Dáil debates

Thursday, 6 October 2005

Other Questions.

Middle East Peace Process.

3:00 pm

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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Question 7: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the ongoing efforts by the Israeli Government to extend the boundaries of the city of Jerusalem in order to separate the city from the rest of the West Bank area and to change the demographic balance within the newly redrawn city. [26842/05]

Joe Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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Question 31: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the number of new housing units approved in general in the past 12 months by the Israeli authorities in the occupied territory of the West Bank; his views on the extension of the borders of the municipal areas of Jerusalem; and if such settlement activity is a breach of international law and the principles of the roadmap for peace. [26846/05]

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 and 31 together.

The Government and our partners in the EU firmly believe the quartet roadmap remains the best framework for the achievement of a lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The roadmap requires action by both parties, including a freeze on all Israeli settlement activity in the Palestinian territories.

The Government has consistently taken the view that the transfer by an occupying power of its own population into occupied territory constitutes a breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The establishment of settlements by the Israeli authorities in the occupied Palestinian territories, including in east Jerusalem, is contrary to international law. The Government has conveyed its concerns on settlement activity directly to the Israeli Government on many occasions. I raised them when I met with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom in Jerusalem on 12 July.

It is the clear position of the European Union that the parties must comply with international law, and that no party should take any unilateral measure which prejudges questions relating to final status. The EU will not recognise any change to the 1967 borders other than those negotiated between the parties. In my address to the UN General Assembly on 19 September, I specifically called on Israel to desist completely from any further steps which could jeopardise the viability of the two-state solution.

I remain concerned at recent announcements by the Israeli Government regarding plans for the enlargement of settlements in the West Bank and the expansion of the boundaries of east Jerusalem. As Deputies will be aware, the Government is also seriously concerned at the continued construction of the separation barrier on occupied territory, which represents an obstacle to the implementation of the roadmap and, therefore, to the prospects for a lasting settlement.

These concerns are shared by the international community. At its most recent meeting at ministerial level, on 20 September, the international quartet reiterated its concern at settlement expansion and at the route of the separation barrier, noting that it appears to prejudge the final borders of a Palestinian state.

The most recent meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, which I attended in Luxembourg on 3 October, welcomed the successful completion of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank as a significant step towards implementation of the roadmap. The council also expressed grave concern at the ongoing expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the continuing construction of the separation barrier in occupied Palestinian territory. The conclusions adopted specifically refer to the situation in and around east Jerusalem, which is having a detrimental effect on the lives of Palestinians and jeopardises a final status agreement on Jerusalem.

The Government, and its partners in the EU, will continue to work closely with Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the period ahead to encourage them to build on the progress of disengagement, to meet their obligations under the quartet roadmap, and to renew efforts towards a lasting settlement based on the terms of the roadmap.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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I visited in the past few weeks, for the second time this year, the area to which the questions nominated by me refer. I was referring specifically to the recently recognised town of Ma'ala Adumim, which was founded in 1975 and which has a population of 25,000.

The conclusions of the meeting on 3 October to which the Minister referred make no reference to the illegality of the expansion of settlement in the general area of east Jerusalem. The issue is that 8,000 settlers were removed from Gaza and from four settlements in the northern part of the occupied West Bank. Some 35,000 housing permissions were given between September 2004 and September 2005 across 19 different occupied areas in the general area of east Jerusalem, the net effect of which is to cut off Bethlehem from Ramallah.

I put it to the Minister that it endangers three fundamentals, namely, the final status of talks relating to Israel and Palestine, the viability of the Palestinian state and the future of east Jerusalem. The settlement policy of the Israeli authorities should be the central element of a European Union statement in which the illegality of the expansion of that settlement policy should be mentioned. I was in Ramallah just after the anniversary of the International Court of Justice ruling on the war. People asked what Europe is doing about the vindication of the decision of the International Court of Justice, which is just over a year old.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I agree with the Deputy. I said earlier that we believe continued expansion of the settlements is illegal and contrary to international law. We have said the same with regard to the wall. This is an extremely complex issue. Ultimately, the only way we can bring any stability to this area is through negotiation. Those negotiations are ongoing. Presidents Abbas and Sharon will meet later this week, which is welcome because there is some understanding.

There are issues, for example, the continuing expansion and the construction of the wall. I saw the wall when I was there in July and I raised the matter with Foreign Minister Shalom. He said it was a temporary structure but what I saw did not look temporary. He said it was a structure that could be taken down when matters settled and his people were safe. I made the point to him that it looked extremely like a permanent structure. I assure the Deputy that we participate strongly and fully at European level with regard to this situation. The significant removal of settlements from Gaza must be welcomed. However, it should not be seen as an end, but as a first step towards the implementation of the roadmap.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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When I left Ramallah, it was clear that the military orders had been made for the possession of what was regarded as state land. What is effectively being extended beyond east Jerusalem is half the size of Paris. The net effect will be to cut off on the north side of the south axis any possibility of a viable Palestinian state. There is no indication in any talks that Israel intends either to halt settlement activity or to remove settlements from occupied land.

As an observer, I put it to the Minister that given the status of the talks, the issue of east Jerusalem is probably the most difficult. On the one hand Palestinians, in the absence of a plan for greater Jerusalem, have no housing permission and face the demolition and division of their houses, while on the other hand we have an open-ended expansion of what is referred to as "the thickening of settlements". This is outrageous.

There are two systems of law in operation, a military system of law for Palestinians on their land and Israeli law for occupied land that is illegally held and from which settlements are expanding. East Jerusalem and the expanded settlement policy must be put at the centre of discussions. I do not agree with the Minister that one should try to be optimistic, because there are few signs on the Israeli side of the suspension of this activity.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy has not put a question, but made a statement with which I cannot disagree. We can only work through international diplomacy on this issue. The quartet has actively condemned this and it would have much more influence in trying to get the Israelis to cease what they are doing, which is contrary to the tenets and principles laid down in the roadmap.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the Minister's stance so far, but we need a to take a harder line. How far must Israel go before Article 2 of the Euro-Med Association agreement with Israel is triggered? The issue does not have any link with the ability of the European Union to offer financial assistance to Palestinians as was stated previously. Has the Minister or a Government representative demonstrated their displeasure or had any communication with the Irish multinational, Cement Roadstone Holdings, in terms of its contribution to breaching international law? CRH is a flagship company in this State. Has the Minister made his displeasure felt or asked CRH to withdraw from any contract for the building of the wall which, at this stage, almost encircles Jerusalem.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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It is probably incorrect to say that Cement Roadstone Holdings is involved in the construction of the separation barrier. It holds a minority shareholding of approximately 25% in the company involved, Nesher Cement. The Government has no power over such private companies.

With regard to the Euro-Med Association agreement, Sinn Féin tried to get support from other parties at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs to be even more critical with regard to the association agreement, which, if it were to be suspended, would require consensus within the European Union. From what I understand, it would not get that consensus. There is a strong argument that suspension would seriously undermine the strong role the Union has in this area. It has given and continues to give substantial financial and other support to the Palestinian Authority. If we were to suspend the association agreement, it would put that assistance in jeopardy.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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Will the Minister agree to bring a proposal to the general council that an official of the European Union should be appointed to monitor the human rights clauses in the association agreement?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Is that to the general council of the European Union?

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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Yes, of Foreign Ministers.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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That is something we could look at. We would, in the normal run, have to get consensus from the others.