements as a major driver of the continuing conflict.
Continued expansion of settlements in these areas is not compatible with a good faith effort to reach a peace agreement, and this is undermining the faith of many Palestinians in a political path.
It has long been proposed that a future peace agreement may involve some agreed mutual border adjustments, if the parties so wish it. But such changes can only be by mutual agreement. Any unilateral statement of annexation by Israel of occupied territory would have no legitimacy, and would not be recognised or accepted by Ireland or the international community more generally.
With the prospects for peace continuing to deteriorate on the ground, EU Foreign Ministers have discussed the peace process on numerous occasions over the last year.
Most recently, I convened a meeting in February on the present state of the Middle East Peace Process with a small group of EU and Arab Foreign Ministers, and the Secretary General of the Arab League. At this meeting we considered how the EU, together with the international community, can productively engage and better use all the levers at our disposal to influence the parties to the conflict.
Ireland and the EU stand by the internationally agreed parameters for a negotiated peace agreement and continue to urge the Israeli Government to uphold its international legal obligations, including under the Fourth Geneva Convention, on the treatment of a civilian population.