Middle East Peace Process: Discussion with Former Israeli Ambassador.

The next item isa discussion with Mr. Dore Gold on the current situation in the Middle East peace process. It is a great pleasure to welcome him to the meeting. He was born and educated in the United States. However, he became an Israeli citizen in 1980 and has served in the Israeli defence forces. In 1991 he served as adviser to the Israeli delegation at the Madrid peace conference. From June 1996 to June 1997 he was foreign policy adviser to Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu during a period when he was in opposition. From mid-1997 to late 1999 Mr. Gold represented Israel as its ambassador to the United Nations. In 1998 he served as a member of the Israeli delegation in the Wye River negotiations between Israel, the PLO and the then US President Mr. Bill Clinton at the Wye River Plantation in Maryland. Since 2000 he has served as president of the not for profit institute, Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs. From 2001 to 2003 he served as an adviser to the then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He is the author of a number of books on the Middle East, including Hatred’s Kingdom, The UN, Tower of Babble: How the United Nations Has Fueled Global Chaos, The Fight for Jerusalem: Radical Islam, the West, and the Future of the Holy City and The Rise of Nuclear Iran: How Tehran Defies the West. He has publically debated the Goldstone report with Justice Richard Goldstone who led the UN fact-finding mission and has been critical of the report.

The committee has always been committed to supporting all genuine efforts to achieve a just and lasting settlement in the Middle East peace process. Members have visited Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, most recently in July 2009, together with members of the Joint Committee on European Affairs. We published a report on that visit, a copy of which I will supply to Mr. Gold. The focus of our visit was on the humanitarian, social, economic and political impact of the recent conflict and long-standing blockade. What we observed was very grim. We would be glad to hear Mr. Gold’s views on the situation in the Middle East, in particular, on the current efforts being made to create suitable conditions for talks, the settlements and the humanitarian situation in Gaza. In 2008 members also visited Israel, in particular, the border region of Gaza. Members are familiar with the situation on the ground.

Before we commence, I wish to advise that whereas Members of the Houses enjoy absolute privilege in respect of utterances made in committee, witnesses do not enjoy the same privilege. Accordingly, caution should be exercised, particularly with regard to references of a personal nature.

Mr. Gold will be aware that Ireland has, for a long time, proposed the two state solution for Israel and has been anxious to support that concept and development. I now invite him to address the committee and we will then take questions from members.

Mr. Dore Gold

I thank the Chairman and the Members of the Oireachtas for hosting me at this committee. I would like to survey the principal reasons the peace process has not moved forward as well as many in the international community had hoped. It is no secret that we are in the situation today where we neither have proximity talks nor direct negotiations taking place, even though past Israeli Governments had active negotiations with the Palestinian Authority leadership. To put it in perspective, while many in the international community had hoped we would reach a breakthrough, we have now gone through six Israeli Governments since the Oslo agreements were signed in 1993, two American Presidents with the United States as a principal party providing support for the negotiations and two Palestinian Authority Presidents. However, in that entire period since 1993, we have not reached a final peace accord. Why has the process not worked?

I will suggest at least four principal reasons which will help us understand what is blocking peace. One of the main reasons concerns the nature of the conflict. Are the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the larger Arab-Israeli conflict largely a territorial dispute and could we, if we just had better maps and sharper pens, resolve this territorial dispute and end one of the most difficult conflicts on the global agenda, or is there something else going on? One of the best test cases for examining the source of the conflict is what happened in August and September 2005 when Israel unilaterally pulled out of the Gaza Strip. Committee members may remember that at the time Israel did not leave Gaza in the context of an agreement nor did not make claims which it would have been justified in making, under UN Security Council Resolution 242, to retain strategic parts of the Gaza Strip for its own security, something which had been recognised by the international community as far back as November 1967. Instead, it got out of every square inch of Gaza.

The hope was at the time that Gaza would turn into the beginning of an independent Palestinian state. Gaza had the potential to become an area of economic and political success. There are large gas deposits offshore of Gaza that have been developed by British Gas and it is an area where Israeli settlements had developed an agribusiness which they turned over to the Palestinians when they left the area. Also, shorefront property is sought by hotel chains throughout the Middle East and Gaza has beautiful Mediterranean shoreline. The potential was there to turn Gaza into something and the international community has very much supported the efforts of the Palestinian people to create for themselves self-governing institutions and a stable economy.

All the foundations were there, but what happened after Israel pulled out? If people assume that the conflict is chiefly territorial, what should have happened after the pull-out was that not only would the Palestinian state in Gaza develop, but one of the alleged sources of hostility between Palestinian organisations and Israel would have been addressed and the flames of hostility would have been reduced. A key measure of the level of hostility was the issue of rocket launches. Since 2001, Hamas and other organisations in the Gaza Strip have been launching Qassam rockets — a homemade rocket — at Israeli civilian targets. These rockets are an inaccurate munition and are only useful for striking at large areas such as cities. The city of Sderot has been in the front line of the Qassam attacks. A remarkable piece of data I can share is that if we compare the number of rocket attacks against Israel in the year 2005 — when we left Gaza — to the year 2006 when we were out of Gaza, the number does not decrease as a result of the reduction in hostility, but increases. It does not just double or triple, but increases by a factor of 500%. In other words, the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and how it addressed Palestinian territorial concerns did not reduce the conflict.

I will now put forward my view on what I consider is largely behind the maintenance of the struggle and conflict against the people of Israel. It is no secret that Hamas, which took over the Gaza Strip in January 2006 — initially through the Palestinian elections and later in 2007 through military coup — is allied with two major Middle Eastern forces. First, Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Islamic organisation seeking to re-establish a global caliphate at some point in the future and which has been one of the sources of jihadist ideology in many other groups emanating from the Muslim Brotherhood in subsequent years. The other key ally of Hamas is the Islamic Republic of Iran, which in the past number of years has been seeking to spread its regional influence across the Middle East, including in the Gulf states, Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt and the Gaza Strip. I wrote a book on Saudi Arabia in 2003 and at that time Saudi Arabia accounted for from 50% to 70% of the Hamas budge, but the Saudi role has diminished. Today, Iran is the principal supporter of Hamas, with financing, weaponry and military training.

Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip meant that it was withdrawing from the border area between Palestinian Gaza and Egyptian Sinai. Prior to the withdrawal, Israel had maintained a very small strip of land that came to be known as the Philadelphia route, which was approximately 200 feet in width — a very narrow strip of land. Even at that time, between 2001 and 2005, Palestinian organisations exploited the Philadelphia route for building smuggling tunnels. Israel tried with special forces to limit the effects of those tunnels, but after it withdrew from Gaza and from the Philadelphia route, the number of smuggling tunnels mushroomed and as a result, the amount and quality of weapons that came into Gaza increased. For example, Israel found Hamas was importing two different forms of Grad rockets, a Chinese and an Iranian version, with much longer range than a Qassam. The Grad rocket was reaching Israeli cities like Ashkelon and Ashdod until a more improved rocket was eventually introduced in the year 2005 that could reach as far as Beersheba as well. This meant that close to 1 million Israeli citizens came under the range of Hamas rockets and the rockets of other organisations, prior to Operation Cast Lead. One of the principal reasons the conflict continues is that the conflict is not just a function of what Israel is doing or not doing. It is also a function of the regional ambitions of other actors, such as the Iranians, who have had a pivotal role in maintaining the conflict.

Let me raise a second issue which has been a problem, namely, the response of regional states to Israel's past efforts to make peace. Recently, the Obama Administration has sought to create an exchange of confidence building measures by both sides to try to move the peace discussions along and create an environment for peace-making. Part of this has been an unprecedented request that Israel freeze settlement construction in the West Bank. This is unprecedented because settlement freeze does not appear in the Oslo agreements which did not assume that the Palestinians would stop building nor that Israel would stop building and that the eventual borders between Israel and the Palestinians would be determined by concrete or by the pouring of concrete and building materials. None the less, because the United States requested it, Israel agreed to a ten-month moratorium on construction for its own civilians in the West Bank. It had been hoped we would see some kind of reciprocal move by the other side. It is no secret that the US Government turned to the Arab states and hoped they would make some gesture in return so that there could be an exchange of gestures by both sides. For example, President Obama approached King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia asking for some kind of Saudi gesture towards Israel. It was suggested in the newspapers that perhaps the Saudis would allow Israeli aircraft to fly in Saudi airspace, but no gesture came and Israel was alone in making the gesture for a ten-month freeze on construction in its settlements and homes in the West Bank.

In my view, a third factor that has occurred over the past year which has stymied the move to a negotiating process is the expectation of the Palestinians that at the end of the day they do not have to negotiate with Israel. Last year, for example, Javier Solana, the chief foreign policy czar, so to speak, of the European Union, put forward a suggestion that perhaps the European Union would request the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state, perhaps on the lines of 1967, which Israel regards as indefensible lines. This expectation that, ultimately, European countries will lead an effort to see to it that a Palestinian state is declared without negotiations is yet another reason the Palestinians may not bother to negotiate. They may have no incentive to make compromises with Israel because they will get what they are seeking through international intervention.

A number of months ago, I was asked by the British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, to come to London to meet him to discuss the progress of the peace process. I told him I knew Mahmoud Abbas was on a European tour and would visit London, among other cities. I suggested the most important message a European power could give Mahmoud Abbas was to encourage him to get back to negotiations. If the Palestinians hear sympathetic words of European support, that the Europeans will push unilaterally for a Palestinian state, then their incentives for negotiations will drop away. This is hovering over much of the current discussion. I wanted to share this information with the committee members because of their concern with the direction of the peace process.

I will conclude with one other factor which has also affected the environment of the peace process and which up until the present makes it difficult to build confidence on the Israeli side with regard to the intentions of our Palestinian neighbours. When Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin met Chairman Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn on 13 September 1993, part of the original Oslo agreement was an exchange of letters on mutual recognition. It was not a full recognition nor a formal legal act but it was the beginning of a gesture to show how important it was for the Israeli side to recognise the Palestinians and for the Palestinians to recognise the Israelis. Some committee members might have heard Prime Minister Netanyahu say that if Israel is being asked to recognise the rights of the Palestinian people to a Palestinian state, we expect to hear that the Palestinians will recognise the rights of the Jewish people to a Jewish nation state. This is especially important because over recent years we have seen repeated references on the Palestinian side that raise questions about the authenticity of the Jewish presence in this land. One of the most famous occurrences of this sort was at the very end of the 2000 Camp David summit outside Washington when Chairman Yasser Arafat turned to President Clinton and said, "We are talking about Jerusalem and you keep talking about the temple, Mr. Clinton. There was no temple in Jerusalem." In subsequent interviews, Yasser Arafat made the statement that maybe there was a temple in Nablus or maybe it was in Yemen but it was never in Jerusalem.

The statement of Arafat was not just a one-off diplomatic ploy but was picked up by much of the Palestinian leadership, by Nabil Shaath, by Said Barakat, by Yasser Abed Rabbo and by Mahmoud Abbas. Last year, Saddam Fayadh spoke about Jerusalem at the United Nations General Assembly. He spoke about Christian and Muslim rights in Jerusalem and he was completely silent on the issue of Jewish rights in Jerusalem. Even if we have a political disagreement, one has to acknowledge the universal importance of Jerusalem to all the great faiths and failure to make that acknowledgement raises fundamental questions about this issue of mutual recognition.

The fact of the matter is that the Jewish people never lost their connection to the land. Historians using documentation from the Byzantines and from other Christian sources have shown there was a Jewish majority presence until the Muslim conquest. Jews streamed back to their land and to Jerusalem prior to the arrival of the British, prior to the League of Nations and the Balfour Declaration and even during the time when the Ottoman Empire hosted Jewish refugees from the Spanish Inquisition. According to western diplomatic documentation, by 1863 the Jews re-established their majority in Jerusalem. It is true that Cairo, Baghdad and Damascus were cities of Arab population but Jerusalem was already in the 19th century a Jewish population centre before the European powers intervened in the future of theOttoman Empire.

I will conclude with the following observations. It is important that we rebuild a peace process and this process must create a negotiation between the two parties. The only solution that can emerge must emerge from free negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians with the support of the Arab states. I believe the international community can make a tremendous contribution if it allows us and supports a return to direct negotiations as they existed before. There is a lot of talk in the air about preconditions for negotiations. We never had preconditions back in the time of the signing of the Oslo agreements nor when Prime Minister Barak met Chairman Arafat at Camp David in 2000. We never had preconditions when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas as the Palestinian President held secret talks in 2008. We must get to direct negotiations and we must build on mutual recognition and we must create an environment which does not allow Iran to expand its influence in the Middle East at the expense of Israel and the Sunni Arab states but rather creates a coalition that seeks stability and peace. I will conclude now and I will be pleased to answer questions.

I thank Mr. Gold for his wide-ranging contribution. He will find that this committee is committed to a peace process. We regard the outside groups, the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union and Ireland as a small independent nation as having an interest in bringing about a solution. The difficulty is that we become involved and see things we do not understand. Mr. Gold mentioned Sderot, for example. There were a couple of rockets fired when we were there. They create terror and cause injuries and deaths. There were 19 deaths while we were there. The biggest effect of the rockets is the creation of a regime of terror. One has only 17 seconds to get to a safe place. The situation became much more dangerous when the Grad rockets which can reach Ashkelon and beyond were deployed. The response to that deployment — I refer specifically to the damage done — was much greater than was necessary to contain the situation. We have been there to see what has happened. Everything has been flattened, including the buildings of Jewish people from America who invested large amounts of money in Gaza. It is unbelievable. Our report covers some of these matters.

We have been through a very long peace process in Ireland. The issues mentioned by Mr. Gold, including the confidence-building measures, were part of what had to happen. There would have been no solution if the main actors had not been involved. The solution had to come from these parties. All we could do was support and encourage them. We found ways to facilitate this and build confidence. We have often said there is a problem with the politics of the latest tragic atrocity. If one cannot find a way of getting over this, one will go nowhere. There will always be someone who wants to upset the peace process. If both sides are genuinely interested, they will have to hold their fire while progress is made. I accept that many are genuinely interested in reaching a peaceful two-state solution in Israel. We met many of them while we were there.

I have set out the committee's interest in this matter. Members of the committee will want to raise various other issues in this regard. They might mention the Palestinian families who were forced out of homes they had for decades, on spurious legal grounds, before the sites were handed over to settlers. The authorities did not interfere when the settlers started to do certain things. We know many difficulties are associated with this complex issue. It has been reported that the United States is pressing a series of confidence-building measures. It has been suggested it has asked the Israeli side to agree to a four-month settlement freeze in east Jerusalem and, in exchange, the Palestinian side is being asked to engage in direct talks. While there has been no confirmation of these reports, we would strongly support such measures. There is a suggestion something is going on in the background in order to build confidence. I am sure Mr. Gold is frustrated and concerned because great progress has not been made with many of these efforts, but we have to keep working at it.

Although we believe there can be a solution, we emphasise that all sides will have to come around the table to build confidence. Perhaps this work will initially have to be done in the background in order that it can be built and protected. We appreciate that the need for security in Israel is an issue of great concern in the immediate and wider area. We are concerned about this. However, we are glad to see Mr. Gold's friends in America and our friends there are making great efforts to bring about a solution.

I invite members of the committee to ask questions. We will begin with Deputy Timmins who is the spokesperson for the Fine Gael Party.

I thank Mr. Gold for his contribution. He has a very impressive CV. He probably knows as much as anyone on the planet about the difficulties and intricacies of this plan. While much of what he has said sounds fine and reasonable, we have heard it often before. Everyone wants peace — there is agreement on that point — but we continue to see the destruction associated with the conflict.

I would like to ask a few questions. In Mr. Gold's view, what would be an acceptable solution? Would it be a two-state solution? If so, would Gaza and the West Bank be interconnected? What form would this interconnection take? Does he envisage the deconstruction of any of the settlements constructed in recent years? What is his view on the possibility of Jerusalem being a shared capital city? These issues are ultimately preventing peace. While we can talk about direct negotiations, there will be no solution until there is some agreement on what constitutes an acceptable solution.

I would like to establish whether Mr. Gold's view reflects that of the Israeli Government or mainstream opinion in Israel. Is his view unique? Why are the Palestinian authorities unwilling to engage in direct negotiations? What is the stumbling block for them? Is it the blockade in Gaza, or the restrictions on movement in the West Bank? Does Mr. Gold think the Palestinian authorities on the West Bank have been undermined by their failure to secure any concessions in the last year? He placed great store on the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. When I was in Gaza this time last year, I observed the blockade around it. Was that fortress left in place when the Israelis withdrew? If that is the case, does Mr. Gold not appreciate the difficulties it presents to the residents of Gaza as they try to operate economically? He spoke about the hotel chains and other tourism interests interested in the west coast of Gaza which is beautiful. How could anyone establish such a business in current circumstances?

I have always condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas and other groups based in Gaza. They are unacceptable. There needs to be a recognition that the people of Israel should be allowed to exist in a peaceful state. During Operation Cast Lead I listened to commentary to the effect that it was aimed at terrorists. When I visited the area, I noticed that industrial zones had been flattened in the last few days of the campaign, when the objectives of the operation should have been achieved. My abiding memory is of seeing the international school bombed to the ground. What purpose did it serve, in the context of the fight against terrorism, to bomb the Gaza industrial zone and the international school?

Mr. Gold was very successful in his role as Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. I would like to get his view on the United Nations, of which I know he has written a strong critique. Will he outline his views on the role, if any, of the United Nations in reaching a solution to the conflict?

I call Deputy Higgins. I ask him to try to speak for no more than three minutes. I am aware that, like most members of the committee, he has a deep involvement with this issue.

I will model myself on the Chairman.

I understand that.

Mr. Dore Gold

Will I answer all the questions together?

Perhaps Mr. Gold can do so at the end.

I join others in welcoming Mr. Gold. It is important for us to have a meaningful diplomatic discourse. As I am confined to three minutes, I will go through a number of points rather quickly.

I have visited Israel and Gaza on many occasions. I think I went there for the first time in the 1980s. I went there a couple of times during that period. I visited Gaza two weeks after the withdrawal in 2005. I accompanied Andreas van Agt the former Dutch Prime Minister and six others. We spent two weeks in Gaza and we looked at every detail of it. I hope Mr. Gold will bear with me when I say I disagree that there was a complete withdrawal from every inch of Gaza. What I welcomed in Gaza in 2005 was that children could go into the sea freely for the first time. Before that they could look at the sea but they were not free to enter it. After the withdrawal, they were, but at the same time control over the sea was not transferred, it remained in Israeli control — as did the security of the boundaries. I travelled through them myself. We brought in our bus.

We looked at Gaza very carefully. I visited the various places where there had been water. At that time James Wolfensohn was interested in constructing an underground tunnel between Gaza and the West Bank, but no one spoke about Gaza being self-sufficient or capable of being a basic Palestinian state. It could not be. Even in terms of the discussions in which Mr. Gold participated, the thread running through all of those was the importance of contiguity in any future viable Palestinian state. Contiguity and viability are the two words used in most of the texts. When we were there we were able to look at the hundreds of millions in expenditure from the European Union that had been spent there that was now devastated. There was no airport or the capacity for a port to serve the beautiful Mediterranean Sea with its oil and sea gas reserves. Much would have been possible for a viable Palestinian state that was contiguous with the West Bank if outstanding issues had been solved on the sharing of Jerusalem, the release of prisoners and the management of boundaries. It is wrong to suggest that this was all handed on a plate to Palestinians who were then not able to do anything about it. I do not think Mr. Gold disputes those facts with me.

I will turn to visits made in more recent times. The Chairman has not mentioned it yet but I wish to say that in every conversation I have had with different interests I have called for the release of Sargent Gilad Shalit who should have been released long ago if people were serious. It makes no sense to retain him in captivity. I was with the Chairman when we visited Sderot. In the two most recent visits to Gaza, one of which has been referred to by the Chairman, what is happening in places in Gaza is something that cannot be left to variable diplomatic constructions. There is one view, an extremist view, which I am not attributing to Mr. Gold, that suggests that if one keeps the siege going long enough it will make Hamas unacceptable in Gaza and therefore people will become desperate for an alternative. I do not attribute that view to Mr. Gold but I heard it. If that is the case one would have a visitation of a humanitarian disaster on children and innocent people.

Mr. Gold might not like to hear that I agree with what the Minister for Foreign Affairs said about collective punishment. He was refused permission to visit Gaza. Apart from that, and irrespective of the debate about the most recent report which was referred to, namely, the Goldstone report, and the matters that are in major contention there are observable facts of risk and danger due to contaminated water, sewage, hunger and shelter that go beyond just being a humanitarian risk; a political disaster is staring us in the face.

If one takes the alternative models, whether we like it or not the European Union and United Nations observers considered the elections that took place. I hold a view that in many cases others present do not share. The European Union view on the proscription of Hamas before its connection with Iran deepened was singularly unhelpful. I am not a spokesperson for Hamas. I speak for myself and the peace process. When I went to Tel Aviv early in the 1980s there was a significant peace group in the Knesset which included the distinguished President, Shimon Peres. I talked to colleagues in the Israeli Labour Party, who have all changed their mind. Everything has changed. I do not offer a counsel of despair but I am concerned.

I hope I did not hear Mr. Gold correctly when he said the 1967 boundaries are not acceptable as the enduring central principle of a settlement. I believe they are. In the past three or four days there was an explosion in Northern Ireland by a dissident group. The suggestion that because we have new arrangements in Northern Ireland that everything can be controlled is not valid. Neither can it be controlled in Gaza. I am happy to have this discourse with Mr. Gold and to wish him well. I hope there will be direct talks. It is becoming far more difficult because many of us who hold views from the human rights perspective are being presented as people who cannot listen to any argument. None of us are in favour of terrorism but the two recent military orders on defining infiltrators in the West Bank are capable of being applied to every Palestinian in the West Bank. One might say they are necessary anti-terrorist measures but they contravene fundamental human rights to a great extent. Those issues on the right to movement, communicate, publish and meet have been recorded by good organisations such as B'Tselem. Those are our concerns.

I have exceeded my three minute allocation and I am aware that people are getting agitated. I visited Hebron many times. I have seen Abraham's two wives; one on each side. I wish that all the children of Abraham would be for that. I agree with Mr. Gold. I accept there is a connection with the Jewish people. Mr. Gold is well aware of the history of Qana. It is when absolute claims are made in the name of religion that the texts do not become as defensible. Ultimately one of the factors that was of great assistance in Northern Ireland which was a very different situation that has been missing in all this period, including the period while Mr. George Mitchell is there, we would not have had a peace process if we did not have a permanent secretariat to bring us through the low points of the loop in terms of diplomacy. People will always say they are in favour of the two-state solution. Jerusalem will have to be shared. It is singularly negative that one has evictions in east Jerusalem. Settlements will have to be frozen. Equally, many changes will have to be made on the other side. Flashing in and out of the situation is not of any help. I wish there was a secretariat to bring forward the diplomacy that existed in many of the other places, in some of which Mr. Gold participated.

We have pressed the importance of a secretariat any time we met people. We explained how valuable it was in the context of Northern Ireland especially in the interim periods.

I thank Mr. Gold for his presentation. Where does he see the boundaries when the state of Palestine is established? In that context, what territory will be left other than Gaza? I am concerned about the level of development of settlements. I accept there has been a ten-month moratorium but I understand that does not include 3,000 approvals that have already been given. Perhaps in Beitar Ellit new approvals have been given in more recent times. I am concerned about settlements and the impact they are having and will have on a Palestinian state when it is established.

We visited Gaza and we condemn out of hand the rockets. We condemn violence on any side in this type of conflict. We have had our own experience of that for 30 years. The level of violence used in Gaza was disproportionate to what was necessary. Destroying its whole industrial base, the American International School and people's homes was unjustifiable.

Since then, there has been a refusal to allow UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East, to import the necessary materials to repair and rebuild houses and buildings affected in Gaza. It is hard to see any logic in such a refusal. We have confidence in John Ging and UNRWA's ability to ensure such materials do not fall into the hands of the people of violence who may use them for other purposes.

Mr. Gold said himself that an environment conducive to negotiations must be created. One problem we faced in Ireland when we had misery for 30 years was that each side blamed the other and said if the others did A, B and C, then everything would be all right. Unfortunately, life is not like that.

It is necessary in any of these conflicts for each side to examine what it can do to create an environment conducive to negotiation and a peaceful solution. It is fortunate former US Senator, George Mitchell, is special envoy to the Middle East because he was a real catalyst in the peace process in this country.

After the 30 years of misery in Ireland, the tragedy was that when each side sat down across from each other at the negotiating table they discovered they could agree on most of the issues important to people such as adequate income and housing, proper health services and education. These are the simple things that people need to live. Both sides here found that the violence would not really have been necessary if they had taken this action at the start. It is important, therefore, both sides in this process build the trust needed for negotiation. George Mitchell has good experience in this and I believe he will make a good contribution.

While some materials have been made available for repairing the windows and doors of 45,000 houses affected in Gaza, the committee still finds it difficult that even now only bare subsistence materials and supplies are allowed in UNRWA shipments to Gaza. In the committee's view, this cannot be justified, especially when the UN is there with a strong control over that side of its work.

I welcome Mr. Gold to the committee. We identify with the Middle East peace process from the violence meted out during our recent history. Mr. Gold claimed the Palestinians have an expectation that they do not have to negotiate and that they are getting support from the UN, the US and the Arab states. What evidence is there for this assertion?

How do we create the trust and confidence in negotiations among both sides which are still poles apart? How does Mr. Gold believe all the parties can be brought to sit around the negotiating table? It will have to happen. The sooner we get over that first move, the better.

Mr. Gold is a staunch critic of the Goldstone report on Gaza. Will he outline his main objections to it?

There is an issue with Israel's lack of co-operation with UN officials in Gaza in distributing supplies for the Palestinian people.

Deputy Higgins referred to the corollary between Northern Ireland and the Middle East peace process. Recently, a bomb exploded in Northern Ireland. While there will always be problems like that, the British and Irish Governments' response will be how the international community judges them. I am on record for being anti-terrorist but I believe the response of the Israeli Government in Gaza was disproportionate. At the time I described it as an act of butchery, a comment over which I still stand. The Israeli response in Gaza did the Israeli cause no good whatsoever internationally. The Israeli Government must consider this as there seems to be a lack of respect for the international community's view on the peace process.

These may sound like strong words to Mr. Gold but I would like to hear his response to them.

Several distinguished guests are present in the Visitors' Gallery. I welcome Mr Shay Duffy; from the Israeli Embassy, Ruth Zakh, deputy ambassador, Derek O'Flynn, press officer, Dermot Meleady, information officer; from the Egyptian Embassy, His Excellency, Mr. Amr Helmy, Mr. Maged Abdel Ranman and Ms Abir Alam Eldin; from the Malaysian Embassy, Mr. Sofian A. Karim, chargé d'affaires; from the Greek Embassy, Mrs. Diana Zagorianou-Prifti; from the Moroccan Embassy, Counsellor Ismaili; from the General Delegation of Palestine, Mr. Adnan Shaibab; from Amnesty International, Ms Eilís Ní Chaithnía, campaign officer; from the Palestinian Society, Ms Adele King; from Christian Aid, Mr. Sorley McCaughey; and Mr. Perooz Daneshinandi. I also welcome Ms Mary Fitzgerald ofThe Irish Times.

I welcome Mr. Gold to the committee. At a debate in Brandeis University, he played a video presentation by a Colonel Kemp. In the video presentation Colonel Kemp said, based on his knowledge of the Israeli defence forces — he had followed the current operation — that there had never been a time in the history of warfare where any army had made more effort to reduce civilian casualties and the deaths of innocent people than the Israeli defence forces did during the operation in Gaza last year. Was the entire video presentation played? Colonel Kemp also said innocent civilians were killed; war is chaos and full of mistakes, and mistakes were made by the British Army and other forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, many of which have been put down to human error. Does Mr. Gold remember playing that section of the same video?

Mr. Dore Gold

We do not, but I will speak about it when I have my turn.

Colonel Kemp has great experience around the world. His curriculum vitae includes service in the Royal Anglian Regiment and he was in Northern Ireland in March 1979, attached to barracks in Belfast. As the delegation is aware, the British Army forces in the North were involved in shoot-to-kill incidents, detention without trial and torture of prisoners. He has vast experience, most recently in Afghanistan. The delegation's referred specifically to the Goldstone report, including an incident reported on page 218 which discussed the shooting of the Abed Rabbo family — the delegation may remember that incident. The entire Goldstone report was rebutted by Israel but I have not heard it refute the allegation which, if it contends is not a war crime, is certainly a crime. It is a very specific case and I would like to hear the delegation's comments on it.

The case concerns what happened on 7 January, when Israeli tanks moved into a small piece of land outside the town and the people living there were told by megaphone message and radio broadcast message to leave at 12.30 p.m., something which I am sure could be verified by the Israelis. The people living there were told there would be a temporary cessation of the shooting between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. that day. At 12.50 p.m. the Abed Rabbo family, including their three daughters, Souad, aged nine, Samar, aged five and Amal, aged three, and their grandmother stepped out of the house, all of them carrying white flags. They were less than 10 m from a tank, on top of which were sitting two soldiers. The family stood still, waiting for orders from the soldiers as to what to do, but none were given. Without warning a third soldier emerged from inside the tank and started shooting at the three girls and then at their grandmother. Several bullets hit Souad in the chest, Amal in the stomach and Samar in the back. The father carried the three daughters back inside the house and, subsequently, an ambulance driver was prevented from coming to their rescue.

The Israeli Government has given a report to the United Nations on its rebuttal of the Goldstone report. In the opinion of the delegation is the incident I have outlined, if true, a crime if committed by one soldier? There were two soldiers sitting on the tank and others who prevented the girls from receiving medical attention, therefore a platoon was involved. Did their commanding officer report that as an incident worthy of investigation? Does the delegation think it is a war crime?

I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to speak. I am not a member of this committee, but I am a member of the Joint Committee on European Affairs. It has a meeting with Mr. Gold today which, unfortunately, I cannot attend. I wish to ask a number of questions. I am currently vice chairperson of the Oireachtas Ireland-Israel Friendship League. I am very much in favour of trying to develop positive links with Israel and the Palestinian people. One issue which will arise at the meeting of the Joint Committee on European Affairs will be the Euro-Med Agreement. It is very difficult for people to argue for creating more positive links with Israel in the context of the suffering of the people in Gaza about which we learn in Ireland.

In general, people in Ireland were appalled at what happened in Gaza in January last year. It is a common thing; people in Britain thought the same. David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, was very critical of the action at the time. President Obama expressed dismay at the deaths of civilians and children. It had a major impact in Ireland. Providing aid to the people in Gaza and alleviating their hardship is very important and people in Ireland feel it needs to be addressed as a priority. Others have asked questions on that issue.

George Mitchell, who played a very important part in our peace process, was mentioned. The delegation referred to the need for direct negotiations but did not mention the role of George Mitchell in that context. Other countries played a role in the Irish peace process. The role other countries, acting as third parties, should play is that of an honest broker. There should be efforts to work with both sides to encourage them in terms of what steps they can take. I ask the delegation to comment on its views on the role of George Mitchell in the process. I consider the term "preconditions" as meaning that one does not presume the outcome of the negotiations, but entering into negotiations is an act of good faith. Certain things are done when one enters negotiations. When George Mitchell took up his current post he mentioned that certain things would have to be done to enter into negotiations. If one enters negotiations, one accepts the idea of a peace process. It is not a precondition, but an action one takes.

The issue of settlements has been raised by the United States and President Obama. Does the delegation see that as something which should be addressed before negotiations take place?

I was in Israel recently with an Oireachtas group. We met representatives from different parties in the Knesset, including Yuil Tamir from the Labor Party and Ophir Pines-Paz who, I understand, has resigned from politics since then. They had different views. Deputy Higgins made the point that there are diverse opinions in the Labor Party, Israeli society and across the political spectrum, which is a very important message to convey to the international community. There is diversity of opinion, just as there is in Ireland, but the common ground for most people in the Oireachtas is that we are in favour of a peace process, want to see that happen and we will do anything we can to support it.

On 8 March George Mitchell, before Vice President Biden visited the region, announced both sides had agreed to proximity talks. Before the visit it was announced that permission had been granted by the Israeli authorities to build some 1,600 new houses in east Jerusalem. Why did it happen at that time? It did not occur by accident and it does not help, especially on the brink of talks which could be quite fruitful. These proximity talks can lead to solutions and we have had people from both sides before our committee. They have visited the reconciliation centre in Glencree and had talks in the background there. It is difficult to see those making such an announcement really being interested in bringing forward the proximity talks and making things happen. Perhaps that goes back to the point made by Deputy Higgins that having the secretariat working with everybody can lead to the development of those proximity talks. If that does not happen, different people may act in different ways with discrete objectives.

I welcome Mr. Gold who has a very impressive CV and clearly has significant insight and involvement in the decision-making process within the ongoing peace efforts. We have people before the committee advocating different points of view from both sides of the divide and we seem to be going around in circles. I am sure the witness feels the same. The difficulty is that will continue as long as the US has a veto — which it has, in effect — on how Israel acts.

Israel has ignored the UN, the US, the EU and everybody else. It ploughs ahead with its business and Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, has described the move on the developments as insulting. There are never any consequences for the actions, which has led to problems. Deputy Tuffy mentioned the EU-Israel Association Agreement which provides the legal basis for Israel's relationship with the UN and grants Israel preferential trading status with the EU. Article 2 states that there should be respect for human rights and democratic principles. In my view and that of people generally, it seems that article has been contravened time and again. The attack and blockade of Gaza is a contravention of that article.

Our Minister stated recently that conditions in Gaza were inhumane and utterly unacceptable in terms of accepted international standards of human rights. Nevertheless, we as a committee, a country and a member of the EU have done nothing to show that there are consequences when there is a breach of accepted democratic principles. Israel does not respond to words of condemnation and it would appear immune to such words. It is very focused and clear on what it wants, which is not always a bad thing. When a country disregards respect for human rights and democratic principles, as indicated in article 2 of the association agreement, there must be consequences. This committee should push for the scrapping of the agreement. America will not show Israel that there must be consequences but the EU and Ireland can lead by example.

Egypt is in a very difficult position on the Gaza issue. Is there a belief that the hierarchy in Israel would like to see Egypt take control of the Gaza Strip? I imagine it would be a significant relief to Israel and it would solve many issues around connecting the West Bank and Gaza. We heard that a tunnel was previously proposed. Egypt must be in a very difficult position because it has strong associations with the community in Gaza. It looks as if the country is being manipulated into taking charge of the Gaza Strip, so is that something Israel would like to see or is trying to bring about by whatever means it can employ?

Mr. Gold has heard what all the contributors have had to say but we do not really expect him to answer every detail on all subjects. If there are some issues on which Mr. Gold feels he can send us a note afterwards, we would be delighted to facilitate it. I would appreciate if Mr. Gold could deal with the main issues raised.

Mr. Dore Gold

How much time do I have?

We are keen to hear your comments. I will not hold you to three minutes.

Mr. Dore Gold

I would like to know the parameters.

Some members might try to work to the same parameters and we could be here for months. Mr. Gold can see how genuinely concerned and interested members of the committee are.

Mr. Dore Gold

Thank you, Chairman. Although the questions were not easy I appreciate the openness of members and their willingness to speak. I will try to answer some of the questions. Today I am a private citizen and do not represent the Israeli Government. The views I will put forward are somewhat reflective of the Israeli majority today.

A question was asked about what is causing the frustration in the Palestinian leadership and why it is not entering negotiations. There is a suggestion that a lack of freedom in movement, which can also affect economic growth, could be a factor affecting decision making in Ramallah. The fundamental point is that in 2009, there were tremendous breakthroughs in the Palestinian economy in the West Bank. We will deal with the Gaza Strip separately. There was GDP growth of 6.7% andper capita GDP growth of 3.6%. Israel has tried to be as helpful as possible, working very closely with former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in trying to create the conditions for economic growth in the West Bank.

The actions in the area amount to insurgency and in dealing with counter-insurgency warfare, one of the most important instruments is the use of roadblocks. People who are combatants must be separated from those who are not combatants. People may want to come to Jerusalem with dynamite attached to their bodies and blow up a coffee shop, killing children. These people must be separated from those who want to pray, engage in business, etc.

In 2008, Israel had 41 roadblocks in the West Bank and this number was cut to 14. The Israeli Government was highly criticised for such a severe cut and it was accused of putting Israeli civilians at risk. In 2010, there has been an elevation in the number of terrorist attacks but we recognise the importance of freedom of movement for economic progress in the West Bank. While Israel has frozen the construction of its settlements in its own areas it has supported the Palestinians building a new city near Ramallah called Rawabi where there has been a breaking of the ground. There is a new industrial zone in Bethlehem. In general, therefore, if someone approaches an Irish representative and says that freedom of movement is being hampered and that their economy is strained, they are not telling him or her the extent to which things improved on the ground in the West Bank during 2009.

I was referring to the Beth Salem reports.

Mr. Dore Gold

Beth Salem is one organisation——

That is right but it was not just individuals who were talking to me. They were the reports of the organisation.

Mr. Dore Gold

Beth Salem is one organisation. Some of the things it does are interesting and I firmly disagree with others. If the Deputy asked our embassy for official data it would give him official data and he could then judge whether he believes the official data Israel is providing. It is highly reliable and there is a good deal of evidence of economic growth in the West Bank today. There have been press reports by independent observers. I do not believe the lack of freedom of movement is anything that can be used——

Chairman, on the issue of road blocks, on our visit to the area in 2008 the United Nations representatives gave us a presentation in Jerusalem and showed us all the road blocks. They said there were somewhere in the region of 300.

Mr. Dore Gold

Something else that might be put in place is a mound of dirt which would make somebody slow down to allow a soldier or somebody else to check but it is not a road block in the fullest sense of somebody being stopped, asked to get out, show their papers and check on the computer that they are not a Hamas operative. That is something else. In terms of the actual road blocks, those numbers have come down tremendously.

When Mr. Gold describes a road block does he mean a road that physically cannot be passed?

Mr. Dore Gold

I mean a place where somebody can slow down to allow soldiers look in the car. I am not talking about a place where somebody's freedom of movement is stopped to allow their papers to be checked.

My memory is that the number of road blocks increased dramatically while the suicide bomber attacks had ceased but we could get bogged down in this issue all day. Can we get the statistics separately——

Having been there, the United Nations——

Mr. Dore Gold

I will give the members the dates and the number of road blocks——

On a point of order, it is important that Mr. Gold be allowed make his presentation. We all had a free run. We can make our own judgments later. The statistical information can be sourced separately. We should not spend all day disputing that.

Mr. Dore Gold

Yes. Another aspect has to do with allowing improved access to the international economy. The number of hours the Allenby bridge is now open and the passageways to Jordan have been extended. The Tour Kameah passageway, which allows the West Bank Palestinian economy to export through Israeli ports, has been extended. All these efforts have been made to improve as much as possible the Palestinian economy on the ground in the West Bank.

Gaza is a complex situation, as all of us recognise, and nothing would make us happier than to see a co-operative regime emerge in Gaza, whether linked to the West Bank regime or not, that renounced terrorism and accepted previous agreements. These are standards that the Quartet established, not just the state of Israel, but unfortunately in Gaza we have a regime that is directly supporting not only Hamas terrorism, since it is a Hamas regime, but the terrorism of other organisations against the state of Israel. This is not a position where occasionally a rocket is launched at Israel by some anonymous person and Israel over-reacts. The attacks against Israel are co-ordinated by the regime in power. We can give the members material from the Interior Minister of Hamas in the West Bank who says they co-ordinate with all the Mujahideen in the Gaza Strip.

One of my critiques of the Goldstone report, among others, and we do not have time to get into that report, is that while it places blame on the state of Israel for what it alleges are war crimes, when it comes to Hamas, both the conclusions and the introduction to the Goldstone report only blames Palestinian armed groups. That is an innocuous term. Who are these people? It is Hamas. It is directed by Hamas. It is financed by Hamas. The Goldstone report did a tremendous disservice by playing down Hamas's direct role in the attacks on Israel and leaving it to this innocuous address. That is what is going on in Gaza when war is being pursued against the people of Israel.

How we handle the situation is not simple. As one member pointed out earlier, and I was glad to hear it, Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier, was seized on Israeli territory and is held in the Gaza strip without basic humanitarian rights. We are talking about humanitarian rights but what about letting the Red Cross visit him? It would be extremely appropriate if any Irish representative pressed international fora that Gilad Shalit receive a Red Cross visit.

We did that.

I must correct that to ensure there is no mistake. We have done that again and again. The Israeli ambassador to Ireland has acknowledged in a conversation with me how he regretted that he suggested we might not have done that.

Mr. Dore Gold

I did not know whether Ireland did or did not.

It is very important because in regard to Mr. Gold's commitment to discourse, mine and everyone else's, if one wants an even-handed discourse it is very important that our positions not be distorted. It is just a matter of fact. Again and again, at several organisations and on the occasion of every visit be it to Sterrot, Gaza or wherever we have repeated our request for the release of Gilad Shalit.

Mr. Dore Gold

I appreciate knowing now that the members have made the humanitarian demand that he at least have Red Cross visits and all the other——

It is a humanitarian demand. I would like to be accurate. We made it a demand on every occasion. Obviously, our central demand was for the right of the 7 million to exist.

Mr. Dore Gold

Allow me to address the current position in the Gaza Strip. There is this notion that Israel completely squeezes Gaza, so to speak, and that the people of Gaza are living a subsistence living. The position is much different. I want to report to the committee that on 13 January 2010 Hamas's own newspaper, Al-Risalah, indicated that in the previous year, 2009, approximately $1 billion of trade went on between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

In terms of photographs, I have not visited Gaza. It would be rather dangerous for me to do so but photographs taken of the marketplace in Gaza show that all kinds of goods are now available in the Gaza Strip. Although it is not required under international law to forcibly trade with the Gaza Strip Israel allows a large number of humanitarian trucks into Gaza. In 2009, 30,576 trucks carried humanitarian aid by other international humanitarian groups or countries into the Gaza Strip. In January and February of this year, 4,056 trucks went into the Gaza Strip from the Israeli side. If Israel is allowing international humanitarian aid to come through its passageways with Gaza, and in essence with Egypt, and a situation is emerging in which $1 billion of trade is going on between Gaza and Egypt, largely but not only through the tunnels, it is hard to say that Gaza is a completely isolated area under siege.

The question was asked if we would like Egypt to reconnect with the Gaza Strip, which is an insightful question. I will give my own external assessment. I cannot say what is written in Israeli Government planning. I believe that Israel's priority today is its overall relationship with Egypt. Relations have vastly improved. Egypt and Israel understand the threat of Iran to the region. Hisbollah, with the revolutionary guards, organised a cell that planned to attack Egyptian targets on Egyptian soil. Forty nine of those individuals were seized. We understand the external threats. We understand how the Hamas regime could turn into a threat to Egypt itself. There have been terrorist attacks in Egypt involving individuals who were trained in the Gaza Strip, particularly in the Red Sea resorts along the Sinai coast. What is important for us is what is good for the Egyptian state. We would not want to support a process that the Egyptian state objected to.

If it (Egypt) were to take it Israel could happily give it to it.

Mr. Dore Gold

It is not for us to give or for us to take. It is for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to decide what they want to do. Equally, one could ask what would Palestinians on the West Bank say. They would say that when they get their state they want a confederation of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. That is up to them to decide, but what is important for us are the security conditions on the ground given that these areas directly influence the future security of the state of Israel.

In regard to the supply of materials to Gaza, the Minister for Foreign Affairs visited Gaza and found that the supplies of food were inadequate. The figures Mr. Gold has given indicate that .002% of a tonne of aid was delivered effectively to every person in Gaza.

I ask members to allow Mr. Gold to conclude.

We should seek independent verification of these figures.

Mr. Dore Gold

I have put forward those figures and the committee can seek verification of them from the Egyptian Government or from other people.

We visited Gaza in July last year and saw the conditions there. Gaza has been devastated. The position there today is that the shipments into Gaza remain fixed at a subsistence level for basic necessities and make virtually no provision for reconstruction or commercial life although there are some indications that Israel is willing to allow a number of rehabilitation and reconstruction projects planned by the UN for some months to finally get under way. That is the current situation there; it is still at that level.

I did not want to interrupt Mr. Gold but I was nearly going to ask him did the authorities allow any ice cream to be brought into Gaza. The factory we spoke about in which a Jewish person in American invested $5 million——

Mr. Dore Gold

Whether it was a Jewish, Christian or Buddhist person does not matter.

No, but it helped to develop commercial activity back home. That factory was flattened. Why the authorities stopped people in Gaza having ice cream is difficult to understand. It should be easy enough to allow that type of activity to develop again. We can check any figures we are given.

Mr. Dore Gold

During Ramadan the market in Gaza was full of sweets and all kinds of common goods that the Gazan population consumes.

I have been in the marketplace in Gaza many times and the last time I was there I saw people with plastic canisters looking for water. Morally, I cannot sit here and hear it said that Gazans can get anything they want in the marketplace. That is contradicted by what I saw with my own eyes.

Mr. Dore Gold

I would be glad to forward photographs by Reuters and other agencies to the Deputy that show a marketplace full of many goods.

I would like Mr. Gold and me to be photographed in the marketplace.

Mr. Dore Gold

We can arrange that.

We made that journey. We have been there. The overall situation is still very bad and much greater access to Gaza is needed to ensure the people there can get even essential materials.

Mr. Dore Gold

I will conclude my statement.

We hope provision in that respect can develop.

Mr. Dore Gold

Yes, it would be good if a peaceful situation were created. On the issue of peace, I want to stress that peace-making cannot be with preconditions. It is assumed by those who demand a settlement freeze of Israel that we will not have a civilian presence in any part of the West Bank in the future. Those people are saying freeze the settlements now already even before the question of the final borders between Israel and the Palestine entity or state is raised. I can say to the Palestinians that we all know that there will not be what they call a right of return. Palestinians will not be going into Israel-proper. That is not going to happen. In recognition of the fundamental fact that most people who observe this conclude that, I believe it would be appropriate for the Palestinian Authority, as a confidence-building measure towards negotiations, to close down a Palestine refugee camp in the West Bank and show that it accepts that these will be the final terms. If we made that request to Mahmoud Abbas, it would undermine him domestically and put him in a difficult situation. One thing one does not do in negotiations is put one's opposite number in a corner. I would not do that to Mahmoud Abbas and I do not expect his people to do it to us.

The fundamental fact is that during the history of the negotiations Israel built in Jewish neighbourhoods and also built for Palestinians in eastern parts of Jerusalem and we built in areas where we had residents just as the Palestinians built in their areas and that did not prevent negotiations from occurring in the past. However, now this issue is being introduced and it disturbs and prevents real negotiation from occurring. I personally sat with Mahmoud Abbas in 1996 and 1997 and we negotiated the Hebron agreement and the Wye agreement and I do not see why this issue is being raised right now but it is disrupting the entire efforts on our part to resume the negotiation to reach some kind ofmodus vivendi.

I believe it was Deputy Higgins who raised the question of what are the ultimate borders. Am I correct about that?

Yes, the issue of the 1967 line.

Mr. Dore Gold

Yes, the 1967 lines. I draw the Deputy's attention to the UN Security Council Resolution 242, adopted in November 1967, six or seven months after the 1967 Six-Day War. Famously, that resolution never called on Israel to withdraw from all the territories it captured in the war of self-defence. There have been repeated statements by those involved at the time, including the British Foreign Secretary, the British ambassador to the UN and the United States ambassador to the UN about what was the meaning of Resolution 242. Resolution 242 together with Resolution 338 called for a negotiated settlement of this issue. Israel will make a claim, in accordance with the language of the resolution, for secure and recognised boundaries, for which "defensible borders" is the shorthand sometimes used. The Palestinians will come to the table with their demand that we fully withdraw to the 1967 lines. The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, recognised that those are the fundamental demands in terms of borders of both sides. She made a statement that was carefully negotiated with both Israel and the Palestinians that the United States believes that the position of the Palestinians for a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines can be reconciled — that was the language she used — with the Israeli position for secure and recognised boundaries. We are coming to a negotiation and we have to sit down and work this out. We have to see what kind of security arrangements will be agreed to by both sides and then we will reach a solution, but there is no way that the relevant UN resolution called for Israel to withdraw completely to the 1967 lines, which was the 1949 armistice lines, which was not secure, was not recognised and which was a military boundary and not an international border. That comment is in answer to Deputy Higgins's specific question about the 1967 lines.

I wish to clarify that the borders were set by the 1948 UN partition.

Mr. Dore Gold

The November 1947 partition plan put forward a recommendation of the General Assembly that was rejected by the Arab states and by the Palestinian Arab leadership at the time. What replaced the partition plan was the 1949 armistice lines where the parties stopped in the war. We worked out some arrangements with the Jordanians, for example, where the Iraqi army had been in the West Bank and in Israel to adjust those lines, but they were not permanent political borders and now we have to reach permanent political borders that reflect our needs for security and Palestinian needs for an independent state. We will do that when we sit down and negotiate, without preconditions and without certain actors in the international community whispering to the Palestinians that they need not worry, that they will get everything anyway and therefore they do not have to sit down with the Israelis. That, unfortunately, has been occurring.

I do not have time to deal with the substance of the Goldstone report; this is not a forum where I have time to go into it in detail. I will be glad to respond to Senator Daly and pass to the Chairman an analysis of what happened with the Abed Rabbo family. Everything one reads in the Goldstone report on these issues largely comes from interviews with Palestinian familes, although not exclusively, and from some human rights organisations and they try to reconstruct a reality that occurred months before they were there. We have a different version of that reality and there are certain other family cases like this one which I remember and I could immediately tell the members about but they did not ask me about them. I will send the Chairman a written statement about the Abed Rabbo family.

I am interested and curious about Mr. Gold's opinion because he has a great knowledge of this report. Two of the three girls died; one was aged three and the other nine.

Mr. Gold has said that he will write to Senator Daly about it.

I appreciate that, but I am just asking for his opinion on that case because he has great knowledge of it.

Mr. Gold wants to review that and he will write to the Senator as soon as he does so.

Mr. Dore Gold

I will say one sentence. These are horrible stories. The major charge of the Goldstone report is that Israel deliberately killed Palestinian civilians. It is not charging that Israel sometimes targeted a military target and civilians nearby were killed by accident. No. It is saying that we deliberately targeted these.

No. I have read the report and it talks about specific incidents, but obviously it cannot——

Mr. Dore Gold

No, but it states the words "deliberately killing Palestinian civilians".

In my reading of the report——

Mr. Dore Gold

As a former soldier of the IDF, as a father of an Israeli soldier, and as one who is very familiar with Israel and the way it conducts military operations, I know we have risked the lives of our soldiers repeatedly so that we would not injure the innocent. Therefore, I reject this charge completely. It is baseless and is founded on faulty methodology. Unfortunately, we cannot get into it here, but I would be glad to lecture on this some day in Dublin.

I am interested in that case because it seems that some crime was committed. In Mr. Gold's reading of that case, which I am sure he is aware of, does he see there is any case to answer by any IDF soldier?

Please, Senator Daly——-

I am sorry, Chairman, but could I put the question?

Mr. Gold has said he will write to the Senator and will give us a copy.

I have travelled four and a half hours from Kerry to ask a question, so I would like to get an answer.

Mr. Gold will write and give us a copy of what he sends.

I am just asking his opinion here. I would like to hear his response to my question.

We do not have time, we have run way over our time.

It takes four and a half hours to get from Kerry. I have all the time in the world and I would just like to hear his response.

Perhaps Senator Daly can have a conversation afterwards.

I am asking the question here.

I know. The Senator has asked the question and Mr. Gold has answered it.

That is why I am asking for a response.

Mr. Gold has answered, saying he will write to the Senator and will give a copy to the committee, which I will circulate to the other members.

As regards the ambulance that was prevented from going, did that happen?

Mr. Dore Gold

The judge advocate general of the Israeli army has the power to investigate any allegation made against the army of Israel, and has done so. It is not up to a divisional commander. If he fails to do that it is the responsibility of the civilian attorney general — because we have civilian oversight of our military — to investigate every charge of that sort. If the attorney general of the state of Israel fails to do what the judge advocate general has not done, and there is still an allegation hanging out there of any kind of war crime, it is up to the supreme court of the state of Israel to investigate any investigation of that sort. I have full confidence in the Israeli legal system and in the judge advocate general's office to undertake those investigations. They take time, but I have full confidence that that will happen. In these particular cases one is talking about horrible stories that have been picked up by those who drafted the Goldstone report. I think that, ultimately, Israel will give an answer to every one of them.

Israel has given the answer, actually.

Mr. Dore Gold

No. It was a partial answer to the UN Secretary-General. It did not give a complete answer.

In January 2009, it gave its entire response to the United Nations concerning the Goldstone report.

Mr. Dore Gold

The Goldstone report was not issued in January 2009.

I am sorry, forgive me. It gave a response to the United Nations in 2010.

Would Mr. Gold like to conclude at this stage?

I am sorry, Chairman. He has said that the Israeli——

I am chairing the meeting, Senator.

I am just asking a question.

I am chairing the meeting, so please——

The question was whether the Israelis have given their response, and this one has not appeared.

The Senator has put the question and Mr. Gold has said he will give the reply subsequently in a comprehensive way.

Mr. Dore Gold

I will forward it to the committee and the Chairman can please share it with all members.

It will be shared with all members.

Mr. Gold talks about his view being the majority view. I am very concerned about this particular case, which we have raised before.

I understand that and the Senator has made it very clear. Everyone here knows how concerned he is, and so is Mr. Gold. He is going to respond fully to the Senator. He will give that response back to the committee and everybody will have it. I ask Mr. Gold to conclude.

Mr. Dore Gold

This is a difficult conflict. Senator Mitchell's involvement has been something which many Israelis, including myself, are pleased about. He is a man of fairness and I think he can help in a difficult situation. The international community can help to reach a negotiated settlement of this conflict if the parties are told that they cannot lay preconditions before negotiations. That is how we reached the Oslo agreements in 1993. Had somebody said to Yitshak Rabin, "You can't build in Jerusalem and if you don't agree to that you won't be able to have the Oslo agreements in 1993", we would never have got to stage one. However, that was never a precondition before and should not be a precondition now. If we get back to the negotiating table it will not be simple. There are fundamental gaps between us over issues including borders, the future of Jerusalem and the question of refugees. The only way to overcome those differences, however, is if we sit down with our Palestinian neighbours, we hear their concerns, they hear our concerns and we try to bridge the gaps. That is how conflicts are solved and that is how this conflict will be solved as well.

I thank Mr. Gold for appearing before the committee today and for listening to what our members have had to say. He will have heard that the members regard the issue as a high priority. We will continue to maintain it as a priority issue during the remainder of the year. In that context, we appreciate today's opportunity to hear Mr. Gold's perspective on the key issues. What we have learned through our own peace process here is the importance of ongoing, continuing dialogue and development on the whole issue. We look forward to that happening in the case of the Middle East. I thank Mr. Gold again for coming here.

The meeting will now continue in private session.

The joint committee went into private session at 12.47 p.m. and adjourned at 12.56 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Wednesday 28 April 2010.