Wednesday, 26 April 2006
Middle East Peace Process: Statements.
I welcome this opportunity to make a statement to the House on developments in the Middle East peace process. The process has reached a critical point and I know there is concern, and some unease, at recent events and their implications.
The search for a lasting and peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has for many years been a central concern of Irish foreign policy under successive Governments. We are consistently active on the issue in the European Union and at the United Nations. This will not change in the difficult weeks and months ahead. Despite the often dramatic developments since the start of the year, the basis of our policy approach remains clear and unchanged.
The Government and its partners in the EU are convinced that the only route to a just and lasting settlement is through the negotiation of a mutually acceptable two-state solution. This must lead to the coexistence of two viable, sovereign and independent states with agreed international borders. The EU should stay actively engaged, with a clear and balanced approach. We will work to promote an environment for negotiation, despite the obstacles which are so obvious at this point. We will urge that the short-term temptation to pursue the interests of either or both parties through unilateral actions must be avoided. Peace and security for the Israeli and the Palestinian people will only be assured through negotiation and compromise, based on adherence to fundamental democratic principles.
In the current difficult circumstances, the continuing relevance of the Quartet roadmap of 2002 has increasingly been called into question. None of its detailed timelines has been fulfilled. It will need to be revisited and recast if the peace process is to achieve momentum again. However, it continues to represent the essential set of principles and sequential parallel steps required of Israel and of the Palestinian Authority if there is to be a settlement. The European Union must support Israeli and Palestinian political leaders who recognise the desire of their people for a just solution, and the inevitable need, sooner or later, to meet the obligations identified in the roadmap.
The prospects for a lasting settlement have been seriously complicated by the decisive victory of Hamas candidates in the Palestinian elections in January. Hamas achieved a clear majority of seats in democratic elections, which were freely and fairly conducted in difficult circumstances. The conduct of the elections and the subsequent peaceful transfer of power is a tribute to the Palestinian people, especially to the leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas.
Hamas is a tough and a disciplined organisation. It has engaged in the past in a vicious campaign of violence, including suicide bombings aimed at Israeli civilians. It has been included on the European Union's list of terrorist organisations. However, it has maintained a ceasefire for over a year. It has also displayed a degree of political pragmatism in participating in democratic elections under the Oslo process which it claims to reject. Ireland has been to the fore in arguing that the EU and the international community should give the Palestinians time and space to come to terms with the consequences of the election outcome and the political transition which Hamas urgently needs to undertake.
Hamas is now in government and that brings with it great responsibilities. Regrettably, to date, the new government does not appear to have taken account of the clear messages set out by the EU, the Quartet and its neighbours on the basis for engagement with the international community. Nor has it heeded the consistently courageous messages from President Abbas on its obligations to the Palestinian people.
The EU has consistently been the strongest supporter of the Palestinian people internationally. Since the signing of the Oslo accord in 1993, the Union has worked politically and provided significant assistance to build the democratic institutions of the future state. The Palestinian Authority was established as part of this process. Ireland strongly supports the requirement that the new Government of that authority fulfils a number of basic principles that any democratic government anywhere would be expected to honour. The EU and the Quartet have made it clear since 30 January that the new Government should renounce violence, recognise Israel's right to exist and accept the existing agreements reached between the PLO and the Palestinian Authority with Israel.
Unfortunately, Hamas has not yet responded. It would have been encouraging, for instance, if it had recognised its responsibilities and condemned last week's horrific suicide bomb attack in Tel Aviv which took the lives of nine Israeli civilians. Instead, it sought to justify the unjustifiable. I emphasise, however, that the EU will judge the Government on its actions. In the period ahead, if there is any evidence of a willingness to make progress to meet the principles set out by the Quartet, and with an absolute requirement that Hamas continues to refrain from violence, Ireland will argue strongly for an appropriate response from the European Union.
I am aware that considerable concern has been expressed in recent weeks at reports that the EU has decided to freeze its assistance to the Palestinian Authority. The funding situation is more complex than this. In recent years, the EU and its member states have provided some €500 million annually to support Palestinian institutions, NGOs and civil society, and for humanitarian assistance. Approximately half of the annual funding of about €250 million per year administered by the Commission has gone to the UN and NGOs and on food aid, and the other half on assistance to the Palestinian Authority. On 27 February, Ministers agreed on the early delivery of some €121 million in aid by the Commission.
At the meeting of the Council I attended on 10 April, it was agreed that the EU would review its assistance to the Palestinians against the new Government's commitment to the principles set out by the Council and by the international Quartet since 30 January. There was also agreement that the absence of commitment to these principles will inevitably affect direct assistance to the government. Since early April, the Commission has temporarily suspended its direct payments to it, but the Council stressed that the EU will continue to provide necessary assistance to meet the basic needs of the Palestinian population.
I have argued for — and in the review process Ireland will press for — a flexible and wide-ranging definition of what constitutes necessary assistance. We want to look in particular at provisions for support in the areas of health and education. We are under no illusions about the difficulties facing the Palestinian people already in their daily lives or about the dangers of a sudden and rigid freeze of essential assistance. We will work to ensure that the EU meets its responsibilities. Positive movement from the Hamas Government would greatly facilitate the process and directly serve the interests of the Palestinian people. It is not reasonable to expect that those elements of funding aimed directly at building up the Palestinian capacity for self-government should continue unchanged if Hamas does not respect the peace process.
Nationally, Ireland will continue to do all that is within its capacity to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people. The Government is firmly committed to maintaining its bilateral assistance, which amounted to over €4 million in 2005. In response to an appeal from the UN, the Government has already provided €1.5 million in humanitarian assistance this year. Depending on developments, it may prove necessary to redirect funding of some €1 million earmarked for the Ministry of Education. However, we are determined to maintain the overall level of our assistance during 2006.
It is essential that the EU does not address only one side of the equation. Indeed, it is arguable that one of the reasons for the success of Hamas in the January elections was the perception among many Palestinian voters that the obligations of the peace process were being imposed in an unbalanced manner and that the conditions of their daily lives and the prospects for their children were deteriorating as a direct result. In this context, the April meeting of the Council stressed the responsibilities on Israel to improve the humanitarian and economic situation of the Palestinians.
In the short term, the EU needs to work with its international partners to persuade the Israeli Government to find an acceptable way to reverse the decision to withhold €50 million in taxes and customs duties that it collects every month on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Progress in the implementation of the important agreement on movement and access brokered by the US and the EU last November is also essential. The only element of the agreement which is being implemented at present, with the assistance of an EU mission, is the border crossing between Gaza and Egypt at Rafah.
We welcomed the peaceful and smooth withdrawal of Israeli settlers and troops from Gaza last summer. Gaza must be allowed to develop as a society, with effective links, including trading links, to the outside world and an end to its isolation from the West Bank.
Ireland has rightly been regarded as sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinian people. We are also good friends of Israel. The Government has developed a good working relationship with recent Israeli Governments, which has enabled us to speak directly and constructively on important issues including Israel's obligations under the roadmap and international law. Following the Israeli elections in March, it seems certain that Prime Minister Olmert will form a coalition government, once the current interparty negotiations have concluded. I am encouraged by his statement in his victory address on 29 March that his new Government will work for the establishment of the final borders of Israel through negotiations and an agreement with its Palestinian neighbours. He correctly stated that "there is no good alternative to a peace agreement". We and our partners in the EU look forward to working closely with his new government on this basis.
The credibility of the EU's role in the peace process, and of its relationship with the Israelis and the Palestinians, requires us to be honest in our dealings with both parties. We have been particularly clear in recent times in setting out the conditions to be met by the new Palestinian Government. It remains essential that we also impress on the Israeli Government its responsibilities in the search for a peaceful settlement. The EU has stated consistently that all parties should refrain from any unilateral action that will further jeopardise the prospects for a two state solution. It is an essential element of the EU position that the EU will not recognise any changes to the pre-1967 boundaries other than those agreed through negotiation. Crucially, the status of Jerusalem can only be decided through agreement in final status negotiations.
We remain very seriously concerned at Israeli practices in the occupied territories which are against international law, bring further hardship to the Palestinian population and create a pernicious and dangerous atmosphere of bitterness and alienation. I believe it is important the EU makes it very clear that there is an obligation on the new Government to end settlement expansion, to remove all illegal outposts and to end construction of the illegal security barrier or wall on occupied Palestinian land. We recognise the obligation on any Israeli Government to protect its citizens against terrorist attacks but we will continue to make the point strongly that measures taken to strengthen the security of Israeli citizens must not be at the expense of the basic human rights of Palestinians. In particular, we remain seriously concerned at extra-judicial killings, which are contrary to international law.
I have stressed the obligations that rest on both Israelis and Palestinians in the difficult circumstances they face but I also wish to emphasise the obligations that history and geography impose on us as Europeans to continue to work with our international partners to promote the achievement of an historic two state solution to the conflict. A stable, peaceful and just region is in the interests not just of its own peoples but of us all. The Arab-Israeli conflict has threatened international peace and security for many decades. This dictates that the search for such a solution cannot be abandoned. The Government, acting with its partners in the EU, is determined to maintain its engagement in this vital political process.
I welcome the Minister to the House. The political dispensation in the Middle East has changed with the electoral success of Hamas and the new Administration elected in Israel. However, the central problems remain and I concur with the Minister's closing remarks to the effect that we must remain focussed on the two state solution, which is central to hopes of a long-term solution to the political crisis in the Middle East.
This issue draws a certain resonance from our political situation, where strife has existed on our island for the past 30 years on the physical level and for the past 70 years on a political level. At a time when we are making progress on a peaceful resolution to that long-running dispute we hope that the same political attention and courage will be shown in the Middle East. The problems facing the Middle East are a mirror image of those we faced in Ireland, where one community recognises the right of another to exist and both communities agree on how they can be governed in a peaceful fashion. While the scale and complexity of the Middle East problem are much greater than our own, we can learn from each other.
I concur with most of what the Minister outlines but I have difficulty with the approach of the EU to withdrawal of aid to the Palestinian Authority. The original decision to suspend aid was a mistake. A growing humanitarian crisis is being faced by the Palestinian people and the EU had been a beacon of hope to them in trying to grant some degree of certainty in everyday life and providing a reasonable livelihood. The withdrawal of aid is a major blow to those people. I can appreciate the step was taken as a direct result of the decision to put the trust of the Palestinian people in Hamas. The election was free and fair and, although we may not like the decision, we must accept the will of the Palestinian people. It is not good to send the signal that if the European Union does not like election results or the election of certain people, it will try to penalise those people in some way. All this is happening in the context of the ongoing political crisis in the Middle East. Trying to build the peace is exceptionally difficult and the European Union must try to maintain its role as the honest broker. If it is seen almost to punish people for an electoral result, it will not help the neutral stance which it is generally able to adopt during the negotiations.
In addition to the crisis caused by the withdrawal of European Union aid, there is also the problem of custom duties being withheld by the Israeli authorities. As a result, the Palestinian Authority is now unable to pay for vital services. Payments for 140,000 Palestinian Authority employees are delayed. Many of my colleagues in the Oireachtas, particularly the members of the European and foreign affairs committees, have visited the region in the past two or three years and have seen at first hand the difficulties being faced by the people there. We are aware of how valuable the aid programmes are and the difference they make.
I hope the European Union will revisit its thinking in this regard and restore aid at the earliest possible date. If people have some degree of normality in their lives, particularly with regard to their income and livelihoods, it creates a better backdrop for trying to secure some degree of political progress. I hope the European Union will not remain so shortsighted in its thinking, as I believe the withdrawal of aid is a shortsighted and, in the long run, negative decision.
The Minister referred to the roadmap proposal agreed in 2002. This has been debated in the House on a number of occasions and all Members concur with the Minister's analysis that it is still the best way forward. We cannot move away from the absolute necessity for full international recognition for the state of Israel and full agreement on a permanent Palestinian state. In that regard, although the Minister did not mention it, I am sure he is as appalled as all normal people must be at the recent comments of the new Iranian President that Israel should be wiped off the map. When he made the same comments a number of months ago, everybody condemned it although we believed that the remarks were so off the stage that they could be ignored. That is why it was not just disappointing but deeply disturbing that within the past two weeks he again reiterated his view as to what should happen the state of Israel.
These shocking, inflammatory comments must be condemned by all right-thinking people. I am sure the European Union is making its displeasure with and objection to those comments known. It is not politically acceptable that a Head of State can call for another state to be wiped off the map. The state of Israel has a right to exist in a peaceful fashion, just as the Palestinian people can, rightly, expect and demand that a Palestinian state can exist and be secured in a peaceful fashion.
On the other side of the political equation, the Minister referred to the security wall. I repeat what I said on previous occasions, that it is a negative political decision by the Israeli authorities to continue the construction of the so-called security wall. While it might provide some degree of physical security, that security is short term in its extent and purpose. The imposition of that security wall creates further division and bitterness among the Palestinian people. It is surprising that the efforts of the international community to get the Israeli Government to desist have been so unsuccessful at both European Union level and within the United States Administration, a long-term ally of the Israeli Government. It is entitled to be an ally of the Israeli Government but it should put far more pressure on the Israelis with regard to this security wall, which will cause nothing but long-term distress, difficulty and further political conflict.
However, I concur with the Minister's sentiments that the roadmap is central to bringing peace to the Middle East. The Irish have a strong affinity with the Palestinian people but at the time of the creation of the state of Israel there was a close affinity between the people who built the Israeli state and Irish politicians. Many of the people who built the Israeli state would have looked to Irish politicians of a previous era to learn how statehood could be gained and a nation built. We have a natural affinity and connection with both the Palestinian and the Israeli peoples and we must try to use it constructively to ensure they begin to respect each other in a more formal fashion and that there is a respect for each other's right to exist. There must be agreement to maintain the partial ceasefire that is in place, to build upon it, to secure the borders, to give certainty and long-term security to the state of Israel and to give long-term certainty by way of statehood to the Palestinian people.
I wish the Minister well in his endeavours. He has the support of every Member of the House in taking whatever steps Ireland, as a small nation, can at EU and UN level to bring a solution to this long-term problem. With regard to our problems on this island, we hope that in the reasonably near future we can put the past behind us. It must be the strong international desire that the same can be done in the Middle East. One associates a number of negative words with the Middle East, such as "powder keg" and "suicide bomber". The conflict has lasted for 50 years so we must redouble our efforts to bring this dreadful period of conflict and strife to a conclusion. It is a little like the Northern Ireland issue in that what is needed on all sides is respect, sensitivity, dialogue and courage. A little of that is being shown at present but those essential qualities must be maximised.
I echo the remarks of Senator Bradford in welcoming the Minister. It is a sign of great respect for the House that the Minister has come here to outline the Government's position on recent developments in the Middle East. I also take this opportunity to record the appreciation of all sides of the House represented at the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body of the historic initiative, in which the Minister was personally and intimately involved, to ensure the presence of representatives of the majority Unionist population in Northern Ireland to outline their position. I make that comment in the wider context of the parallels we constantly draw between the conflict on this island and that in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Like the Minister, I unequivocally and unambiguously condemn the loss of life caused by the insidious suicide bombers and the impact it has had not only on the people who have died and their relatives but also on the wider political process, which one hoped was beginning to regenerate with a new dynamic following the recent elections in both the Palestinian Authority and in Israel. I offer sincere condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in such tragic and unacceptable circumstances.
I also welcome the Minister's reference to the continuance of Irish aid and the growing relationship between Israel and Ireland. As those of us who have been following the Middle East conflict over quite a number of years know, it has not always been a smooth passage. I recall visiting the Middle East on two occasions as part of a parliamentary delegation. We were subjected to lectures by certain elements within the Israeli political and military establishments about Ireland's perceived lack of even-handedness, especially when we were involved in southern Lebanon, and in our approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As the Minister said, we have rightly been regarded as sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians and we are also a good friend of Israel. The Government has developed a good working relationship with recent Israeli Governments, which is vital. Of all the countries in the European Union, Ireland is the one that comes to that conflict with the least amount of baggage. The Minister has reflected this fact in his own dealings at the highest level within the EU and also in bilateral meetings with the Israeli Government. The Irish Government has always ensured that an Irish perspective or dimension to that ongoing conflict has been valuable. I am particularly pleased that the Minister emphasised this aspect in his address.
Kadima's victory in the election reflected a moderation in Israeli politics and a desire for peace among the broad mass of the Israeli people. The restraint shown by the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Olmert, and his cabinet colleagues in the immediate aftermath of the savagery in Jerusalem is a positive indication that the new Administration in Israel will not adopt knee-jerk reactions every time an outrage occurs, as happened in the past, but will pursue a more measured and constrained approach. In light of the fact that Israel now faces a Government in the Palestinian territories which is predominantly comprised of terrorists, the Israeli Government's restraint is commendable. The Minister has already made that point.
Concern has been expressed across Europe following the victory of Hamas. As a member of the Irish delegation to the Council of Europe, I was privileged to lead the debate for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, of which my party is a member. It is fundamental to the concept of democracy that respect for the rule of law is paramount. That message is being sent strongly to the Hamas-led Administration. Of course we respect the right of the Palestinian people to elect the government of their choice in a free and fair election but therein lies the dilemma for the international community. Should it withdraw financial support from a democratically-elected government and plunge an already desperate people into more deprivation and misery, while at the same time sending the strongest possible message to Hamas? What the EU has done, along with Ireland's involvement, is a measured response. Following the meeting on 10 April there was no withdrawal of moneys to those who need it most but there was, rightly, a suspension of direct aid to the Palestinian Administration. Crucially, also, Commission personnel were withdrawn from key areas where they had been providing expertise to the Palestinian Authority.
In analysing the decision of the Palestinian people to choose a majority Hamas Administration, it must be borne in mind that the vote was against corruption in the Fatah-led Administration that had been going on for years under the previous president, Yasser Arafat. In addition, the vote was for Hamas's social policies at local level where its political wing has been providing social, educational and nutrition programmes to address the needs of desperate Palestinians living in the occupied territories. Therefore, the election result should not be interpreted as a vote for terrorism or the continuation of the horrendous and savage manifestation of such terrorism to which I referred earlier.
I am glad that, although it may not say so publicly, the new Israeli Government, by its actions so far, seems to have adopted the same analysis of the Palestinians' voting wishes, as has the European Union. The Minister has reiterated that there is no desire on the part of the EU — which is one of the largest donors to the Palestinian Authority — to withdraw funding that would plunge the people of that unfortunate land into even more misery. The Minister's speech indicated the specifics under which that money will continue to flow to those who are most in need.
Inevitably the parallels between Ireland's troubled history and its relations with its nearest neighbour, Great Britain, over centuries of conflict, are almost mirrored in the history of relationships between the state of Israel and the Palestinians. It is salutary to remember that in 1969 violence erupted in the streets of Belfast and for the next 30 years the Irish Republican Army carried on a war of attrition against the British Government in Northern Ireland. The people of Northern Ireland, along with many in Britain and in the Republic suffered grievously from a series of indiscriminate bombings and shootings as the IRA, supported by its political wing Sinn Féin, engaged in a war to remove the British presence from Northern Ireland and establish a united Ireland at the point of a gun. It seems far distant now but that was the only language that was spoken for 30 years. As a child growing up, and throughout the troubles of the past 35 years, I recall the term being regularly used and abused — that the only language the British understood was at the point of a gun. Thank God we have moved on from that.
As regards the parallels involved, during the end stages of the war, attempts by Sinn Féin to engage in dialogue with the British and Irish Governments on a political agenda were rebuffed while it refused to denounce violence as a means of achieving its political objectives. We also need to be reminded that the strategy at that time was to advance its cause with "the armalite in one hand and the ballot box in the other". It seems to me that Hamas believes it, too, can adopt a similar strategy. During that period, when Sinn Féin campaigned as a legitimate political party, it is salutary to remember that Hamas was doing the same. It engaged in social projects and gained electoral support, especially in economically deprived areas. Despite Sinn Féin's political mandate, however, both Governments refused to engage in a dialogue at official level unless and until it renounced its military campaign. Once that happened, it was the "open sesame" to what we now call the evolving peace process.
In drawing those contemporary parallels concerning what is going on between Israel and Hamas, and what occurred here between the Irish and British Governments and Sinn Féin, I wish to place on record that the Good Friday Agreement is to the credit of the current Sinn Féin leadership, led by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, and the vision of Nobel peace prize winners John Hume of the SDLP and the former Ulster Unionist Party leader, David Trimble. That agreement is the benchmark for the future evolution of the peace process in Ireland.
Are there men and women of vision and courage in Hamas and the Israeli leadership who can see beyond the parapets of their entrenched positions and guide their people to a better future in which they will be free from violence, including suicide attacks, and free to prosper while allowing each other to live in peace with respect for each other's opinions? That is the challenge facing both sets of leaders. To paraphrase a question that arose from this society's peace process, who will jump first?
I have been encouraged by the approach of the new Olmert Government in Israel where there is most definitely a window of opportunity. While I do not wish to overemphasise the fact, I am more than pleased that the Israeli Government did not react in the traditional manner to suicide bombings on its territory. We respect the democratic credentials of the Hamas-led Government but Hamas must in turn respect the democratically-elected Government of Israel. It must abandon its stated aim of eliminating Israel. It has to renounce violence and accept the roadmap for peace.
Israel too has an obligation. It must avoid taking unilateral action to secure its borders, such as extending the security wall beyond the pre-1967 borders and extending its settlements on Palestinian lands. If Israel contained its wall within the pre-1967 borders the wall would extend approximately 300 miles as distinct from the proposal to double that. I appeal to Israel to stop its land grab and learn the lessons of Irish history whereby a legacy of re-settlement dating back 400 years, when Ireland was colonised by non-native settlers, continues to resonate today.
I appeal to the Israeli Government to respond humanely to the situation and not to block access to finance and matériel for humanitarian purposes, especially health and education, as the Minister said. The world knows only too well the effect of humanitarian disasters in Africa. Let us not be responsible for visiting such disasters unnecessarily on the innocent Palestinian people, the women and children. No one wants aMogadishu on the Jordan.
My party and its spokesperson on foreign affairs believe that the decision taken by the Foreign Ministers of the European Union at the recent Council meeting ranks among the most negative decisions in the history of the EU's relationship with the Middle East. I was depressed, annoyed and angry, and remain so, at this capacity to lecture victims of oppression about the need to reject violence, even as their oppressors buy arms and a blind eye is turned to their appalling activities.
The injustices in the Palestinian area would not have justified the killing of a single person. While I do not wish to get involved in a silly what-if debate, it is worth noting that for every Israeli who has died in the intifada, two Palestinians have died. It is difficult for western Europe to have any credibility when it tells the Palestinian Government that uniquely among governments of the world it must reject violence under all circumstances. The international community has not made rejecting violence in all circumstances a condition of dealing with any other government. I defy the Minister to tell me of another situation in which such an instruction has been issued to any government.
The Palestinian Government must operate within the bounds of international law and morality and avoid genocide, etc., but that is not what we told Hamas. We told a government, elected according to what everyone accepts was a fair and free democratic process, that it must "reject violence". I wish every government in the world would reject violence. Israel is the only nuclear power in the Middle East and has the capacity to obliterate the cities of every country that threatens it, yet we have told its neighbour's newly-elected Government that it must unequivocally reject violence within fewer than four months.
This contrasts with the timescale of our peace process. In 1994 our Government had only one condition, namely, a permanent ceasefire. I often discussed this with the then Taoiseach, who had wonderful practical insights. The Provisional IRA attempted to fudge this by making it a three, six or nine month ceasefire but the Taoiseach continued to say "No". He did not then demand from it what was accomplished last July, namely, an unequivocal rejection of the use of violence. We have told the democratically-elected Government of Palestine that it must do in four months what we gave the Provisional IRA 11 years to do.
We never asked Sinn Féin or the IRA to recognise formally the legitimacy of this, or the Northern, state, which they have denied for 80 years. We sought a ceasefire to create the space into which we knew political compromise would draw them, and out of which would come the recognition of the realities on the ground — it is rare that I quote President George W. Bush.
We did not tell them they must recognise existing treaties, agreements, states, judiciaries and police forces. We continue to allow them progress into the political process in Northern Ireland and ask them to recognise the police force there. We have told the Palestinian people they have made the wrong choice and tough as it is they must recognise a state they do not recognise before we will talk to them, and that they must reject all violence, no matter what Israel does to them, even when it launches a rocket allegedly to kill a terrorist activist, which killed a 15 year old girl who happened to be in the car. Israel did this immediately after the Palestinian election.
I have no time for what-if debates. Killing one person never justifies killing another but we are dealing with a world where people believe that. If we want to achieve political progress we must see it through the eyes of those involved. How can I say to a Palestinian that he or she must reject violence under every circumstance and observe all these agreements but Israel is free to break them? It has broken the Oslo Accord, ignored many parts of the roadmap and international law, and has breached basic human rights conventions. That does not justify any act of violence by anybody else but it creates the context in which matters should be judged.
That is why it was such a dreadful decision on the part of the European Union to mimic what the United States, an ally of Israel, has done. The European Union could have been an independent player and told Hamas it wanted an unequivocal ceasefire and asked it to commit itself to not resorting to violence against Israel on Israeli territory. While I would not justify it morally, international law would probably justify the use of violence by Palestinians against Israeli occupying forces in the West Bank. It would be morally wrong and politically inept but not illegal.
We will not say that. We will tell the Palestinians we expect them to behave to a higher standard than we expect from their oppressors. No sane country can expect any other outcome from that. Had we done this in 1994, or had the British Government announced that, although the IRA was on ceasefire, it was sending the British army into every strong republican area in Northern Ireland to search out weapons and deal with alleged terrorists, while lecturing the IRA about remaining on ceasefire, we would all, across the political spectrum, have said that is not the way to go.
I am astonished that a Government that, by and large, has been sure-footed about the issue of the Middle East and has established a proud position for Ireland, appears to have ultimately capitulated to a particularly short-sighted international response to something that did not happen. It is easy to say they only voted for Hamas because the others were corrupt. That was a serious issue in an appallingly impoverished territory. People who suffered from permanent mass unemployment saw people who happened to be senior members of the Palestinian Authority living in a level of luxury and practising a scale of corruption that was an insult to their own people. That happened and prominent Palestinians from the PLO and Fatah noticed it, spoke about it and denounced it but could not prevent it. That is not a minor issue. That is the sort of issue that annoys people, and somebody delivered for them.
I frequently ask people, including those from a number of other European countries whom I have met since, what they expect to happen now. I ask them if they believe Hamas will lean over backwards and recognise the right of Israel to exist and acknowledge all the treaties because the Palestinians are impoverished. They will say the exact opposite and if another election is forced on them, Hamas will get an even bigger majority. That is the inevitable consequence of every attempt to repress people and use this sort of excessive and brutal force. We should have demanded from Hamas an unequivocal, absolute ceasefire in terms of any attacks on Israel. If we had asked for that we would have some moral authority to criticise it for its inept attempt to justify an horrific car bombing.
If we are to have any credibility we must consider what we intend to do to put some pressure on the other half of the conflict to end illegal settlements. We are fudging the question. There are no legal settlements on the West Bank. Every Israeli settlement on the West Bank is illegal and anybody wanting to negotiate a solution is entitled to expect that all those settlements will end. As my party spokesman said previously, the decision earlier this month was perhaps the most politically inept and potentially disastrous decision the European Union has made in many years in dealing with a sensitive foreign policy issue.
It is depressing that this House once again returns to the issue of peace in the Middle East within days of a murderous suicide attack in Egypt and just over a week after a bomb attack in Tel Aviv killed nine people. Nevertheless, I welcome the debate and I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I welcome also the comments of the Minister, Deputy Ahern, and the Government's continuing commitment to peace and justice in the Middle East, for there can be no peace without justice. Justice is a much abused term. At its most simplistic, justice is viewed as retributive. The phrases "An eye for an eye" and "A tooth for a tooth" are familiar to us all but they are only too familiar to the people of Israel and Palestine.
I would like to explore another concept of justice, namely, that of a just society. I have no doubt that is what the international community intended in 1947 when the United Nations called for the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem as an international zone under UN jurisdiction. Perhaps that was a Utopian dream but had men and women of goodwill from both sides of the religious divide stepped forward at that stage, we may have avoided some 60 years of conflict.
I have no wish to take Members down the path of history; that path has been well travelled by others far better versed in the issues than me. Broken promises, British misrule, mutual distrust and three wars have brought us to where we are today. Nevertheless, history is important. There will be no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unless past injustices are acknowledged and forgiven and restitution granted to those who have lost family members and land over the past 60 years.
During my time in the United Nations in that particular region, I saw injustices on both sides and for every one I could name on one side, I could name another on the other side. I could express outrage at events I witnessed, the behaviour of the Israelis or the disregard for human life shown by the Palestinians. All of that would be to no avail as there is wrong on both sides. Democratic states must uphold certain principles. They must acknowledge the rule of law. Both the Israeli and the Palestinian people have recently elected new Governments and it is time those governments committed themselves to the rule of law. The Hamas-led Government of Palestine must recognise Israel's right to exist and prevent any further attacks on Israel by its citizens such as the one in Tel Aviv last week.
Likewise, the new Israeli Government has obligations. Attacks such as those last week cannot be punished by indiscriminate acts of retaliation against targets on the West Bank or in the Gaza Strip. Suicide attacks, as with any terrorist attacks, are abhorrent and a crime against humanity but by their very nature the perpetrators cannot be brought to justice. Seeking revenge against their families only breeds more hatred and gathers more recruits for martyrdom. To open a dialogue with those who can prevent such attacks is a true sign of strength.
There is much to discuss and many obstacles on the roadmap to peace. The question of the Israeli settlements on the West Bank and the so-called security fence remain the biggest obstacles to progress along the road to peace from a Palestinian perspective. I have stated before and I state again that the security fence is nothing but a device for stealing more Palestinian land. Once built, it will copper-fasten Israeli occupation of sections of the West Bank. Even if Israel were to relinquish its hold on the West Bank and abandon its settlements, a topic I will return to, those areas on the wrong side of the wall will never be returned to the Palestinians. In any case, the argument that the wall will provide total security for Israel and its citizens is a fantasy. The only true security will be found in a full and fair settlement of the Palestinian question.
The question of the settlement is interesting. Should Israel relinquish control of the West Bank, would it also remove its settlers as it did in the Gaza Strip? Currently, there are in excess of 200,000 Israeli settlers living on the West Bank with a further 200,000 in or around Jerusalem, which was annexed in 1967. Could the Palestinian Authority guarantee the safety of those settlers should they decide to live out their lives in a free Palestine? Even if Jerusalem were declared an international city, as the UN originally envisaged, would the Palestinian Authority have the ability or even the will to safeguard those who remain on the West Bank? These are serious questions that cannot be answered by the Israelis and the Palestinians alone. Without doubt, should Israel decide to withdraw its settlers, the international community will have to fund their resettlement. Should they remain so disposed, Palestinians will need recompense for the lost lands and help to restart their lives. In any event, the international community will have to foot the bill and I hope this country will be to the fore in providing such funding.
West Bank Palestinians are not the only people to have lost lands since the foundation of the state of Israel. What of those who were dispossessed following the 1948 war, many of whom are still living in refugee camps throughout the region? Should these people also be given the right to return to their former homes? Palestinian citizens who remained in the country when the state of Israel was created currently amount to approximately 20% of the Israeli population, a percentage which is steadily growing. If these people were joined by returning Palestinian refugees, how would this affect the political balance of power in Israel? We should ponder the effect of the votes of approximately 1 million Unionists on the balance of power in this State. This should give us some idea of the possible changes facing Israel.
These are significant questions for Israel and the international community. What of the questions facing the Palestinian Authority? Will it finally recognise Israel's right to exist and safeguard its borders from incursions by militants? Will it, in the event of an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, guarantee Israel's access to vital water supplies? As a democrat, I support the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to choose their own government but I believe that on this occasion, democracy has not served the Palestinian people well. The Hamas-led Government shows no sign of living up to its responsibilities and no sign that it will answer any of the questions I have posed. This is why I support the decision of the EU to suspend aid to the Palestinian Authority.
Others take a different view. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have all promised the Palestinian Authority funding as not to do so would render those most vulnerable in Palestinian society even more vulnerable. While I may differ with them, I understand their reasons for granting this humanitarian aid. However, I cannot countenance the blatantly political nature of Iran's offer of funding, coming at a time of rising tension due to that country's development of nuclear power and its continuing verbal attacks on the state of Israel. The intervention of Tehran in the tinderbox of Israeli-Palestinian relations is unwelcome and one can only hope that wiser heads prevail in the Palestinian Authority and that Tehran's fanatical rhetoric is not echoed elsewhere.
I urge the international community to continue its struggle to make progress along the road to peace. A fair and just peace would benefit the people of Israel and Palestine and the family of nations throughout the Middle East. I support the Government's continuing efforts to bring peace to the region. I am sure the Members of this House will do all they can to bring closure to a conflict which has been a running sore in international politics for far too long.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and the opportunity to speak on this matter. I have been a supporter of Palestinian self-determination and the establishment of a Palestinian state for many years. I supported the PLO during this period. I also believe in a two-state solution and have long supported the recognition of the state of Israel. I put this argument directly to the former President of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, and others.
A two-state arrangement is the only solution. We must live through these issues. Many speakers today argued that we must examine parallels on this island. I disagree with Senator Minihan's argument about the perils of democracy. We accept democracy, which led to the election of Hamas. I regret that it did not condemn the suicide bombing last week in Israel. Over the last four to six years, many Members of this House urged the PLO to condemn the suicide bombers who were killing innocent Israeli people and luring young people with false promises of a future. I remember when Yasser Arafat eventually took the difficult decision to condemn suicide bombing.
I do not doubt that Hamas will eventually be forced to do likewise and the sooner it does so, the better. Events occurring at the moment are typical of what we have witnessed on this island and the Middle East. The relationship between Hamas and the Israeli Government is a rerun of that which existed between it and the PLO 20 years ago. Developments which took place during that period, including the two intifadas, boil down to a basic issue of human and civil rights and the issue of self-determination.
It is incumbent on the West to recognise the flaws in Hamas and the illegality of the construction of the wall and settlements in the occupied territories by the Israeli Government. Having recognised these wrongs, we must park them and examine how we can build on a coincidence of objectives and reach a point where the two states can live side by side in mutual recognition. This must be the objective. It is surely no more difficult than that which took place on this island. The participation by members of the Democratic Unionist Party in a meeting of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body this week was as unexpected as the difficulties we now witness between Palestine and Israel.
We must condemn actions which are wrong. The Government and Members of this House have established our credibility on these issues. The Minister's speech contains tough language directed at both sides. The speech touches on the fact that Hamas has not responded to messages from the international community and the former president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and goes on to discuss Israeli practices in the occupied territories. This balance and the fact that it is not expressed in very diplomatic language is welcome because now is not a time for walking on eggshells. It is time to put matters on the record. When we do so in an even-handed way, it gives us some credibility in terms of urging the parties involved to move forward together.
I have supported the Palestinian cause for many years but in supporting it, I have argued with Palestinian representatives every step of the way. If I believed what they were doing was wrong, I pointed it out to them. I also argued with my colleagues in the Israeli trade union movement about such matters as the closing of Palestinian universities and the prospect of a Palestinian state composed of scattered pieces of territory with very little prospect of economic viability built into its structure. During Yasser Arafat's last visit to Ireland, I, along with a number of other Senators, met him for dinner and asked him how an independent Palestine would become viable. I informed him that I was not satisfied with the answers I was given and that there was a need to develop Palestine's economic structure.
I remember a conversation with an Israeli trade union colleague in the mid-1970s, not long after the Yom Kippur War, during which he told me that he believed that no matter how bad matters were, the future lay in economic development. He was correct in believing this. He believed that a prosperous Israel and a prosperous Palestine would learn to live together more effectively and quickly than if people were struggling in a subsistence existence. This leads on to the need for economic investment in this area. I agree with Senator Minihan that we must be ready to invest in improving the lot of people in the region and ensuring that there is economic development and that both groups can live together, support each other and move forward together. In the meantime, both groups must recognise that international law, including UN directives, apply to them. We must recognise that, due to the cavalier way in which the United States Government dealt with Iraq in recent years, it is difficult for the West to look po-faced at Israel and insist that it recognise international law and comply with various UN directives.
We must be brave, take the necessary steps and be prepared to say what we believe is wrong. There is no point in calling for Hamas to condemn these issues as we condemn them out of hand. Suicide bombing is unambiguously wrong, can never be right and must always be seen as unacceptable in any set of circumstances. We must also explain our views on Israel's involvement in the occupied territories and how it is equally wrong and unacceptable under international law.
Having said this, what can we do to move matters forward? How can we get closer to the measures envisaged in the Oslo Accords? Can we make them work? How can we convince Hamas? We cannot do so through megaphone diplomacy. The only way to convince Hamas is to engage with it, argue in quiet and silent rooms and say what we are saying today, namely, that in the same way we must accept that democracy produced a Hamas Government, Hamas must recognise the existence of Israel and that the Israeli Government has been democratically elected, irrespective of the state's boundaries. While there may be an argument in this regard, there cannot be an argument about Israel being a sovereign state with a democratically-elected government. We should hold these positions and argue them with Hamas.
I ask that the West have a greater engagement with Hamas at a private level to argue the toss with various people and make individuals in rooms without cameras or from which no reportage comes justify their positions. We should ask people what is the way forward and what is their preferred or second favourite solution. We must establish coincidences of objectives between Israel and Palestine, of which there are some. There is no doubt that people in both jurisdictions have the common objectives to seek to live their lives in peace and do better for the next generation.
I do not know how many times we have discussed this matter over the past 20 years but it is depressing. Will it ever end or be resolved? Now that there are established people with set or polarised positions in both jurisdictions, perhaps it is time they realise they must move. They must commit to either a continuous war or a peaceful process, in which our Government would have a role to play. I have always been proud of this State's position on the Middle East conflict over the past 20 years and through various Governments. On the one hand, Palestine should recognise that Ireland has been prepared to take a stand in its favour before many others were prepared to do so and, on the other, it must listen to us and recognise Israel. There must be a two-state solution that is honest, acceptable under international law and gives people on all sides a chance.
The EU has been a consistent supporter of the Palestinian people internationally. Ireland has played its part in ensuring that this is the policy. As such, it saddens me to see the removal of funding to the Palestinian Government and I cannot understand why this has been done. As previously stated, this will not help, as people will not have the money they need to govern their country.
The only route to a just and lasting settlement is through the negotiation of a mutually acceptable two-state solution. We are all aware of the obstacle recent developments have placed in the path of negotiations, which makes it more important for us to work to promote an environment for negotiation. Peace and security for the Israeli and Palestinian people will only be assured through negotiation and compromise based on adherence to fundamental democratic principles. It is in no one's interest to set aside the agreements already undertaken or seek to impose outcomes on the other side through unilateral actions or refusals to negotiate.
We support Israeli and Palestinian political leaders who recognise the desire of their people for a just solution and the inescapable need to meet the obligations identified in the roadmap. Now that Hamas is in government, it must confront and live up to great responsibilities. Above all, it must take account of the clear messages sent by the EU, the Quartet, the other countries of the region and the democratically-elected President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. All voices have given the same clear messages that the Government of the Palestinian Authority must renounce violence, recognise the right of its neighbour to exist in peace and security and commit itself to implementing the agreements entered into since the signing of the Oslo Accords.
Ireland has been to the fore in arguing that the EU and international community should give the Palestinians time and space to come to terms with these responsibilities. It is troubling that, so far, this time and space has not been used as it should have been. No one responsible for any government should seek to justify the type of atrocity we saw in Tel Aviv last week. This was disappointing evidence that Hamas has not faced up to the new responsibilities that come with active participation in democracy. That said, we must judge the new Palestinian Government on its actions. In the period ahead, if there is any evidence of a willingness to make progress to meet the principles set out by the Quartet and with an absolute requirement that Hamas should continue to refrain from violence, an appropriate response from the international community should be made.
There is an equal need to press Israel to meet its obligations under international law and the agreements it has undertaken. Together with our partners in the EU, we should use every opportunity to further constructive engagement. All parties should refrain from any unilateral action that would further jeopardise the prospects of a two-state solution. There are serious grounds for concern in respect of Israeli practices in the occupied territories. If anyone visited them, as I have, he or she would be appalled by what the Israelis have done. It goes against international law and brings further hardship to the Palestinian population, who have been living in camps for almost half a century. There is an obligation on the Israeli Government to end settlement expansion, remove all illegal outposts and end construction of the illegal security barrier or wall on occupied Palestinian land. The Israeli Government is obliged to protect its citizens against terrorist attacks but measures taken to strengthen the security of Israel for Israeli citizens must not be at the expense of the basic human rights of Palestinians.
Senator Mooney spoke about bombing the British to the table in Ireland. It is a good sign that we have moved on from this but it is unfortunate that people can be bombed to the table. Now that Hamas has done its bombing and reached the table, it is time to cease the bombings. The only way for peace to come to that area of the world is to have a two-state solution, insha Allah.
I thank Senator Lydon for sharing his time with Senator Mansergh and I. As time is limited, I will not go into historical issues, which have been well covered today. However, I wish to place on record my admiration for the stance of the Government on the Middle East through the years. In many ways, it has set the tone for a solution that must embrace peace and justice.
It is striking that we asked Hamas to embrace democracy, but when it did so and won the election, I was amazed that some world leaders indicated within 24 hours they would not accept the result. It is interesting that often in history, an opportunity appears but is lost in a short period. An opportunity was lost in the period after Hamas was elected. We must return to that position. The international community obviously has a significant obligation but has also been afforded a considerable opportunity to help in such a situation. Unfortunately, some world powers are having the opposite effect, the reasons for which are distant from the trouble zone. At times, the American Government, for example, tends to take a position that is not always understood and seems to be more about vested interests than the outcome of this situation.
It is interesting to see the words "peace process" on the agenda because we tend to associate them with Northern Ireland's problems. We have learned much from that situation and many similarities have been mentioned in this debate. However, as all Members accept, it is important to recognise that there is no justification for either suicide bombings or Israel's pre-emptive strikes, which aggravate matters.
The European Union's position in this regard has been unhelpful and it should have taken a much more independent stand internationally. There should be no question of withholding finance or of sanctions, which is not the road to take at present. I hope that once again, we will pull back from the brink.
Hamas has a double problem, as did the republican movement in the North of Ireland. While it must prove that it is capable of working within the democratic system, it must also prove that it can bring its followers with it. The worst possible outcome in the Middle East would be if Hamas was to lose its basic support and if a second group was to come into existence.
I welcome the Minister of State. Along with Senator Ó Murchú, I am comfortable with Government policy, both in recent times and for the past 26 years, going back to the Bahrain declaration made by the Minister of State's father, the late Mr. Brian Lenihan. Our policy has been informed by our experience of peacekeeping and the peace process, as well as by the entire history of dispossession and self-determination. I am glad the Government will not cut back on finance because that would be the wrong thing to do.
While the Gaza withdrawal earlier this year was a positive step, I am as uncomfortable as other Members with the tendency to create facts on the ground, using some of the tactics with which we would be familiar from the days of the old Stormont regime. If one is realistic, Hamas is unlikely to make unilateral ideological concessions and people who press it to so do should realise that this lacks realism.
In common with other Members, I condemn both suicide bombs and pre-emptive attacks. I saw a film recently apropos of the Munich massacre, which was simply entitled, "Munich". It showed the futility, from an Israeli perspective, of pursuing and murdering the various people who had been held responsible. While I empathise with the Palestinian people, some of the tactics used do not make their situation any better, and in some respects they may be going backwards.
There is a strong international responsibility in that many recent international conflicts, including Iraq, Afghanistan, the 11 September attack and so on, are directly or indirectly connected with the unresolved problems in the Middle East. Hence, this issue is of major importance to all in this country and everywhere else. While one might accept that the United States and Europe have somewhat different roles and may have different influence with different people, both must be active and more forceful in a constructive, rather than a punitive sense. We have lived with this situation for a long time without making much progress on the underlying factors.
I thank the Acting Chairman for his attention and thank those Senators who contributed to the debate before my arrival to conclude it on behalf of my senior colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern. Unfortunately, he could not be present to hear the debate's conclusion. However, many Members will have read and listened to his excellent contribution.
In particular, I wish to pay tribute to a number of Senators who made contributions while I have been present, namely, Senators Mooney, Ryan, Minihan, O'Toole, Lydon, Mansergh and ÓMurchú. I particularly thank Senator Mansergh for his kind reference to my late father. As Senator Mansergh and other Members are aware, he was proud that he moved our foreign policy in a direction that was positively disposed towards the Palestinian people in what, depressingly, has become their almost eternal search for nationhood and statehood and for their nation to be incorporated in a state of its own.
It is a great disappointment that we still negotiate and debate on this particular issue, given all the efforts made by everyone in this House, in other houses and in other political systems across the globe. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, made this clear. I was taken by Senator O'Toole's frank statement that the Government has been even-handed in its response to this matter, notwithstanding the existing foreign policy choice to be pro-Palestinian and in favour of the Palestinian people's rights.
The election poses its own problems. The current phase of the process in the Middle East is built on four essential pillars. These include respect for the Oslo agreement and respect for the views and recommendations of the Quartet which was established at international level. Many people invested a great deal of hope in it, much of which has, unfortunately, now been dashed. The third pillar is the basic assumption flowing from the Oslo Accords and the Quartet that there would be recognition of the state of Israel and a full-scale renunciation of violence.
I notice that Senator Ryan has re-entered the Chamber. It is unfortunate and wrong to state that we have changed our position in this matter. We are as even-handed now as we were when we began the journey in foreign policy terms with regard to Palestine. We will not cut assistance or aid and I wish to underline that phrase deliberately. We have never cut and run in situations of abject poverty, distress or difficulty, be it in extremely poor countries or countries going through enormously difficult political and violent transition of one kind or another. We have never——
We have never been anything other than even-handed and proper in our position with regard to Palestine and to suggest that we are being improper now or at any stage is grossly incorrect. It is unfair to all parties of all political colours. I must be clear in this regard. If the Senator takes the time, when he gets the opportunity, to take the opinion of the Palestinian representative who is present in the House, he might reflect that Ireland is still a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause.
While the Minister of State does not require protection, this is the sort of debate which affords everyone an opportunity to speak. I wish to hear the Minister of State's contribution, although I am always interested in what my good friend and colleague, Senator Ryan, has to say.
Most fair-minded people would accept that there is broad cross-party support within this House and the Dáil for the policy established over the past 20 or 30 years. As it is not an item of dispute, perhaps rhetorical exuberance got the better of the Senator when he made that particular statement. However, it is simply not true and does not stand up to analysis.
We do not in any way share the view that we should punish the people of Palestine because they have had an election. We have asked for two basic steps which were at the origin of the peace process in the Oslo Accord, namely, acceptance of Israel and its right to exist as a state, and the renunciation of violence as a way of furthering that particular peace process. These are not outlandish or difficult demands and I found the comparison with our own peace process to be somewhat strange, as essentially they were the qualifications which were required to become involved in the peace process in Ireland.
The Government did not talk to either Sinn Féin or the IRA until the violence had ended and a ceasefire had been declared. That was the major breakthrough about which people in Ireland forget, namely, that the IRA entered into a full ceasefire in August 1994 and that ceasefire was, broadly speaking——
Moreover, it was crystal clear, from the Downing Street Declaration and the various declarations made by the IRA circa 1993 and 1994, that it was entertaining a route that involved a full scale involvement in politics and peaceful means, not allowing a quick or occasional resort to violence.
It has taken a long time for us in Ireland to verify that fully, but it has been verified. The sincerity of the people who began the process is not in question now. It was in question over a period of 12 years in this country.
While it is clear from what the Minister, Deputy Ahern, said earlier, I want to provide some clarification on the following matter. I am the Minister of State with responsibility for overseas aid and we support the Palestinian Authority. In 2005, we provided assistance to the tune of €4 million for the situation in Palestine, and that assistance will continue. If the situation deteriorates, like in any other country in Africa, Latin America or Asia, we will have to consider redirecting aid if we are not happy with the quality of government and the issues confronting us. However, it is not an issue at the moment. The situation is not as acute as it is in Ethiopia and Uganda where there are serious issues about redirecting aid. We will redirect aid if we are not happy with the quality of the elected government and what is being done in the name of the Palestinian people. We are not obliged to do so. We have our own independence in regard to how we deploy our money.
I want to make it clear that if we redirect aid, we will do so to the advantage of those who are suffering in Palestine and not to their disadvantage. As I have indicated in regard to other issues, we will not be cutting and running. As Minister of State I will produce a White Paper in July and I have indicated informally that I would consider including Palestine as a programme country and elevate and deepen our involvement in the region. I am disappointed this may not now be possible because of the difficulties involved. However, I will try to make allowances for it. If the politician situation in the region improves, I will be ready to increase, enhance and deepen our involvement with Palestine and assist it to make the transition we all want and expect of it. This will be subject to the political situation improving on a consensual basis.