The question of the legal consequences of the construction of a wall in the occupied Palestinian territory was referred to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 8 December 2003. In accordance with the rules of procedure of the court, member states of the United Nations were invited to make submissions which might be useful to the court in its deliberations.
After consultations among the member states, it was agreed that there would be a common EU submission and that individual member states might make national submissions based on established European Union positions. The common submission reflected the texts of Presidency statements to the UN General Assembly on 20 October and 8 December. The texts of these statements were annexed to the covering letter.
Essentially, the Union's position is that the building of the wall within the occupied Palestinian territories is in contradiction of international law, but that the General Assembly's request that the ICJ issue an advisory opinion will not help the efforts of the two parties to re-launch a political dialogue and is, therefore, inappropriate. However, contrary to some press reports, the EU has not asked the ICJ to refrain from issuing an advisory opinion. There would have been no consensus to adopt such a position.
In addition, the Government authorised me to submit a national statement. This statement, which is fully consistent with the EU Common Position, sets out the legal basis for Ireland's opinion that the construction of the wall in the occupied territories is in violation of international law.
Both statements were transmitted to the registrar of the International Court of Justice in The Hague on 30 January. The written submissions of all interested parties, including the Israelis and Palestinians, have now been received by the court. It is expected that oral submissions will commence on 23 February.
I am afraid that the rules of procedure of the International Court of Justice do not permit me to make the text of the Irish submission publicly available at this time, but I assure the House that it is firmly grounded in well-known Irish positions on the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the occupied Palestinian territories and the applicability of international humanitarian and human rights law in this case. It is clear that the consistent pressure of the European Union is among the factors which have caused the Government of Israel to reconsider the route and extent of the barrier.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
While any development which eases the dislocation for Palestinians caused by the building of the barrier is positive, the position of the EU and the UN General Assembly remains that the construction must still be stopped and reversed. Issues of international law are also factors in the case being brought before the Supreme Court of Israel by two human rights groups this week.
As regards the question of the consistency of the construction of the barrier with the obligations which Israel has assumed under its association agreement with the European Union, this would depend on the humanitarian impact of the barrier. This matter is being closely monitored by European Union diplomatic missions in Israel and the Palestinian territories.