I propose to take Questions Nos. 119 and 121 together.
Last week, I undertook a three-day working visit to Israel and Palestine, which encompassed a wide range of engagements in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Gaza and Bethlehem. This was my fourth visit to Israel and Palestine as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. I met with key representatives of the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as well as UN officials from UNRWA, UNTSO and OHCHR, as well as visiting an Israeli community close to Gaza.
The political leaders I met with on the Israeli side included Prime Minister Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Katz. On the Palestinian side, my meetings included President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and Dr. Saeb Erekat, Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. I also met with the Palestinian Minister for Education, Dr. Marwan Awartani, and signed a memorandum of understanding which outlined Irish support for the Palestinian education sector, and with Minister Mazen Ghuneim, head of the Palestinian Water Authority. In all of these meetings I conveyed the importance the Irish people attach to the resolution of the Middle East Peace Process, something that has been a priority for me personally since I took office.
In my meetings with the Israeli authorities, I expressed Ireland’s concerns about the impact of the continuing occupation, including the situation in Gaza, settlement construction and the demolition of properties in the West Bank and actions taken against Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
I had a frank discussion with Prime Minister Netanyahu about actions taken by Israel over recent years which are jeopardising the viability of a two-state solution and thus the prospect of a just and lasting solution to the conflict. I reiterated the EU’s and Ireland’s well known views that settlements are illegal under international law and the urgent need to address the unsustainable situation in Gaza. I discussed how Ireland and the EU can play a constructive role in the MEPP, and outlined Ireland’s commitment to support efforts towards a just and sustainable peace. I also raised Ireland’s concerns about the protection of civil society space.
During my visit to Gaza, I met with secondary school students from an UNRWA school in Jabalia, where I saw first-hand the impact of Ireland’s commitment to supporting quality education for children, including the 282,000 UNRWA students in Gaza. I also met with senior UNRWA officials and discussed the humanitarian situation in the Gaza strip and the operational challenges facing the agency. Ireland is a longstanding supporter of UNRWA in its provision of services to Palestinian refugees. I was pleased to announce that Ireland will provide an additional €2.5 million in funding this year to support the delivery of these core services, bringing Ireland’s total support to UNRWA in 2019 to €7.5 million.
I also visited the Northern Gaza Emergency Sewage Treatment (NGEST) where I met with Minister Mazen Ghunaim to formally launch Ireland’s investment in support of the water sector. Ireland will contribute €8.8 million to a joint project with France to build a 7.5mW solar power plant providing clean, reliable energy to the NGEST wastewater treatment plant. Water pollution is the leading cause of child mortality in Gaza, where critical energy shortages mean that it is particularly difficult to power water treatment facilities.
Ultimately, however, we know that only a political solution can lead to sustainable development in Gaza. I witnessed the effects of the blockade, and the effects that this is having on young people's prospects and hopes, leading to a dangerous sense of despair. We need to see an end to the blockade of Gaza, an end to the cycle of conflict, and an end to the political division between Gaza and the West Bank. I will continue to work to ensure that the Middle East Peace Process remains high on the international agenda.