I propose to take Questions Nos. 52, 60, 69, 94 and 95 together. 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 here 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.
These same concerns arise in relation to settlement building on the Golan Heights. I am aware of reports of a new Israeli Government plan to transfer more settlers into the Golan Heights. Should these reports be confirmed, it would be extremely worrying. Such transfer of population into an occupied territory was explicitly outlawed in international law after the events of the Second World War. Annexation of territory by force is also illegal under international law, including the UN Charter. Any attempt to legitimise this illegal annexation ignores the wishes of the inhabitants of the area and would be a flagrant violation of the principles of international law.
In a statement on 8 April I condemned the latest reported decisions by the Israeli authorities to advance plans for further settlement construction and related activities in the West Bank. Also last week, there was a clear and principled EU statement, referring to these decisions on construction in settlements and on the legal status of an illegal outpost. 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 Middle East peace process is at a critical impasse and the actions taken by both sides in the conflict can have serious repercussions. Continued expansion of settlements in these areas is not compatible with a good faith effort to reach a peace agreement and this is undermining many Palestinians' faith in a political path.
Reckless election promises in Israel in recent weeks, including some reportedly threatening to annex lands in the West Bank, can only add to these concerns. 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. However, 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 many Palestinian communities.
It has long been proposed that a future peace agreement may involve some agreed mutual border adjustments, if the parties so wish it. Such changes can only be by mutual agreement. Any unilateral statement of annexation by Israel of occupied territory would be illegal under international law, would have no legitimacy and would not be recognised or accepted by Ireland or the international community more generally.
The European Union has taken a number of actions relating to settlements. These include the levying of higher tariffs on goods from settlements compared with goods from within Israel's recognised borders, prohibiting the use of EU research funding in institutions located in settlements, and rules to prevent misleading labelling of goods from settlements as being from Israel. Ireland has been to the fore in securing many of these actions.
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, as Members will be aware, I held a meeting in February on the current 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.