I propose to take Questions Nos. 88, 89, 114, 157, 175, 292 and 293 together.
I have already set out the broad lines of the Government's policy on the Middle East peace process in my reply to Question No. 85. The root cause of the current crisis in the occupied Palestinian territories is the absence of a credible political process for a viable two-state solution. The Government has argued strongly that the EU can play a more effective role directly and within the Quartet in seeking to revive the peace process. The most recent meeting of the General Affairs and External Affairs Council in Luxembourg on 18 June recognised the urgency of the situation, following the terrible violence in Gaza and the effective collapse of the national unity Government.
The EU strongly supports the efforts of President Mahmoud Abbas to avert further chaos in the Palestinian territories, including his decision under Palestinian law to establish an emergency government. We will support all efforts to restore Palestinian unity and to establish a political consensus around the concept of a two-state solution. The EU is gravely concerned by the critical humanitarian situation in Gaza and determined to maintain its vital assistance to the people of the area.
The EU has never cut its assistance to the Palestinians. Overall EU assistance increased to almost €700 million in 2006, around €340 million of which came from the European Community budget. The decision to suspend direct assistance to the Palestinian Government formed in March 2006 was based on the refusal of Hamas to commit to the core principles of the peace process. However, the EU maintained its assistance through the office of the President of the Palestinian Authority and took the lead internationally by establishing the temporary international mechanism to channel payments directly to the Palestinian population. Until the recent violence, the EU was working closely with the Minister of Finance of the national unity Government on the gradual restoration of direct assistance. The Council on 18 June decided to begin work immediately on arrangements for urgent practical assistance to the Palestinian Authority. This will include direct financial support to the Government, support for the Palestinian civilian police and intensive efforts to build the institutions of the future Palestinian state.
It is both wasteful and a tragedy that the Palestinian people are now so dependent on international assistance, especially as the outlines of the only possible political solution to the conflict have been so well rehearsed. All parties must meet their responsibilities in creating the conditions which will enable movement towards a political settlement. They must also respect their obligations under international law. The EU will continue to call on Israel to end all policies which threaten to undermine the viability of a two-state solution, notably the illegal expansion of settlements and construction of the separation barrier on occupied Palestinian land. We in Ireland have learned painfully that there are no security or military solutions to the problems of divided societies, or to conflicts on the sharing of territory. Our Government will continue to support all those Israeli and Palestinian leaders with the courage to make the difficult compromises needed for the establishment of a lasting peace.