Thursday, 18 November 2010

Ceisteanna (6, 7, 8, 9, 10)

Kieran O'Donnell


6 Deputy Kieran O’Donnell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the EU is involved in any efforts to restart talks between Israel and Palestine and, if so, if he will supply an up to date report on the matter. [43297/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Joe Costello


7 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the situation regarding the Middle East peace talks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43148/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Seán Barrett


30 Deputy Seán Barrett asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the EU is involved in any efforts to restart talks between Israel and Palestine and, if so, will he supply an up to date report on the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43100/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bernard J. Durkan


36 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which he and his EU colleagues continue to address the Middle East peace process; if any new initiatives have been put forward with a view to restoring a momentum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43321/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bernard J. Durkan


122 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent of ongoing contact or dialogue at EU and UN levels with the various parties in the Middle East; the level of progress to date; if a structure to facilitate permanent or continuous peace talks has been established; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43516/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (19 contributions) (Ceist ar Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6, 7, 30, 36 and 122 together.

The launch of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on 2 September was a very important step towards peace in the Middle East, achieved after long effort by President Obama and his Administration. Unfortunately the talks were very quickly suspended again when the partial Israeli moratorium on settlement construction expired on 26 September. President Abbas had always made clear that he could not continue in negotiations while settlement construction continued, and the three negotiating sessions which had taken place by that time were not nearly enough to develop confidence on either side that the negotiation process was going to achieve results. I have made clear, here in the Dáil and in my address to the UN General Assembly on 27 September, our deep disappointment at this breakdown, which was clearly foreseen and could and should have been avoided.

The United States, with the strong support of the European Union but essentially in private discussions with the parties, has worked intensively to get the talks back on track. Secretary of State Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu met for seven hours in Washington last week and are widely reported to have agreed terms under which Israel will renew the moratorium for a period of three months in order to allow the negotiations to proceed. The United States is thought to have offered unspecified political and security assurances to Mr. Netanyahu in return.

Neither Israel nor the Palestinians have yet reacted officially to these terms and some more discussions may be needed. The Arab League foreign Ministers are likely also to be involved. However, there seems to be a genuine prospect now that negotiations will recommence in earnest.

It is crucial to stress that negotiations are necessary but not sufficient. If a period of a few months is to be won for talks, at some political cost, then it is absolutely essential that both sides seize that opportunity and engage genuinely and substantively from the outset. The goal has to be that, before the renewed moratorium expires, the two sides can see clearly and with confidence that this process has a real chance of delivering a comprehensive settlement that will ensure the peaceful two-state solution, which is the only way they can live in peace together in the future. Surely, that prize must be worth any effort, any political capital and the greatest possible restraint on both sides.

I share the Minister's concern about the breakdown of the talks and sincerely hope every effort will be made to resume them as quickly as possible. I also share his view, as does the Fine Gael Party, that the only solution to this impasse is a two-state solution, which means we have to recognise the feelings on both sides. Since I took over this brief, I have learned a little about the feeling in Israel as well as in Palestine. I am sure the Minister is aware there are views in Israel that are direct opposites when it comes to trying to reach a solution, just as there are between Hamas and Abbas' Fatah. Sensitivity is very important in all of these debates and discussions. I do not believe being seen to take one side against the other is helpful.

Does the Minister agree one of the ways to bring people to understand the sense of coming to an agreement is through economic prosperity? Therefore, the opening up of the Gaza Strip for economic investment, job creation and, in particular, foreign investment is one way of getting the people to realise the benefit of having a peaceful solution to a given problem. This is now recognised in Northern Ireland, where, as a result of the peace process, we now have foreign inward investment which stabilises the community. Does the Minister agree that every effort should be made to try to bring about the opening of the Gaza Strip to allow inward investment and increase trade, which would be a way to finding a solution to this problem?

Absolutely. We are, of course, aware of the different political perspectives towards the talks within Israel, as well as the different perspectives within Palestinian society and between different groups. This is one of the reasons we have been strong advocates for Palestinian reconciliation. In my meetings with the Egyptian Foreign Minister and the Arab League at the UN Assembly, we pushed strongly for renewed momentum in the Palestinian reconciliation process, which is essential ultimately to the delivery of a comprehensive settlement. I had a sense over some time that this momentum had gone somewhat cold.

In terms of the Israeli perspective, the Quartet's envoy, Mr. Tony Blair, has consistently been at pains to point out that Mr. Netanyahu represents the best shot at leadership within Israel in regard to actually delivering a deal, particularly within the centre to centre-right perspective within the Israeli political system. We are sensitive in our commentary, although we do not pull our punches either and when we believe something that has happened is wrong, we say it. Our experience in Northern Ireland tells us certain measures are confidence building and can aid peace, and we need to say that. The Deputy was correct to point out that the opening up of the Gaza Strip is very important for the normalisation of economic activity, for example, to facilitate exports from Gaza, which are currently not facilitated.

I have just received a letter from Mr. Guido Westerwelle, the German Foreign Minister, apprising me of his experience on his recent visit to Gaza, where he met with businessmen. In his letter, which he circulated to other Ministers, he again reiterates much of what we have seen ourselves. There is a need for Israel and everybody involved to agree we need to enable business, manufacturing and infrastructure works to restart in Gaza. Infrastructure works have been too slow in coming on stream, particularly the water works, which is an iconic project that would do so much to improve the quality of life for all concerned in Gaza.

I was interested in the Minister's reference to the German Foreign Minister's letter. There is also a more recent comment by somebody who is perhaps much closer to us all, Mr. John Ging, who has said that what happened in Gaza through the widely-reported easing of some restrictions has made little difference and has not made possible the completion of the construction projects in which UNRWA was involved. Neither has it made possible significant advances in regard to infrastructure. In fact, it was small, inadequate and sporadic, and had the effect of relieving the Israeli authorities of international pressure in regard to access to Gaza.

My second point is in regard to the question of the moratorium on settlements in the West Bank. I understand — perhaps the Minister can assist us — in regard to the recent agreement with the Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton, and others that the moratorium has been given at the price of there being no future moratoriums and that this would be the last moratorium. At the same time, licences for building have been issued and this has been accompanied by evictions in east Jerusalem.

Finally, the Minister agreed with me at one stage that it would have been of assistance if a secretariat was appointed to the work of the peace process and the Quartet. I happen to have little confidence in Mr. Blair's achievements but surely the US talks are emphasising once again that when the United States becomes active, the Quartet becomes inactive.

I am aware of the comments of Mr. John Ging. I am deeply disappointed at the lack of progress in regard to the Gaza situation because, as the Deputy may recall, at the time of the flotilla crisis and the appalling loss of life, there was a significant meeting of Foreign Ministers which was addressed by Mr. Tony Blair and by Commissioner Georgieva in regard to development and the need to see delivery on the ground. We were given significant assurances, particularly in terms of infrastructural works. While there has been an alleviation, there has been little in terms of the volume of goods coming in on a humanitarian basis.

However, as Deputy Barrett said, the real issue is that we need significant infrastructural investment, much of which is guaranteed by international organisations and countries. Some countries, such as Germany and France, have provided significant up-front funding to do very significant infrastructural work.

And Saudi Arabia also.

And Saudi Arabia and others. It is extremely frustrating that this has not happened because it undermines confidence among Palestinians and, in particular, among moderate Palestinian and Arab opinion that people are serious about a resolution. That is a significant by-product of all of this, apart altogether from the imperative of the humanitarian situation and the need to get infrastructure up and running.

I read that part of the deal being discussed between Secretary of State Clinton and Mr. Netanyahu was that the US would supply 25 fighter jets worth $3 billion. The point the Minister has just made highlights the fact the Germans and the EU want to invest in infrastructure rather than in items of war. Does the Minister agree it is important that the EU takes a lead role in these negotiations? With due respect to the US, it is wrong that it should be seen to take control. We can show there will be EU investment in this region if peace can be brought about.

The EU is a very significant donor to the Middle East.

It is the largest donor.

At the conference at Sharm el-Sheikh almost two years ago huge volumes of aid were promised for Gaza which have not materialised because of the obstacles put in the way of the aid. To be fair, the United States has been a significant donor to the Palestinian Authority and to the establishment of the authority's mechanisms and systems of government. The Deputy is correct in the sense that the main reported — I stress this word — elements of the US assurances relate to the supply of fighter jets at a lower cost as well as US political and security support.

Israel has long sought a long-term security presence along the River Jordan and it is unclear whether that has been agreed to. Israel's paramount issue has always been around the security of the state following any comprehensive settlement. This informs the United States response on those issues. The reassurances the US can supply to Israel on the security front therefore may be potentially helpful in terms of getting the talks process under way.

Deputy Higgins's remarks were correct. It has been reported that they would not ask for a further extension after three months and the United States has promised that it would not call for such a further extension. The EU remains of the view that these settlements are illegal and contravene international law.

With regard to taking the lead role, the European Union was pleased that President Obama's Administration prioritised the Middle East from day one of assuming office. One criticism of earlier Administrations was that they waited too long into the first term before giving the Middle East the priority it required. The United States is a remarkably important broker in the Middle Eastern situation and has influence.

As does the EU.

So does the EU. We are working together in the context of the Quartet along with Russia and others to try to effect a multilateral solution.

The Quartet always mystifies me. What has effectively taken place in the long drag of non-achievement in the Middle East is that when the United States becomes active, everyone else goes silent and when talks fail in the United States, nothing takes place. There must be continuity of action at EU level. For example, there is little activity in the Russian part of the Quartet and only moderate or occasional interest from the UN component. This leaves only the European Union and the United States. If the European Union took the positive step of establishing a secretariat for the peace talks, it would provide an insurance policy or a second strand to provide for the possibility of the US talks going wrong. The idea of a stop-go approach makes no sense. The peace centre in Israel has evaporated. It is probably difficult to get elected to the Knesset if one is not a hawk. Equally, the talks between Hamas and Fatah for reconciliation in the West Bank and Gaza have not made sufficient progress. This is the reason continuity would be served by a permanent secretariat.

I accept that there has been a clear lack of continuity in the various talks which have taken place throughout the years. We have had this discussion before. The situation of such a secretariat or where it would be located would require the agreement of both parties but it would represent an important value-added contribution to the process. Previously, it has been explained to me that the initiative of one Israeli Prime Minister may, in essence, die if that Prime Minister moves on and is replaced by another. The bones of an agreement are well known to all sides. Political will is required. We have been assured of the positions of those involved by many interlocutors during the past 12 months. The US Secretary of State, Ms Clinton, made it clear at the General Assembly, when she met EU foreign ministers, that President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu were both personally committed to a deal. This has been put to us emphatically by several people and I must take this in good faith. Ultimately, that is the only guarantor because it is not possible to get a deal if the political will is not present. People know the parameters of a deal.

It is necessary also to get the people throwing the bombs to sign up to any deal, as we have learnt in Northern Ireland.