I thank the Chairman for acceding to my request to call a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. Since I wrote to the Chairman last week, much has happened of which I was not aware at the time, but I was aware of the requirement to give formal notice for a motion to be printed. I understand the secretariat has copies of the two motions I suggested and I will deal with them in a moment. One deals with the immediate situation in the Lebanon and the other, in an attempt to be constructive and contribute reasons for the conflict and its background, deals with the human rights clauses attached to the trade agreement agreed between the European Union and the state of Israel. In order to concentrate on the situation in the Lebanon, I do not have a difficulty with the second motion being placed formally on the agenda for our next meeting so that people may have the opportunity to reflect on it. We can come to that decision later.
When I wrote to the Chairman, I said I would make one change in what I had submitted as text, namely, to replace the word "deploring" with the word "condemning". The motion I submitted would now read that the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs:
The fact that over 600 civilians have died in Southern Lebanon and Israel in recent weeks, many of them children; [That figure has increased since I submitted this]
The damage done to civilian infrastructure in Lebanon on such a scale as to render over 750,000 people homeless; [Again, these figures have increased]
The indiscriminate attacks on a United Nations outpost in South Lebanon which resulted in the deaths of four international members of UNIFIL;
Most independent commentators have suggested that warnings were given and that the attacks cannot be construed as an accident. With regard to the attacks on UNIFIL I was particularly appalled by the suggestion by Israel's representative at the United Nations, Dan Gellerman, that UNIFIL had been wasting its time for more than 25 years and that it had got too close to the people who, in turn, had got too close to Hizbollah. That was an outrageous attack on UNIFIL and on the members of our forces who have served with distinction in southern Lebanon.
The motion continues:
Recognising the important role of UNIFIL and Irish Defence Forces' contribution to that body;
Appalled at the most recent slaughter in Qana over the weekend just passed with its high proportion of child victims;
Affirming its belief that the taking of civilian life is never lawful; [Lest there be any spin on this, I mean the taking of civilian life not just in southern Lebanon, but also in Israel — the choosing of civilian targets.]
Condemns the loss of life occurring in Israel and in southern Lebanon;
For an immediate ceasefire and for the immediate support of the seven point plan as outlined by the Lebanese Prime Minister [Fouad Siniora];
For Ireland to use its influence at United Nations level to call on the Security Council, and General Assembly, to give its support to such a resolution as would facilitate an immediate ceasefire in the region;
Calls on the European Union to sponsor comprehensive talks on the current conflict in the region and demands the participation of all actors in the current conflict, including Syria and Iran;
For a rejection of militarism and a sustained engagement by the European Union and the UN on such a set of political proposals as would support the establishment of a viable contiguous Palestinian state, and would enable a true security to be provided for Israel based on accepted borders, and withdrawal from occupied territories;
For the International community to work for the demilitarisation of the region, and to engage in such talks with all of the states in the region as would enable a demilitarisation to take place and the basis for sustained peace and development to be created.
I will move this motion with the Chairman's permission and hope the committee accepts this wording which condemns the loss of life and the destruction of civilian infrastructure on all sides. I have provided copies to the committee and have other copies available if members wish to consider it.
I do not mind if my second motion is not taken formally until the next meeting. It proposes that the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs calls on Ireland to raise at the next meeting of the European Council of Ministers, bearing in mind previous decisions of the European Parliament, the need for implementation of the terms of Article 2 of the Euro-Med trade agreement with Israel and that it review within a period of three months the compliance with Article 2 and take such a decision within six months on such measures as are appropriate following this review.
Lest everyone say we are all agreed on the need for a ceasefire, the fact that so many members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs are present means that people are very supportive of a call for an immediate ceasefire. This is my estimation but I may be wrong. There is no point in thinking anything other than that the outcome of the extraordinary General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting in Brussels — the documentation of which was circulated to members for this meeting — is deeply disappointing. In paragraph four of the document the council shows its strong and clear recognition of the human casualties and human suffering, the destruction of civilian infrastructure and the number of displaced persons. In the second paragraph the council condemns Hizbollah's attack on Israel. However it does not immediately refer to the response which, I repeat, was in breach of international law and in breach of all those statutes that protect civilians. Its weakest outcome is that the council calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities to be followed by a sustainable ceasefire.
This is to kick to touch the issue of the immediate ceasefire requested in my motion. Condoleezza Rice has suggested that it may happen within a matter of days. It has been said by Deputy Prime Minister Peres that it might happen in a couple of weeks. Some military people interviewed said they may need three months. What we are witnessing is something that we cannot but condemn outright. We must be unequivocal in our request for an immediate ceasefire. To date more than 600 people are dead. If this conflict is to continue in this way, giving people 24 hours' notice to leave their homes without the means to leave very often and when all the bridges, 80% of the roads and much of the civilian infrastructure have been destroyed, is little less than gross oppression. I do not want to hear all these people immediately say that I am failing to condemn other acts of violence against civilians. That people in Israel have been killed and injured and have had to live in bunkers is equally reprehensible.
We must call a spade a spade. We are talking about a state with one of the best equipped armies in the world, operating in the territory of a sovereign neighbour, with the support of the largest power in the world which it construes as conferring impunity on it with regard to its compliance with international law. People can dance on the heads of pins to suggest it is a principle of international law that a country has the right to defend itself but there is no principle of international law to suggest that one can advance that principle at the cost of the international legal principles that are there for the protection of the rights of civilians in times of war and in conditions of war. It is interesting for those who might wish to go down that road to note that the protection of civilians under the Geneva Convention was in fact drafted by military people who knew what they were doing. When they drafted the convention they knew of the conditions that might arise where people operating in a military or a terrorist fashion would take refuge among civilian populations.
In case after case it has been stated that the presence of Hizbollah among civilian populations can never be a justification for the visiting of death, injury and destruction of civilian infrastructure on that civilian population, no more than it can be required of the Lebanese Government or the Lebanese army that they remove something from their midst that they cannot remove and that they be asked to pay the price of a civil war in Lebanon so as to be able to achieve a barrier north of the border with Israel. This is completely outrageous and deeply cynical by the very eminent people who are advancing this proposition.
I have changed the first part of my motion to remove the word "deploring" because I accept my colleague's suggestion that we should use the word "condemning". The motion condemns what took place, makes reference to Qana and affirms the principle that the taking of civilian life can never be lawful in any circumstances.
In its second part it calls for our support for the seven-point plan proposed by the Lebanese Prime Minister. Given an impasse at the UN Security Council there is a case for utilising the mechanism of "anything but war", where 33 members of the General Assembly can call for an initiative coming from the General Assembly. That is possibly the best way to proceed should there be an impasse at the Security Council.
Those who write about a clash of civilisations and seek to construe this as a confrontation between Western and Islamic values are deeply irresponsible. If there is a connection between Syria and Iran and those who are operating such as Hizbollah or in a different way Hamas in Gaza, then Syria and Iran should be included in such talks as will lead to stability and peace in the region. However, the suggestion that confronting these states without exhausting the procedures of diplomacy and without addressing the deep-seated problems of the region is grossly irresponsible.
The last section of the motion calls for the assertion of diplomacy over militarism. It also deals with political proposals that would support the establishment of a viable contiguous Palestinian state. It is not possible to have a viable Palestinian state if it is divided into cantons. For example Gaza represents 1% of the ancient state of Palestine. It is equally impossible to roll back history. If we believe, for example, that it would be possible to construct an initiative towards establishing peace on the 1967 borders, the European Union and its members should speak of that. What it has done in its tragic response to the outcome of the elections in Palestine is to refuse to recognise the distinction between the evolving views of Hamas in Gaza and the voice of Hamas as coming from Syria. It made a tragic mistake by assuming that aid could be delivered outside the mechanism of the Palestinian state. These were contributory factors to what is taking place in Gaza.
As our meeting refers to the Middle East I want it to state that just because we have been visited by such tragedy in Lebanon, we cannot lift our gaze from what is happening in Gaza. We will never have peace in the Middle East until people are real about a political solution. Those in the militant sectors of Hamas or Hizbollah will never move from a military to a political strategy unless the political strategy is asserted with some consistency and with principle. In one statement after another the European Council has called on Hamas to recognise Israel. However, it is curiously evasive on the 18-point plan produced by four prisoners representing different factions, which was published just a few days before the kidnapping of a soldier on the border. If it wants to drive on towards a political solution it must encourage people to have belief.
I visited Palestine for the first time in the early 1980s during the first intifada. Since then a further two generations have lived in refugee camps. The latest generation is being betrayed by the international community, as were their parents and grandparents. Equally, if we are to address the need for a diplomatic solution we need to be able, for example, to drive it on in terms of all the principles of the Quartet's proposals. The Quartet had as its final phase the achievement of agreement on Jerusalem. In its penultimate phase it was supposed to deal with the issue of withdrawals from settlements. We have had a concentration on the question of the state of recognition. The 18-point plan produced by the prisoners de facto recognises the state of Israel. I recognise that we have to go forward by such a recognition. There should also have been an insistence in the Quartet’s proposals for a withdrawal behind the 1967 borders. When I refer to a viable contiguous Palestinian state, I mean that there needs to be a withdrawal from the illegally occupied areas. I also mean that there needs to be a recognition of equal human rights for those within Israel, regardless of whether they are Palestinians or others. There also needs to be a recognition of the right to water, the right to movement and the right to an economy, etc. All of that has been put on the back burner. Time after time, the European Union has issued a statement declaring that this issue relates to the recognition of state of Israel.
I will conclude by referring to those who are equally contributing to irresponsibility arising from the translation and misconstruction of certain comments. I am not a supporter of the President of Iran. When he said that the current administration in Israel must be removed from the page of time, I condemned what was said. Those who suggest that he said it was the intention of all of Israel's neighbours to wipe Israel off the map are simply stating an untruth. If the British Prime Minister decides to restate that suggestion, it becomes an even greater untruth, although it is less unexpected for me as I have some previous experience of listening to his untruths. At this time, we do not want those of eminence to encourage a clash of civilisations, to call for a confrontation between east and west or to make speeches about the superiority of values in which they claim the exclusivity or superiority of the values of one civilisation over another. Such comments are negative, dangerous and militaristic.
I hope the motion I have read out, which I wish to circulate, is seen as balanced. It has been deliberately constructed to achieve support from all the members of the committee. I do not suggest that my views are any different from those of other members. I am aware that members of all parties and Independent Members of both Houses have been deeply concerned about the apparent ease with which the world has looked on while loss of life and destruction have taken place.