Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Questions (42)

Seán Haughey

Question:

42. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the efforts being made at European Union and international levels to advance a two-state solution and to prevent the ongoing and systematic expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53294/19]

View answer

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Foreign)

I ask the Minister to outline the efforts being made at European Union and international levels to advance a two-state solution and to prevent the ongoing and systematic expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.

I thank the Deputy and I am glad we got to this question. As some people who know me will be aware, I have given a high priority to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the past two years and I have worked consistently to maintain an international focus on the matter and support for the two-state solution.

From 2 December to 4 December 2019, I undertook a three-day working visit to Israel and Palestine, which encompassed a wide range of engagements in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Gaza and Bethlehem, as well as a visit to an Israeli community close to Gaza. This was my fourth visit to Israel and Palestine in the past two years. I met senior representatives of the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as well as UN officials from United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UNRWA; the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization, UNTSO; and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, OHCHR.

At the previous meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, FAC, on 9 December in Brussels, I briefed EU foreign ministers on my visit. In following up the matters I raised, the FAC will discuss the Middle East peace process in more detail at its next meeting in January, and I look forward to participating in that discussion.

I remain engaged with the small group of participants who gathered in Dublin in February of last year to consider how best to encourage a move towards a just and durable peace.

The Israel-Palestine conflict featured in several of my discussions and meetings during the high-level week at the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September, including my meeting with a senior White House adviser, Mr. Jared Kushner. In that meeting, I clearly conveyed Ireland's encouragement for any efforts that can bring about genuine progress, made clear Ireland's support for the long-agreed parameters of a two-state solution and communicated Ireland's well-known views on the expanding settlements in the West Bank. All settlement activity is illegal under international law. Ireland's view represents the settled international consensus. I have been unequivocal about this in public statements when the question of settlements has arisen.

I will continue to ensure the Middle East peace process remains high on the Irish foreign policy international agenda.

(Interruptions).

I ask for a little silence. I notice sometimes that the noise level in the Chamber increases from 11.30 a.m. onwards. I ask Deputies to respect the person asking the question and the Tánaiste, who is trying to reply.

I did not realise that I would be allowed to ask a supplementary question.

We will allow one such question because it is Christmas.

I thank the Acting Chairman. What is the Tánaiste's view on the initiative that has been taken by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg, Mr. Jean Asselborn, to start a debate at EU level on Palestinian statehood? Does the Tánaiste support the initiative? He may be aware that Mr. Asselborn has suggested that the EU should have a greater involvement in this matter. What is the Tánaiste's view on that?

I would also like to ask the Tánaiste about the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018, which is before the Oireachtas. I am aware that there are different legal interpretations of this Bill. At the very least, it has shone a light on the need to do something to try to address the imbalance in power that exists between Israel and Palestine. I wonder whether the Tánaiste has anything to say about the progress of the Bill.

I am strongly of the view that the EU needs to take a more proactive approach to make progress with the achievement of a peaceful and sustainable solution to a conflict that has been going on for far too long. The EU needs to defend the two-state solution as an outcome of that process and to stand up for international law and its interpretation. As a result of my efforts and those of the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg, a comprehensive debate on how the EU might be able to do these things more effectively will take place at the next FAC meeting on 17 January 2020.

The Deputy probably knows my view on the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018. I do not believe there are "different legal interpretations" here. The Attorney General's legal interpretation is crystal clear. Ireland should not do this. Legally, it cannot do this. I understand the frustrations of people about the lack of progress with the Middle East peace process. I understand why this Bill has emerged, but I do not believe it represents the right approach. My views on the legality and consequent appropriateness of this legislation are clear and on the record.