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Middle East Peace Process.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 30 March 2010

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Ceisteanna (23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31)

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

85 Deputy Kathleen Lynch asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the positive developments he expects to flow from Baroness Ashton’s visit to Gaza. [13345/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Liz McManus

Ceist:

87 Deputy Liz McManus asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will propose at EU level the establishment of a permanent secretariat to existing and particularly new initiatives for peace in the Middle East. [13346/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

99 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on implications for the peace process in the Middle East of the approval of the Israeli Government of further housing units in East Jerusalem. [13327/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

105 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps he will take to officially break the EU consensus which affords Israel preferential trade by withdrawing Irish consent for this in view of the recent announcement by Israel of its intention to build a further 1,600 illegal settlement houses and the many atrocities committed by that State. [13296/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

107 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, during his recent meeting with the US Secretary of State, the subjects of Gaza and the settlements were raised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13342/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

115 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which he directly or through the EU or the UN has been in a position to positively influence or develop the peace process in the Middle East with particular emphasis on the need for a permanent structure to which all sides can have recourse; if he will indicate his own conclusions arising from any of the discussions he has had with the various interests in the region; if any progress has been made on rebuilding operations in Gaza; if the funding made available through the international community is still accessible; if he will outline the extent to which the EU specifically hopes to influence the situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13359/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Joe Costello

Ceist:

125 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on whether the proximity talks between Palestinian and Israeli representatives are likely to take place and yield a result in view of the impasse in relation to the expansion of illegal settlements. [13350/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

287 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the degree to which he and his EU and UN colleagues have observed ongoing developments in Gaza, the West Bank and the Middle East; if any particular strategy, policy of initiative is likely to follow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13520/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

296 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the initiatives that are open to the international community to advance the peace process in the Middle East in the wake of recent extension of Israeli settlements and the ongoing need for the reconstruction of buildings in Gaza; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13529/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 85, 87, 99, 105, 107, 115, 125, 287 and 296 together.

I refer to my earlier reply to Priority Questions 70 and 72 for details on my discussions with Secretary Clinton, and on the issues of Gaza and of Israeli settlement construction. Further to that reply, I would add a number of points in answer to matters raised by Deputies.

The difficulties inherent in reaching a comprehensive settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflicts are readily apparent, not least in the light of the very great difficulty in even bringing the parties to the starting point. But we are very familiar in Ireland with the long, frustrating and endlessly patient work that can be required in a process of this nature, and we must continue to encourage the parties to take those difficult steps. The US Administration has put a great deal of effort into trying to reach the commencement of talks, in the belief that the issues to be settled are well capable of resolution, most of them having been the subject of intermittent negotiation and debate for the best part of two decades. I share their view that the talks can succeed if both sides genuinely want them to. That is the crucial question.

The idea of a secretariat structure for the peace talks has been raised before in the House. I have to say however that in my discussions with them, none of the parties to the conflict have suggested that they would find such a structure useful. Indeed it is unlikely that they would accept any such structure, even if it were to be clear under what auspices or mandate it would operate. It might simply add to the long list of issues on which there is no agreement. I do not therefore plan to make such a proposal at EU level. There are, of course, already Special Representatives in the field for the UN, the EU, the US and the Quartet, each with a small staff.

The problems in the Middle East are primarily caused by lack of political will and spirit of compromise, not lack of process and structure. It is true that each successive negotiation effort has to some extent had to begin again at zero, but nonetheless some of the outlines or parameters of possible agreement have gradually emerged through these talks and interim agreements. I strongly approve the firm US intention that the current negotiation process, if it can be launched, should reach a final comprehensive agreement within two years, to avoid any further loss of ground gained.

I have on many occasions restated the consistent policy of successive Irish Governments that it would be neither helpful nor feasible to pursue EU trade measures against Israel, despite our many and clear differences with them on issues relating to their continuing occupation of Palestinian Territories. Such an approach would not increase our influence on Israeli policy or public opinion, nor among our EU colleagues. Nor is there any possibility of reaching agreement on such a policy at EU level, which would in fact require a consensus in favour of such sanctions.

I support any initiative to positively address the dreadful situation in Gaza. In particular, I welcome the recent visits to the strip by the UN Secretary Genera, Ban Ki-moon, and the EU High Representative, Catherine Ashton, which followed closely on my own visit.

As I saw myself, there has been very little reconstruction of damaged buildings and infrastructure, due to the continued blockade on the import of construction materials. Since it is clear that militant groups are readily able to import materials for their own construction purposes through the tunnels, this policy primarily affects ordinary Gazan citizens in the homes and businesses. There have been some recent positive steps by the Israeli authorities, acting in cooperation with the UN, UNRWA and the Quartet Representative, Tony Blair, in allowing in materials for 150 housing units, work on the sewage treatment plant, an elevator for the maternity hospital, the flour mill, and some window glass and window and door frames. But UN Secretary General Ban has accurately described these exceptions to the blockade — welcome as they are — as ‘a drop in a bucket'. The only acceptable and rational policy is for a complete and lasting end to the blockade.

It is also important that I restate clearly that the firing of a further missile at Israel even during the visit to Gaza of EU High Representative Ashton, which killed a Thai agricultural worker in Israel, is an example of how little some militant groups care about the effects of their actions on innocent civilians on either side of the border. I also repeat that Israel has a right to expect that the abducted soldier, Sergeant Shalit, be released immediately from Gaza.

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