I propose to take Questions Nos. 51 and 60 together.
From 2-4 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 visiting an Israeli community close to Gaza. This was my fourth visit to Israel and Palestine as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. I met with key representatives of the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as well as UN officials from UNRWA, UNTSO and OHCHR.
On the Israeli side I met Prime Minister Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Katz. In both meetings, I set out Ireland’s deep concerns about the impact of the continuing occupation, including the situation in Gaza, settlement construction and the demolition of properties in the West Bank and actions taken against Palestinians in East Jerusalem. I also raised Ireland’s concerns about the erosion of civil society space, and the importance of ensuring that there are no impediments to the holding of Palestinian elections.
I had a frank discussion with Prime Minister Netanyahu about actions taken by Israel over recent years which are jeopardising the viability of a two-state solution and thus the prospect of a just and lasting solution to the conflict for both peoples. I specifically raised comments he had made about annexation of the Jordan Valley. I also raised Ireland’s well known view that settlements are illegal under international law. Although I am very conscious of the specific impact of the settlement announcment in relation to Hebron, given the gravity and extent of settlement activity, I focused on giving strong messages on Ireland's opposition, as a matter of principle, to all settlement activity. I stressed the urgent need to address the unsustainable situation in Gaza.
On the Palestinian side, I met with President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and Dr. Saeb Erekat, Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. I also met with the Palestinian Minister for Education, Dr. Marwan Awartani, and signed a memorandum of understanding which outlined Irish support for the Palestinian education sector, and met with Minister Mazen Ghuneim, head of the Palestinian Water Authority. In these meetings I conveyed the importance the Irish people attach to the resolution of the Middle East Peace Process, something that has been a priority for me personally since I took office, supported the intention to hold elections, and discussed how Ireland and the EU can play a constructive role in the MEPP.
During my visit to Gaza, I met with secondary school students from an UNRWA school in Jabalia, where I saw first-hand the impact of Ireland’s commitment to supporting quality education for children. I also met with senior UNRWA officials and discussed the humanitarian situation in the Gaza strip and the operational challenges facing the agency. I was pleased to announce that Ireland will provide an additional €2.5 million in funding this year to support the delivery of these core services, bringing Ireland’s total support to UNRWA in 2019 to €7.5 million.
I also visited the Northern Gaza Emergency Sewage Treatment (NGEST) where I met with Minister Mazen Ghunaim to formally launch Ireland’s investment in support of the water sector. Ireland will contribute €8.8 million to a joint project with France to build a solar power plant providing clean, reliable energy to the NGEST wastewater treatment plant. Water pollution is the leading cause of child mortality in Gaza.
In respect of plans for new settlement construction in Hebron, my view is clear; any further settlement expansion would be deeply regrettable and would be likely to accentuate tensions in an already fragile situation. This is particularly the case following the Israeli Government’s decision earlier this year not to renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, which had played an important role in preventing violence. My officials will use appropriate opportunities to highlight Ireland's strong opposition to any settlement construction in Hebron.
I will continue to work to ensure that the Middle East Peace Process remains high on the international agenda. At the last meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) on 9 December in Brussels, I briefed EU Foreign Ministers on my visit, and in follow-up to the issues I raised, the FAC will discuss the Middle East Peace Process in more detail at its next meeting in January.