Dáil debates

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions

Middle East Peace Process

10:40 am

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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2. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the breakdown of the peace talks between Israel and Palestine; his views on Israel’s decision not to release the last batch of Palestinian prisoners as agreed before the talks, which led to the collapse of the negotiations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23262/14]

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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The background to this is the collapse of another peace process and the discussions between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority. I ask this question about a number of concerns I have about the Israeli actions which seemed to precipitate the collapse of this agreement. In the agreement which was facilitating new negotiations Israel promised to release 104 veteran Palestinian prisoners in four tranches in exchange for the Palestinian Authority pledging not to move to seek membership of UN or other international organisations. Israel refused to release the final tranche of prisoners.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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The direct peace talks begun in July 2013 have not definitively ended but they have been suspended and it is not considered that they are likely to be resumed quickly. The talks did, however, make some progress and promote understanding on some issues, and we would hope very much that this progress is not lost and the talks can move forward. We are not privy to the exact understandings between the parties on which the talks were based but it is generally understood that this included a specified programme of prisoner releases, accepted by Israel as a confidence building measure in place of a settlement freeze. Release of prisoners, especially those convicted of violent crimes, is a difficult issue for any society. Nonetheless, I consider that the release of the final batch of prisoners should not have been made conditional on a further Palestinian concession beyond the original agreement, and therefore that it should have gone ahead.

There were other steps taken by both sides, however, and Israel has argued that further talks had come very close to agreeing terms for the prisoner release to go ahead when the process broke down. The root of the problem goes deeper than this issue and centres on a deep lack of trust between the parties. A critical and destructive element of this has been the relentless process of settlement announcements by Israel during the talks. It is noteworthy that despite the breakdown in the talks, both sides have been quite measured in the steps they have taken and have been careful, so far, not to burn any bridges. The United States has understandably stepped back from the process for the moment, and the Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry, has rightly called on both sides to reflect on their positions, the prize of peace which is readily attainable, the leadership and compromises needed to get there and on the cost of failure to both peoples. I strongly endorse that call.

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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Will the Irish Government be supporting the Palestinian Authority's request to join the approximately 15 international agencies on the back of this issue? There are 240 Palestinian prisoners who have entered a second month of hunger strike, which is a critical phase, and 40 of them have been hospitalised. Does the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade oppose the use of this so-called administrative detention and support the basic demands of prisoners?

Last week it emerged that the Israeli Army shot dead two unarmed Palestinian protestors just outside Ramallah. From the video evidence it seems the two youths posed no threat and were murdered in cold blood. The UN and US have called for an independent investigation in this regard but I have yet to hear anybody from the Irish Government doing so. Will the Irish Government make a statement on that? The prisoner issue seems to be getting more critical and I would like to hear the Minister's views on it, particularly with regard to the Robben Island declaration. Has the Government a view on that?

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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Deputy Crowe has raised many supplementary issues. With regard to the use of administrative detention, it has always been our view that the use of extraordinary powers should be as minimal as possible, carefully safeguarded and in accordance with international law. I am concerned that detention orders, rather than an extraordinary measure only applied in the most exceptional cases, are being used as part of the broader system of control of Palestinians. I will make a statement on the killing of the young people and I am also concerned about the question of Marwan Barghouti, and that issue has been considered by the joint Oireachtas committee. As the Deputy knows, we have previously supported applications by the Palestinian Authority for representation on international bodies. We tend to look at that on a case by case basis and the Irish Government has always been quite supportive of the Palestinian Authority in that regard.

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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We have the background of a collapse in the talks but the Minister has mentioned what is possible. There is a need for the Irish Government to put forward its own initiatives and proposals and be as supportive as is possible. There are a number of current issues and it is important for the Irish Government to stand up and break away from the crowd. It should make positive proposals and be more supportive of the Palestinian people who are in this dreadful position. The big worry is the possibility of another intifada and some groups operating on the ground have seen the tension worsening. There are arbitrary arrests, harassment and the killing of civilians, which means the tension is ratcheting up all the time. It is a big worry. Will the Irish Government do what it can through statements or initiatives?

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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Considering all the issues attracting international attention currently, including in the Ukraine, Syria and in a number of cases in Africa and particularly north Africa, the Irish Government has repeatedly and consistently kept the issue of the Middle East peace process and the Palestinian position very much on the international agenda. We have done this repeatedly at the European Union and the United Nations, as well as in public statements. I hope we will continue to do so. I very much regret the talks have not brought the kind of conclusion for which we all hoped but we cannot give up on them, and I hope they can be revived. Issues must be addressed now and the Irish Government will continue to provide in the international community the leadership role we have had for a long period with regard to the Middle East peace process and the position of Palestinian people.