Dáil debates

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

1:00 pm

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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Question 9: To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on whether that it is long past the time for the 44 year Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands to be ended; and his further views that admission to UN membership of a Palestinian State within the 1967 borders would send a powerful signal that this is the will of the international community. [20374/11]

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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Question 10: To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will be supporting the recognition of Palestinian statehood at the UN General Assembly in September; if he will putting his maximum efforts into supporting the end of Israeli occupation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20373/11]

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 10 together.

The continuing Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories is at the heart of the unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict. The issues which have been critical for Israel for most of its history – the existence of the state of Israel and its right to live in peace and security – have for many years been accepted in principle by most Arab and Palestinian opinion. It is the continuing occupation, and the creation and growth of illegal settlements on the occupied lands, which are now the major obstacles to peace.

I consider it an urgent priority objective, both for Ireland and the EU, to help achieve the end of the occupation and the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state, living in peace alongside Israel. This has been the consistent view of Irish Governments since 1980. It is long overdue, and it remains my view that there should be a state of Palestine, and very soon.

It is widely expected, if the negotiations process remains effectively suspended, that in the autumn the Palestinians will seek some form of recognition at the United Nations for Palestinian statehood. They have made clear that for them this is very much a second choice, and that what they really want to be engaged in in the autumn are serious negotiations with Israel to achieve their objective of statehood through a comprehensive agreement. They are, as I am, more interested in achieving a state that exists in reality rather than only in a United Nations resolution, which will not of itself bring that state about.

It is also important to note that the Palestinians themselves have not yet decided exactly what action they will seek to take at the United Nations. This could range from full entry as a United Nations member state to a General Assembly resolution which could take many forms. Some of these possibilities would principally involve the Security Council, of which Ireland is not currently a member.

Thus there is no proposal on the table on which we can take a view, although our general support for the establishment of a Palestinian state is well known. In discussions at EU level, however, I have agreed with the view that assuring either side now of our support would be premature and simply reduce the incentive on them to return to real talks, which is the more important objective.

As I have stated in answer to previous questions, if the issue of recognition arises at the United Nations in the autumn, the Government will consider Ireland's response very carefully. We will take into account factors such as Ireland's long-standing support for the achievement of a Palestinian state, the exact terms and nature of what may be proposed, the positions of EU partners and other friends, the progress on the wider peace process, and our assessment of the practical impact of any such decision.

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Minister for his response. I know he has had a constructive meeting with Dr. Nabeel Shaath today. The members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs had a chance to meet him informally and listen to the views of the Palestinian people he represents.

The Minister agrees with me with regard to the offer of the Palestinian people to settle for a territory that comprises 22% of their homeland, which offer has stood since 1988. The refusal of the Israeli state to accept 78% of that original territory is quite incredible. For too long, the Palestinian people have had to deal with repression, particularly in Gaza in recent years. If there is a failure to reach consensus at European level and a US veto at the meeting of the UN Security Council, will we support a motion before the General Assembly calling for observer status for the Palestinians?

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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The Deputy will agree that we must await to see how this works out. There is no proposal on the table at present. I had a very constructive meeting today with Dr. Nabeel Shaath and he set out for me his perspective on likely developments. First, there may be an application to the UN Security Council. Ireland is not a member of the council. The issue will arise at council level as to whether some state exercises a veto on any proposal submitted. Then the question will arise as to whether a proposal should be put before the General Assembly. We must wait to see the form of such a proposal. As the Deputy indicated, there is a possibility that a proposal may be put to the General Assembly seeking observer status. We will consider that if it is made.

We will continue to discuss this issue with our EU partners. The Foreign Affairs Council is to meet next Monday and I will be attending. I expect this issue will be discussed at the meeting. I am also taking the opportunity to discuss the issue bilaterally with other Foreign Ministers, and did so last Friday when I met the German Foreign Minister, Mr. Westerwelle.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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Over the years, I have always heard the Minister speak in a very fair manner about the Middle East. I hope this does not stop. The argument for giving Palestine a more fair deal than it is receiving a present is pretty obvious.

I was reading this morning that Israel holds the world record for violating UN Security Council resolutions. It has violated 30, which is incredible. The Palestinian people are living in unbelievable conditions, as the Minister knows, and there is no justice. The Minister implied US President Barack Obama is not in a position to offer support at present because he is in re-election mode and depends too much on the Israeli lobby in the United States. If there is a General Assembly vote, will the Irish Government vote in favour of a Palestinian state? If not, will the Minister state categorically that we are absolutely in favour of Palestine having its own state and that Israel must start negotiating to move out of the occupied territories?

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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I can state now Ireland is in favour of Palestine having its own state and that it wants to see that state living in peace with Israel. We want to see an agreed negotiated settlement of the entire conflict in the Middle East. My efforts on behalf of this country, which will be very much furthering a consistent policy followed by successive Governments over a long period, will be to help to secure such a negotiated settlement.

I cannot anticipate what resolution will be put before the General Assembly. Deputies will understand that until we see the terms of the resolution, it will not be possible to make a decision on how we will respond to it. I have indicated very clearly the positive approach Ireland is taking to the idea that there should be a Palestinian state. I will continue to work at European Union level to encourage EU colleagues and High Commissioner Catherine Ashton, who has been very active in this area, to continue to work to secure EU input.

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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It has been said, correctly, that a UN resolution endorsing the existence of a Palestinian state in its own right would not achieve conflict resolution in the region. As Deputy Wallace pointed out, Israel holds the world record for ignoring UN Security Council resolutions. However, does the Minister, whom I know cannot see the future and does not have a crystal ball, agree that when the proposal is put before the UN Security Council and the US exercises its right to veto, the Palestinians will put forward a proposal on observer status? They have immense international support. Some 120 countries around the world support the objective of achieving a Palestinian state and the vast majority of them will support the granting of observer status if the United States decides to block the right to recognition.

Does the Minister agree that even the achievement of observer status would represent a loud and clear signal to the Palestinian people that the international community respects their right to nationhood and will not ignore the ongoing occupation of their territories?

In 1998, there were approximately 190,000 Jewish settlers living in the West Bank; today, there are over 500,000. That is an horrific statistic. There is aggression and settlements continue to be built. This is the context that makes it timely for the international community to say decisively once and for all that it recognises the Palestinians' right to having their own nation, freedom and independence.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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I have been to the West Bank and am familiar with the extent of the occupation and the way in which the settlements have developed. While we may speculate as to what will happen at the meeting of the Security Council if a resolution is presented thereto, none of us can say for certain at this point that there will be a veto. There are interventions that could occur between now and September. As I mentioned, the European Union has a role. I am advocating an active role for the Union. The Quartet had a meeting on Monday. Although it issued no statement, discussions are continuing.

It is unwise at this point to start writing the script for what may happen in September. A lot could happen between now and then. The Government will play a very constructive role in the discussions leading up to the meeting in September, particularly those at EU level.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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I just wish to make the point that the most-----

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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A question.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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The most optimistic time we have seen was when Rabin was in power and we had the Oslo agreement. The United States was bypassed because like the situation now they were not in a position to support it. Rather than relying and depending on the United States initiative, is it possible to make the European voice stronger and lobby more from Europe? Europe's voice needs to be more independent from the United States and Europe should pressurise the United States into doing the right thing.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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I very much agree with this point of view. It is the approach that I am taking, and I encourage the European Union to take a more active role in this area. Given the political considerations that come into this question, particularly in the United States, there is scope for the European Union to have a far more proactive role. Again, we must bear in mind that various member states of the European Union have varying positions, some of which are based on historical experience which we must take into consideration and understand. I believe the European Union can take a greater leadership role. Catherine Ashton in her capacity as the High Representative has been taking a much more active role on this issue. I will continue to encourage her to do so.