Dáil debates

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Priority Questions

Middle East Peace Process.

3:00 pm

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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Question 57: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the human rights implications of the cutting off of basic infrastructural facilities to the Gaza region by the Israeli authorities; if he will advocate the establishment of a permanent secretariat to the peace talks in the name of the Quartet; and if the European Union is engaged in such talks with the different parts of Israeli and Palestinian society as would initiate or assist in the achievement of a negotiated peace. [30902/07]

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister of State with special responsibility for European Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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The international meeting taking place in Annapolis today represents a crucial opportunity to restore momentum to the Middle East peace process. The Government and its partners in Europe have strongly supported the preparatory work for the meeting and the political dialogue between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas. It is important that these discussions now lead to meaningful and urgent final status negotiations for a lasting and just two-state solution. The negotiations will have to address the most sensitive issues at the heart of the conflict, including borders, settlements, security, refugees and the status of Jerusalem. This should provide the opportunity for serious movement towards a comprehensive regional settlement, building on the historic Arab peace initiative which was launched in Beirut in 2002 and reaffirmed by the Arab summit in Riyadh in March this year.

The European Union will have an important role to play in the coming months, working directly with the parties and as an active member of the international Quartet. The Government has for some time been among those member states that have sought to strengthen the Quartet and the European Union's role in it. Depending on developments, it may be that a proposal for the establishment of a permanent secretariat could be considered to add focus to the work of the Quartet. The Government would judge any such proposal on the contribution it might make to the achievement of the strategic objective of a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

To be credible the renewed political process must be bolstered in the weeks ahead by decisive action to improve the daily lives of the people most directly affected by the conflict. This must involve an end to all violence in and from the occupied territories, a genuine freeze on the building of settlements and the lifting of checkpoints. Prisoner releases will also make a vital contribution to the reduction of tensions. We are strongly of the view that the two-state solution is the only viable option, a point I made recently at a meeting of EuroMed in Lisbon.

The Government is particularly concerned by the humanitarian situation facing the 1.4 million people living in Gaza and by the serious disruption to vital economic activity in the territory. We have called for the ending of all policies aimed at isolating the people of Gaza and for the urgent re-opening of crossing points for people and goods. We strongly agree with the statement of the UN Secretary General that the interruption of essential services to the civilian population would be contrary to Israel's obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law and to its own interests.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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Several questions immediately arise from the Minister of State's response. Will he consider the Annapolis meeting a failure if its final statement does not address the issues he mentioned, including the future status of Jerusalem, illegal settlements and so on? Does he agree that the credibility of the European Union is badly damaged by, in the first instance, the clearing house decision that added Hamas to a proscribed list, with no accountability to this Parliament or any parliament in Europe, and, following that, its failure to recognise the result of the election, which was acknowledged as free and fair by several international bodies, including the Carter Centre? All we had from the EU was a mealy-mouthed statement expressing gratitude that no lives had been lost in the course of the election. It is absolutely absurd to suggest it is dealing with all the parties. What contact has the EU with Hamas? Most commentators, including the British Foreign Office, agree the only solution will involve talks that include both Hamas and Fatah. Where is the semblance of that recognition in anything the EU says?

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, suggested in a previous reply to a question on this issue that he had made the Irish position known. However, we do not know what the Irish position is. Is it our position not to recognise the results of the election? Is it our position not to have any contact with Hamas? Is it our position never to remind Israel that as an occupying force, it is in breach of international law by cutting off vital structures for Gaza?

It seems some slow and tedious progress is being made through the permanent secretariat. I am pleased the Minister seems to be following my suggestion in this regard. However, the notion that we should rely on a press release from a meeting in Annapolis as an alternative to such a secretariat is depressing, as is the operation of an exclusion policy towards some of the participants in the conflict.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister of State with special responsibility for European Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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We hope that all of the issues mentioned, particularly the rights of the 1.4 million people who are suffering in Gaza, will be dealt with in Annapolis. The reality that has informed the attitude of the EU is somewhat misrepresented by Deputy Higgins, although I recognise that he makes his points with goodwill. In the aftermath of the election, the EU's position is that there can be no twin track position that offers politics and violence in equal balance.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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The EU did not recognise the Government that was elected.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister of State with special responsibility for European Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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We in this country have learned something about ballot boxes and armalites.

Our general position is that the policy of isolation of Gaza and its people is neither just nor politically sustainable. With regard to the divisions among Palestinians, we are of the view that there is a need for reconciliation between Fatah, Hamas and the other political factions. Reconciliation efforts should be encouraged. However, the timing is delicate and that is an issue for the Palestinians. Encouragement for both sides to come together is the right approach.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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The legacy of proscribing Hamas has damaged the EU's credibility.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister of State with special responsibility for European Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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There is an eternal conundrum between violence and politics. I am sure the Deputy accepts the reality that there has been a twin track approach whereby violence and politics were used in tandem.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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Ireland should have recognised the election results and the Government formed thereafter.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister of State with special responsibility for European Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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Hamas won a clear electoral victory in January 2006 and there is no gainsaying that.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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The Government did not recognise the Hamas-Fatah Government.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister of State with special responsibility for European Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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However, the twin track approach of violence and politics is not a practical way forward. If nothing else can be learned from the history of this island, it is that violence has no place in a final political solution. Dialogue is the way forward.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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Hamas is more advanced than the IRA.