I propose to take Questions Nos. 55 and 59 together.
The Government shares the concerns expressed about the increasingly difficult circumstances facing the Palestinian people. We have been consistently active within the European Union and United Nations in promoting a lasting, peaceful and just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This must be based on negotiations between the parties leading to a viable two-State solution. Within the Union, we advocate a policy approach aimed at ensuring that the Union remains fully engaged in the process, with a clear and balanced message for the parties.
We believe the Israeli Government and Palestinian Authority must face up to their obligations under the roadmap, and under international law. The Irish Government has continued to raise directly with the Israeli authorities its concerns over the humanitarian and economic impact of policies and activities in the occupied territories. The European Union has consistently urged the Israeli Government to end all activities in the occupied territories that are contrary to international law and that threaten the viability of a solution based on the coexistence of two States.
Following the democratic Palestinian elections in January, the European Union and the Quartet have also made it clear that the new Hamas Government of the Palestinian Authority must commit to the peace process. It must renounce violence, recognise Israel's right to exist and adhere to agreements already negotiated by the authority and the PLO. Since April, the European Union has been reviewing its assistance against the Palestinian Government's commitment to these principles.
The European Union has been the strongest supporter of the Palestinian people internationally and it is also the largest donor. For the past five years, overall assistance, including bilateral assistance from member states, has averaged some €500 million annually. This has covered humanitarian assistance and support for Palestinian institutions, NGOs and civil society, as well as contributions to the UN and other international organisations. Funding from this overall sum, which is administered by the European Commission, has amounted to an average of €250 million annually. In February, the Council approved the urgent release by the Commission of €121 million in humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians. In early April, the Commission temporarily suspended direct assistance to the Palestinian Authority and it estimates that this could affect up to €126 million of projected expenditure for 2006.
The Irish Government regrets that Hamas has not yet demonstrated any significant movement towards acceptance of the peace process. While we understand the difficulty of the transition it must now make, it would be unreasonable to expect the European Union to continue its capacity-building support for the Palestinian Government irrespective of its willingness to respect the basic rules of the peace process. However, the Palestinian people should not have to face a humanitarian crisis because of the reluctance of Hamas to meet its new responsibilities. The European Union is committed to continuing necessary assistance to meet the basic needs of the Palestinian population, and Ireland has argued strongly for the widest possible definition of those needs.
The EU has now undertaken the urgent task of developing a temporary international mechanism to channel assistance directly to the Palestinian people. As a matter of priority, it will aim to provide for basic needs, including health services. It will be essential that all international donors co-operate to ensure the effectiveness of these new structures. The European Union has also called on Israel to take action to resume the transfer of withheld Palestinian tax and customs revenues, which will be essential in averting a crisis in the occupied territories.
The Irish Government is committed to maintaining the level of Ireland's bilateral assistance to the Palestinians, which amounted to more than €4 million in 2005. Already this year, €1.5 million has been allocated for humanitarian assistance through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East and further allocations will be make in the near future.