Wednesday, 5 July 2006
Foreign Conflicts: Motion.
That Seanad Éireann,
—noting with alarm the deteriorating relations between Israel and the Palestinian people,
—convinced that violence in this situation is both morally unjustified and politically counter productive,
—nevertheless recognises the disproportionate burden of suffering inflicted on the Palestinian people by the actions of the Government and armed forces of Israel and the clear signs that the democratically elected government of the Palestinian territories has made considerable concessions to Israel and therefore calls for:
1) an immediate relaxation of the EU embargo on dealing with the democratically elected government of Palestinian Territories or failing that, the application of appropriate sanctions against Israel in the light of its repeated and persistent defiance of UN resolutions and breaches of international law,
2) an immediate and unequivocal cease fire by all parties to the conflict, and
3) immediate negotiations between Israel and the democratically elected government of the Palestinian Territories leading to an internationally recognised Palestinian State on the entire territory occupied in 1967 with its capital in Jerusalem."
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Senator Bradford will second the motion.
I assure the Senator that I am still an independent at heart with a very free spirit.
I am glad to have the opportunity presented by this motion to speak on this issue. I want to talk calmly about it, but I am not sure I will because what is happening currently in the illegally occupied territories in Palestine is an event of horrific brutality. I want to get through all of what are now apparently the expected ritual condemnations and to say that of course violence is wrong and unnecessary. Of course the Israeli soldier who was kidnapped and captured should be treated properly and released. The reason he is not mentioned in the motion is that I could not know last Thursday, when I was required to draft the motion to facilitate the Government, what the position would be today. Therefore, I was not in a position to deal with that in the motion.
Last May, Christian Aid issued us all with a warning, which carries the heading, "Isolated and denied aid, Palestinian society faces collapse". Christian Aid addressed the situation that had developed and that was at that stage gradually getting worse. It has now developed out of all proportion and got even worse because of the responses to the democratic choice made by the people of the occupied territories to elect a government of which the Western powers do not approve. The point made by Christian Aid in its submission was that Hamas and the Hamas-led Government were being treated with a display of international isolation that no democratically elected Government in the world had ever before been subjected to. Nobody has ever done this on the scale that is currently being done to a Government that was democratically elected. This is a western world that uses wonderful rhetorical language about Israel being the only democratically elected Government in the Middle East. This was supposed to serve as a reason for giving Israel some latitude. We then witnessed a democratic election in the Palestinian territories that was conducted according to the best international standards and the immediate isolation of the democratically elected Government.
If an even-handed approach was taken, we could possibly have a debate about it. The EU has consistently called for Israel to desist from any action, such as settlement activities and the construction of a separation barrier on the Palestinian side. There has been a succession of such calls from the EU and sometimes from the US Government, the United Nations and the International Court of Justice. Every one of these calls has been ignored and no action in terms of trade, aid or cultural isolation has been taken against successive Israeli Governments which have ignored the will of the international community. One can contrast this with what has been done to the Government and people of the Palestinian territories since then.
Last May, Christian Aid spoke about the possible collapse of the public health service system in Palestine, which was identified by the World Health Organisation. Since then, the Israeli Government has chosen to steal the tax revenues of the democratically elected Government of the Palestinian territories and claim that it has some right to them. The international community has stood back and apparently approved this action. Sadly, with Ireland's full compliance, the EU joined in that international campaign of isolation. This was bad enough. It was then followed by an armed attack by a few armed groups from Gaza on an Israeli tank in which people from both sides were killed. I believe this action to have been morally questionable because of a position I have long adopted on the use of violence. However, can someone tell me under which tenet of international law is it illegal for the people of an occupied land to resist by military force the army that is occupying them? Where is it written down in international law that armed resistance to an occupation is illegal or against international law? I want to hear such an assertion by an Irish Government because this is what we are being told. I believe the use of violence in these kind of situations has no moral basis but the fact that I believe it is immoral does not mean that there is something in international law outlawing it because there is no such provision.
This issue is separate from assaults on civilians, which are always wrong. It is Jesuitical in the extreme to distinguish between deliberately targeting civilians and indifferently taking the risk that civilians will be killed so that one can target what one believes to be a military target. Such a distinction does not exist in Irish law. If someone committed an act of terrorist violence which accidentally killed civilians, he or she would be charged with murder even if he or she swore in court that he or she did not intend to kill anyone, that there was to have been a warning and that the bomb went off unexpectedly. Such a person would still be charged with murder because he or she recklessly and indifferently put the lives of innocent people at risk. Such an action is fundamentally no different from the deliberate targeting of civilians. Both types of action are morally wrong and it is time we rediscovered a conscience.
We should remember that the 1967 invasion of the occupied territories was and is illegal and has been condemned as such by every international body. We should remember that a succession of uprisings of varying levels of intensity have followed on from this illegal occupation. I witnessed the first intifada, which was horrible enough at that stage. I cannot imagine what it is like at the moment.
An extraordinary and brutal assault followed the assault on the military target by an armed resistance group and resulted in the destruction of a power station, bridges and roads and, ultimately, in the kidnapping of a large section of the Government of the Palestinian territories and the elected representatives of its people. It is extraordinary the way nobody calls this kidnapping. On the contrary, it is called capture, detention or some other word. Apparently, the only kidnapping that has taken place in the last month in the occupied territories is the alleged kidnapping or capture of an Israeli soldier. Have the many hundreds of people from the occupied territories who have been placed in long-term detention by Israel been kidnapped or captured? What is their status? They are ignored. This leads on to the fundamental question regarding this issue. It is not a question of taking sides and supporting one form of violence. It is the profound need to reassert our position as even-handed supporters of non-violent resolution of conflict. We have moved into a position whereby we support the use of non-violence by people on the receiving end of violence and ignore the use of organised state violence by those in positions of power who possess the military equipment to carry out such violence.
If any state other than the state of Israel had done what it has done to a neighbouring country over the last couple of weeks, this country would have led the charge of denunciation and the request for sanctions and immediate action to bring such activity to a halt. I am profoundly disappointed that we have walked ourselves into an alliance with the EU and the US which has told the elected Government of the Palestinian territories that it must do what they have told it to do.
When a ceasefire was declared by the IRA in 1994, we asked only that it be a permanent ceasefire. We did not tell Sinn Féin that first it had to recognise the legitimacy of Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. We knew it would eventually be forced to do so but we did not start from this position. We did not ask it to do anything other than cease violence. We need to do two things about the Israel-Palestine conflict. We must tell the Israeli Government to immediately release the elected representatives and Government of the people of Palestine. The release of the Israeli soldier must be organised if for no other reason than that it is the correct and humane thing to do. The international community must then be prepared to tell both sides in this conflict that if they do not observe its wishes and views, it will take even-handed action against all those who will not observe its views. A one-sided version of morality, legality and condemnation of violence does no more than feed the particular views of some of those involved in fomenting violence, particularly on the Palestinian side.
I second the motion. Like Senator Ryan, I wish to state my strong assertion that the Israeli soldier currently being held should be released.
The Senator concluded with the interesting example of what we said and did in terms of the Northern Ireland peace process and the first substantial ceasefire therein in 1994, from which we can learn. A word at the centre of the Northern peace process has been "respect", which is also central to our attempts to find a fair and equitable peace for the people of the Middle East. There must be respect for the Palestinian and Jewish peoples. This debate must recognise the state of Israel while demanding and recognising the right of the Palestinian state to securely exist within its defined boundaries.
While the Minister of State would know more about the matter than me, we had hoped that the roadmap would have charted the way forward in recent years. The international Quartet worked towards the securing of that agreement, but it appeared to be a case of one step forward and two steps back. The situation is one of genuine crisis, which has been highlighted in recent weeks by the kidnapping and the ensuing strong and excessive response by the Israeli authorities.
We have received detailed documentation from the various organisations and aid groups concerning the current situation on the ground in Gaza. Senator Ryan referred to the documentation received from Christian Aid. One of its partners based in Gaza, Mr. Alsaqa, stated that a sonic boom hitting an area is terrifying. A state of panic takes hold and children rush to hide under tables. Recently, the deputy director of the UN's relief agency in Gaza told Reuters that an estimated 25,000 people could be forced to flee if Israel attacks the north as indicated. This is the current situation in that flashpoint, but the international community's response has been inadequate. From a security perspective, it has been a problem for more than 40 years. From a political perspective, it has been a problem for longer and is not getting the attention it deserves.
The motion, which I strongly support, refers to the disproportionate burden of suffering inflicted on the Palestinian people, particularly in recent weeks. From a humanitarian point of view rather than a political one, we must demand an end to this suffering. From our history with our neighbouring island, we know that might is not right and fighting one wrong with another does not succeed. Only through inclusive talks and dialogue where respect is at the centre of what one is trying to achieve, can one begin to make progress.
There was an election in the region. As democrats, we the international community support and promote the concept of democracy, but we decided that we did not like the result. We accepted it and subsequently put in place sanctions and measures to overturn it. I do not support the previous position of Hamas on Israel, but there have been significant signs of change and a willingness to change on the former's part. Should we encourage that change through dialogue or should we block it by trying to shut down the Hamas Government, which was chosen by the Palestinian people?
Perhaps we did not like the results of elections in Northern Ireland in recent months and years, but we have accepted and worked with them. The same should apply to the Palestinians' democratic decision on who should lead them into the next phase. Our political project should be one of trying to change the position of Hamas and working with it to chart a way forward. We should try to convince Hamas, as we eventually convinced ourselves after a minimum of 70 years and a maximum of 700 years, that one does not win by war. Rather, one progresses through peace and dialogue.
The EU's response and sanctions, on which my party's spokesperson, Deputy Allen, issued strong press statements and policy documents, have not been helpful in advancing the situation. As the motion demands, we need a willingness among all parties to stop the killing and agree to a ceasefire. This should not come about with 100 preconditions. Rather, it should be brought about to stop the killing and allow talks to begin.
This debate, like the peace moves, is not taking place in a vacuum. There was an internationally acceptable solution in the roadmap proposed by the Quartet. That is the political way forward, the route to a successfully negotiated settlement. However, we must revert to talks. Bullets flying, armies invading, citizens being terrified, a humanitarian crisis growing, children beginning to starve, salaries going unpaid and civil administration breaking down do not constitute the way forward.
We must encourage through the Government an immediate ceasefire. Indeed, most governments would work in that direction. However, I agree with Senator Ryan's assertion that we must try to get the EU to revisit its attitude towards Hamas, as we are not solely speaking about Hamas. Rather, we are discussing the Palestinian Government. Only through working with it can we get it to accept the fundamental changes necessary to achieve a democratic, peaceful and progressive two-state solution that will hopefully lead to a degree of prosperity.
Erecting walls against progress, closing down dialogue with Hamas and refusing to recognise the result of a democratic election are of no help. In all international and domestic conflicts, it is not a question of one side being entirely right while the other is entirely wrong. Senator Ryan briefly mentioned the fault on the Israeli side stretching back to the 1967 invasion and the international condemnations made since. The Israeli political culture has much to answer for, but if one removes the politics and armies, the Palestinian and Israeli peoples want peace and a future where they can live together.
There is a way forward through politics and dialogue, but there must be a ceasefire and a recognition and respect for the Palestinian Government in the immediate future. We must work and engage in genuine dialogue with it, which the people on this island discovered after 3,000 deaths in a short period. An ironic similarity between our countries is that the 1967 invasion preceded the opening of a dreadful conflict on this island by two years. After 30 years or so, we found a way forward. Let us hope the Palestinian Government and the state of Israel take the same way forward.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Seanad Éireann" and substitute the following:
—deeply concerned at the increasingly serious situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, and especially at the prospect of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza;
—convinced that the immediate crisis must be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy, and that long-term peace and stability for the Israeli and the Palestinian people can only be provided through a negotiated two-state solution;
—calls for the immediate and unconditional release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit;
—calls on the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority to use all diplomatic options to ensure that the current crisis is resolved through peaceful means;
—appeals to all parties to demonstrate the courage to act with restraint and to avoid any further actions which cause additional escalation and endanger lives;
—calls for an end to all violence in and from the occupied territories;
—expresses serious concern at the effect of recent Israeli military actions on the already serious humanitarian situation of the Palestinian people, especially the destruction of essential infrastructure; and calls on the Israeli Government to exercise maximum restraint and to ensure that all operations are fully in accordance with international law;
—expresses its serious concern about the detention by the Israeli authorities of democratically-elected members of the Government of the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Legislative Council;
—reaffirms its support for a lasting, peaceful and just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on a negotiated and viable two-state solution; and strongly supports the position of the European Union that it will not recognise any changes to the pre-1967 borders other than those agreed between the parties;
—welcomes reports of agreement between the different Palestinian groups on a national conciliation document and expresses support for the efforts, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, to complete this political process;
—emphasises the need for the Hamas Government to commit to the peace process, in accordance with the principles set out by the international community; and
—calls for an early and substantive meeting between the Israeli Prime Minister and the President of the Palestinian Authority in order to restart the negotiating process on the basis of a shared commitment to fundamental principles and adherence to international law.
I wish to put something straight at the outset. This is not about recognising the democratically-elected Government of the Palestinian Authority. I recognise its mandate and have said so before in this House and at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. One cannot object to how a people vote in a democratic election which, according to international observers and monitors, was, for the most part, freely held.
However, since 30 January, and the installation of the Hamas Government in March, the EU, along with the international Quartet which comprises the EU, the USA, Russia and the United Nations — a considerable body of international opinion, I am sure Senators will agree — have maintained a clear message that the Hamas Government must commit to the peace process. It must renounce violence, recognise Israel's right to exist and adhere to agreements negotiated by the authority, prior to the establishment of the Hamas-dominated administration, and the PLO.
Until there is progress towards this aim Ireland, as part of the EU, and the EU representatives will not have political contact with Hamas. That is perfectly clear.
All sides of the House will support the first and second bullet points of the Labour Party motion but beyond that there is divergence, certainly with me on this side of the House. When I first began to study the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship since 1948, my initial sympathies were overwhelmingly with the Israeli people. Then the pendulum swung towards the plight of the Palestinian people, born out of our own history of persecution and dispossession. I swallowed my concerns about the use of terrorism as a political weapon. I could not condemn it in Ireland while supporting it in the Middle East. I swallowed it in the context of an overall peace agreement which was initiated by a Fatah movement which, in common with Arab states in the region, pledged to obliterate what many of them to this day call "the Jewish entity".
Like most of the political class in Ireland, I turned a blind eye to the IRA-trained Fatah movement and the IRA-trained Fatah fighters, who carried out frequent attacks on the real Óglaigh na hÉireann, wearing the blue helmet of the United Nations in south Lebanon during the 1980s and 1990s. That is a historical fact. Today we are faced with a new set of complexities, in the form of an Israeli Administration determined to settle the Palestinian question unilaterally, using its enormous military might——
——supported by a pliant US political establishment, governed more by the pressure of the Jewish lobby, and the fear of losing votes and being branded anti-Semitic, than by any sense of political objectivity.
On the other side there is now a Hamas-dominated Administration, elected as a response to a corrupt and inefficient Fatah governing class by a beleaguered people, the majority of whom I believe voted for any alternative through a yearning for peace and economic prosperity. AsShylock said in "The Merchant of Venice", "I bleed the same as you do". A Palestinian family living in the rubble of the notorious Gaza refugee camps, which I have visited——
I do not say I am morally superior, just that it added to the sympathy I felt for their plight. They are separated from my family only by geography but both want the same thing. Why should Palestine not have its own state?
This motion and the Government amendment concern the latest crisis. I am disappointed that there is no reference in the wording of the motion to the kidnapping of Corporal Gilad Shalit.
While I accept the democratic mandate of Hamas I believe there is an awful lot of ambiguity about it. I do not share the same enthusiasm to embrace Hamas as the dewy-eyed younger politician that I was, who unequivocally supported Fatah despite all that was said about it. What is Hamas? I will quote from an article in The Irish Times, not by a person from that region but by Dr. Rory Miller, who teaches on the Middle East at the University of London and is the author of "Ireland and the Palestinian Question 1948-2004". He states:
Hamas's constitution — perhaps the most outlandish and vile political manifesto currently in existence — not only promises to "obliterate" Israel but incites anti-Semitic murder, arguing that the day of judgment will not come about until Muslims fight Jews and kill them. Then, the Jews will hide behind rocks and trees, and the rocks and trees will cry out: "O Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him."
There's more. According to its constitution, Hamas was established not merely to wipe out Jews but to pursue the far loftier goals of spreading Allah's holy message: "The Islamic resistance movement will spare no effort to implement the truth and abolish evil, in speech and in fact, both here and in any other location where it can reach out and exert influence."
For those who want to dismiss the constitution, written in 1988, as an out-of-date document that does not do justice to a more moderate Hamas, well here's the view of Hamas leader Khaled Mash'al aired on Al-Jazeera TV on 3 February: "Tomorrow, our nation will sit on the throne of the world. This is not a figment of the imagination, but a fact. Tomorrow we will lead the world, Allah willing. Our nation is moving forwards . . . when it reaches the leadership of the world . . . you will regret it."
Not something I would want to hear if I was a journalist, woman, gay, practising Christian or even Guinness drinker in any place Hamas got influence.
All this just doesn't have the same appeal as the freedom fighter slogans and anti-colonial language of Arafat and the PLO that has made generations of Irish weak at the knees — but this is what Hamas is about and we dare not forget it.
The current crisis began on 25 June, when Palestinian terrorists used a tunnel to cross from the Gaza Strip into Israel and attack an Israeli army position at the Karem Shalom border crossing. Two soldiers were killed and one, a 19 year old wounded corporal, Gilad Shalit, was dragged across the frontier into Gaza. Hamas spokespersons promptly took responsibility for the attack. On the same day an Israeli civilian from the West Bank, an 18 year old innocent called Eliyahu Asheri, was kidnapped and murdered, which has been forgotten about in the midst of the daily atrocities that have taken place in the Middle East.
The Israelis point out that they do not wish to reoccupy the Gaza Strip. They say that, for the first time in the modern period, the Gaza Strip is independent but that the Palestinians have not used that freedom to advance the well-being of their people or to establish the foundations of a functioning state. Rather, they concentrated their efforts on attacking Israel. Deadly kasam rockets continue to rain daily on Israeli territory with more than 500 missiles fired since the withdrawal. Southern Israeli towns and kibbutzes were targeted and their populations live in fear for their lives every day and night.
Recent media reports suggest that Hamas has implicitly recognised Israel, by agreeing to the so-called "prisoners' document". They refer to the concessions that Palestine has given but the reports misinterpret both the document itself and subsequent statements by Hamas leaders. Sallah Al-Bardawil, a Hamas spokesman to the Palestinian Legislative Council, stated on 27 June, "We expressed our agreement to a Palestinian state and territory occupied in 1967, the West Bank and Gaza, but we did not say we agreed to two states". Moreover, instead of representing any considerable concession to Israel, the document constitutes a large step backwards from any peaceful resolution to the conflict. The Palestinian Authority has repeatedly given its commitment to end the use of violence and terrorism. This was a fundamental element of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which began in 1990. The prisoners' document clearly violates this promise, even though its commitment has remained largely rhetorical. Hamas has announced that the prisoners' document expressly allows the organisation to continue armed resistance, including within Israel itself.
I welcome the Government's repeated commitment to maintain the level of Ireland's bilateral assistance to the Palestinians in 2006. Like all in this House I have called for a continuation of humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people.
This is consistent with Ireland's long-standing support to the Palestinian people. I am also pleased that the EU has clearly stated it will continue to provide all the necessary assistance to meet the basic needs of the Palestinian people. EU assistance will be continued with the establishment of a temporary international mechanism to channel assistance directly to the Palestinian people. This will bring total EU aid to the Palestinian people so far this year to €259 million.
Israel responded to the international pressure for humanitarian aid. On 2 July it opened two border crossings to allow the passage of food and fuel.
On the first day alone, 50 truck loads of basic food items, 100,000 litres of diesel fuel for generators, 80,000 litres of gasoline and 200 tons of natural gas for cooking were transferred to Gaza. Israel has promised to continue to monitor the humanitarian situation and will co-ordinate the transfer of necessary goods with international relief organisations.
Productive peace negotiations can only take place when both sides are ready and able to make the necessary concessions. Hamas has long been on the EU's list of terrorist organisations and it has done nothing to justify changing European policy towards this organisation. Hamas is currently unwilling to meet the very basic conditions of the Quartet, namely, an end to violence, recognition of Israel's right to exist and recognition of the agreements already signed by the Palestinian Authority.
I was appalled by the speech I have just heard. It was extraordinarily one-sided and completely neglectful of the human rights of the Palestinian people. I have always supported the right of the state of Israel to exist. I would like to think the Government could do something positive by quietly facilitating a meeting between some of the leaders of the opposing sides in an out-of-the-picture situation. They must meet directly.
The attitude of the Israeli Government is perfectly clear. I once introduced Mr. Olmert's brother for a briefing session here. When he arrived at the briefing, 50% of the audience were pro-Israel. By the time he left, 100% were anti-Israel. His brother is no bloody different. In recent days Mr. Olmert, stated "I want no-one [not soldiers, not guerillas but no-one] to sleep at night in Gaza. I want them to know what it feels like". Well, they do.
I am on the side of the victims and of human rights, not just of Palestinians but of Israelis — I would like to think everyone in the House was on that side also. The Israeli Interior Minister, Ronny Bar-On stated that it was the Israeli intention in attacking Haniya's office to compromise the Hamas Government's ability to rule. Where does that leave democracy?
It is an astonishing and dreadful situation. Irish Christian and relief agencies have expressed their horror at the situation and its impact on the civilian population, who are in nothing less than an open-air concentration camp in Gaza. Thirty-four Palestinian civilians have been killed, leaving civilian casualties at a rate of four to one between the sides. Have we any notion of what an asymmetrical war is? Israel is administering collective punishment, which is illegal under international law.
I have been asked by Christian Aid to ask the following questions on the record. Will the Government recognise we are facing a humanitarian crisis which is deteriorating at an alarming rate? Will it respond accordingly? What is it doing to ensure international law is being upheld on all sides? It is not doing anything. Will the Government make a clear statement that only negotiations based on UN resolutions and international law, not unilateral moves by Israel, can bring lasting peace to both Israelis and Palestinians?
When Ireland held the Presidency of the European Union, I asked that we should move to implement in its entirety the external association agreement, which gives favourable trading status to Israel, because human rights protocols are attached to that agreement. We have done nothing. There are massive daily infringements of the most basic fundamental human rights yet nothing is done. Apart from one or two points, the amendment is just pious waffle.
A recent editorial in The Irish Times stated:
The kidnap of an Israeli soldier, Cpl Gilad Shalit, by Palestinian militants provoked an Israeli military occupation of Gaza, collective punishment of civilians there who are deprived of electricity, and the arrest of dozens of Hamas ministers and leaders in the West Bank. These are disproportionate actions in response to the kidnap.
I agree. However, what is the difference between a kidnap and an arrest? The Israeli army entered Palestinian territory and arrested or kidnapped politicians. I am amazed the House is not inflamed about this issue. I am a member of the Interparliamentary Union and have attended four of its meetings. This is one of the items that is always on the agenda. Politicians are supposed to be immune from this kind of bullying. From what the Israeli Interior Minister has said, the Israeli intention is perfectly clear, namely, to destabilise and destroy.
Mr. Bush, Israel's patron, describes it as "regime change". It is a frightening comment on democracy that because we do not like the people who are elected, we can get rid of them. I do not particularly like Hamas. As a gay man, I am certain I would not last ten minutes with them. However, that does not mean I can countermand the sovereign authority given to Hamas by the people of Gaza.
I extend my sympathy to the family of Corporal Gilad Shalit. It is an awful situation and must be horrifying for him, sitting there as a pawn. However, everything that is done is making the situation worse. The prisoners' document was important, despite the way it was airily dismissed by Senator Mooney. I raised it on the Order of Business the day it emerged and it clearly and historically showed a degree of movement which should have been encouraged. It was the wreckers on both sides who subverted the document. They also outmanoeuvred the Palestinian President, who was appealing over the heads of the armed factions to the Palestinian people. Now, by this action, and I believe deliberately, the population in Gaza has been forced to support Hamas because it is the legitimate Government.
Consider what has happened to the power stations, an issue I also raised. It is not just that the people do not have electricity to read the Koran at night; they do not have pumps for water or sewerage. I know this because to his immense credit, my ex-partner, Ezra Yitzhak, has been assisting in this area. I know the level of degradation to which the Israeli Government is trying to drive these people by destroying sewerage facilities, water supplies and health clinics through measures such as planning permissions and judicial restrictions in an area over which it has no legitimate control. However, nobody in Europe utters a squeak.
Why is this happening? It is because of the dark shadow of the criminal regime entrenched in Washington——
——which has spread its plague all over the world, tearing up the Geneva Convention, rubbishing human rights and claiming might is right. Of course, we lickspittle to that regime because we only have dollar signs in our eyes.
It is a bad day for this country that we cannot stand up for the underdog. I stood up all the time for the Israelis when they were under pressure, because I was interested in human rights. I make no apology for supporting not only the rights of the Israeli civilian population but also those of the Palestinians, who are victimised in this atrocious campaign.
I was taken aback by Senator Mooney's speech. Listening to him talk about Hamas was resonant of the DUP talking about Sinn Féin. We know what Hamas is. The suggestion that somebody on this side of the House is in some way about to support or speak in favour of Hamas, or to imply such, does not become Senator Mooney. He knows us well enough to know we have gone well beyond that point in our lives.
The reality is that all of us have been engrossed in this issue for many years. I knew President-Chairman Mr. Arafat for many years. I argued this point with him. From the time Israel moved towards supporting a homeland for Palestinians, I urged that he would change his position, and he did so. Members of the House, such as Senator Norris and I, were supportive of the PLO and the Palestinians but on the day of the first suicide bombing, we made our position clear. We made it clear to the Palestinian regime it was unacceptable and wrong.
Through all my years of involvement with this issue, I have also had good relations with the Histadrut and the labour movement in Israel. I have always felt there had to be a two-state solution, which is my position today.
I was disappointed when Hamas was elected. I felt the same as I did last year when the DUP was elected in the North. I said then as I say now that when the people speak, that voice must be accepted. I had the same discussion in this House almost ten years ago when the first Sinn Féin Deputy was elected. I said that when the people speak, we must accept the democratic mandate. That is the reality.
Hamas was elected and had to accept authority. Its past was behind it. They killed Irish soldiers, but so did the Israelis. Knocking one after the other off is bringing us nowhere.
There is no point in putting truisms into it. The reality is true. Although they moved in the recent document, I agree with Senator Moylan that they did not move far enough. I would say no word in favour of the Hamas constitution or any of its activities to date. I hope that with a democratic mandate and parliamentary responsibility it will do the right thing. Our goal is to make that happen.
Kidnapping can be called by different names by different people in different places, from rendition to kidnapping. It is equally bad wherever it happens and whoever does it. The idea that elected parliamentarians would be imprisoned by a foreign state must be anathema to all of us in this House. That is where it is wrong. It is wrong to continue to look at embargoes and sanctions because this treats babies, soldiers and terrorists alike. It is wrong and we cannot support it.
I want the Government to take up the cudgels, as it has always done. The current Government has shown courage in dealing with the Middle Eastern question and has been strong enough to take an independent view. It is time for that to be done again where necessary. It is not about taking sides but about making a judgement on what is wrong, when it is wrong and saying so. It is not about being on the side of left or right or being a liberal or otherwise but about making an ethical judgement as a person on what is right and wrong. It is about leaving history behind us and looking forward. That is what we must do. The West has let this go. Palestinians are suffering without electricity, water, light, with their hospitals affected, with soldiers, terrorists and babies being treated alike. It is wrong. It is time for the West to awake to this.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I also welcome the Government's continuing efforts to bring about dialogue between the parties in the Middle East, particularly in this region. I served three tours of duty in the area. To reinforce what Senator Mooney said, I wore the blue beret and stood beside the Palestinian people under Israeli shelling. Equally I stood side by side with Israelis in the face of Palestinian terrorist attacks. I say this because I have spoken on this subject a number of times and I am not afraid to condemn either side when appropriate.
I disagree with the Labour Party's motion, which is defective in many respects. I will return to this point momentarily but first I welcome the preamble to the motion, which notes "with alarm the deteriorating relations between Israel and the Palestinian people" and states that "violence in this situation is both morally unjustified and politically counter productive". From the tone of the motion I assume "violence" means Israeli violence and I agree that this is politically counterproductive. There are already signs on the ground in Gaza that Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade and the military wing of Hamas have buried their differences and are prepared to fight any Israeli invasion shoulder to shoulder.
This begs the question, what of Palestinian violence? The Labour Party's motion fails to identify the immediate cause of the crisis, namely, the kidnap of an Israeli soldier from within Israel's pre-1967 borders. While Senator Ryan referred to this, it is not in the motion. If the Government were foolish enough to acquiesce to Labour's demand to end the EU embargo on dealing with the Hamas-led government of Palestinian territories it would encourage further terrorist outrages.
Members should make no mistake. The Labour Party's motion calls on the Government to reward violence and show that it can be justified. It is a morally bankrupt motion that the end justifies the means and is counter-productive. I find it disturbing, as, I am sure, do the Labour Party's partners in Fine Gael.
Turning aside from the motion, I find RTE's constant reference to the "capture" of an Israeli disturbing.
The use of the word "capture" implies a certain legitimacy. It implies that the Israeli soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit, has, in the words of the Geneva Convention, "fallen into the power of the enemy and as such will be accorded the status of a prisoner of war". While I would like nothing more than this to be the case, I fear that young Corporal Shalit has been kidnapped and will pay the ultimate price should the Israelis mount a rescue mission. It remains to be seen whether his fate will be that of a prisoner of war or a murder victim.
In the meantime I suggest people sharpen their editorial act on how they refer to this. It brings back memories of the one Irish soldier who is still missing, subject to the same type of incursion. Private Kevin Joyce, from the Minister of State's part of the country, is the only Irish soldier whose body we never got back. Was he afforded the rights of a prisoner of war? Was his family afforded the right to give him a Christian burial? The answer is "No".
The Labour Party's motion states that the Palestinian Government has made considerable concessions to the Israelis. I am at a loss to understand what those concessions are. For the sake of argument I assume the motion refers to the so-called prisoners' document. This was adopted earlier this year by Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, including members of Hamas and the Fatah factions, as a basis for conciliation between the rival factions and it was subsequently ratified by the leadership of both organisations after revision. Initially the global response to this document was positive, as it appeared to implicitly recognise the state of Israel within its pre-1967 borders.
However, it has subsequently emerged that the Hamas charter, which does not recognise Israel's right to exist, remains in force. In addition, the prisoners' document seeks to secure the right of return of refugees to their homes and properties from which they were evicted and to compensate them. This is not acceptable to the Israelis. I touched on this issue in April when we last debated Palestine. I asked then what of those who were dispossessed following the 1948 war, many of whom still live in refugee camps throughout the region. Should these people also have the right to return to their former homes?
There are more than 200,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank and a further 200,000 in and around Jerusalem. The demographic upheaval of rehousing the settlers inside Israel's 1967 borders can hardly be imagined. It is inconceivable that Israel would also allow the return of many hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees. What of the 200,000 Israelis living in and around Jerusalem, which the prisoners' document claims as the capital of an independent Palestinian state? I am at a loss to understand what concessions the Hamas-led Palestinian Government has made to the Israelis and without genuine concessions I see no justification for the immediate relaxation of the EU embargo.
I support the Labour Party's call for an immediate and unequivocal ceasefire by all parties to the conflict and immediate negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Government. The Israeli reaction to the abduction, kidnap or capture of Corporal Shalit is a questionable response to a complex situation by an untried and inexperienced government. There does not seem to be any plan behind the Israeli actions either politically or militarily beyond progressive escalation.
An Israeli spokesperson reflecting a lack of clarity said words to the effect that their action was a result of the kidnap but on the other hand it will not cease until rocket attacks cease. This is a mixed message. In any event the Israelis could not halt the missile attacks while inside Gaza. It is hard to see how their attacks will be more effective from outside. The arrest of the Hamas political leadership will do little to influence the Hamas militants on the ground while military incursions rarely do anything but complicate and exacerbate the situation.
There is no doubt that missile attacks and this latest incident have tried the patience of the ordinary Israeli people who have demanded a strong approach to the situation. The traditional eye for an eye approach, however, will do little to calm the situation. I would not be surprised if the only people to be strengthened by the present situation are the Hamas and the hawks within the Israeli military and political systems and that will benefit no one. If the Israeli Government wishes to make a show of strength then it should not react with force to the kidnap of its soldier. If it really wishes to show strength it should open a dialogue with the Palestinian President for only through dialogue will a fair and just peace be reached.
There is little difference between the motion and the Government amendment but I support the Government amendment because we all want peace in the Middle East. Given the people here listening to this debate and the coincidence between the Corporal Shalit kidnap and our own situation, I appeal to the Hamas Government to give us back Private Joyce.
A Leas-Chathaoirligh is a Sheanadóirí, is cúis mhór áthais é dom a bheith ar ais arís chun labhairt ar an rún tábhachtach seo faoin saol casta cuimsithe i reigiúin an mheánoirthear. Tréaslaím le gach éinne a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht go dtí seo. Tá mé ag súil le éisteacht leis na daoine eile tar éis tamaill bhig.
I am grateful for the opportunity to address this House, on behalf of the Government, on the dangerous situation in the occupied Palestinian territories. The Private Members' motion tabled here today raises very important issues. The amendment submitted by the Government addresses these issues in detail, and in their overall political context.
The Government is deeply concerned about the continuing deterioration in the situation in the occupied territories. We are particularly concerned about the impact of the security situation, on the lives and welfare of the Palestinian people and we have made that clear in every international forum. There is a very real risk of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. This can be avoided only if political leaders on all sides face up to and meet their responsibilities.
Over the past week, the Government has been active within the European Union and the United Nations in promoting a peaceful outcome to the current crisis. We have also maintained contact with the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority, and have conveyed a simple and clear message. It is in the interests of both the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples that all parties now demonstrate the courage to act with maximum restraint. They must continue to pursue every diplomatic opportunity, to resolve the immediate crisis peacefully, without further death and injury.
We have called for the immediate and unconditional release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit. I know that this House will join with me in repeating that call today. We have also called for an end to all violence in the occupied territories, from whatever source. This includes the rocket attacks from Gaza against Israeli population centres.
In urging all parties to avoid actions which will cause further escalation of an already dangerous situation we have addressed a particular appeal to the Israeli Government. Israel has undertaken military operations which it states have the aim of achieving the release of the kidnapped soldier and the ending of rocket attacks from Gaza. To date the military activity of the past week has not resulted in civilian casualties on the alarming scale documented by the United Nations for the immediately preceding period.
However, the Government shares the widespread concern at the serious effect of Israeli military actions on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. We are especially concerned at the destruction of essential civilian infrastructure, particularly the ongoing impact on ordinary Palestinian families, of the bombing of the Gaza power plant last week. We know well from our own history that it is not only wrong to respond to the actions of unrepresentative armed groups by imposing suffering, directly or indirectly, on the general population but it is also invariably counter-productive.
The European Union has stated clearly in recent days that it is essential that any military operations are carried out in full accordance with the principles of international law and that all parties must act on their clear responsibility to protect civilian lives. This is a time for patient dialogue, which requires great sensitivity and, at times, total secrecy. There is no military solution to either the current crisis, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is essential, even in the midst of a crisis, to work to create the conditions for political dialogue. We remain seriously concerned at the arrest last week of large numbers of democratically-elected Palestinian representatives, including members of the Hamas Government. Unless they have charges to face we believe they should be released from custody immediately.
The Government is convinced that the events of recent days, together with the political and security developments since the start of the year, serve to emphasise the basic reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Peace and security for the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples can be assured only through the negotiation of a viable two-state solution. Ireland has never been found wanting in pursuing this end, at any level or opportunity. The temptation, born of frustration, to pursue progress by unilateral action will not serve the interests of either party. The Government has worked hard with our partners to ensure that in the face of setbacks, the European Union remains actively engaged in the process, with a clear and balanced message for both sides.
A lasting, peaceful and just resolution of the conflict will have to involve agreement on the coexistence of two viable states. The European Union will not recognise any changes to the pre-1967 borders which are not arrived at by agreement between the two parties and Ireland stands with the Union on that. Both parties have clear obligations under the Quartet roadmap, and under international law. The roadmap may effectively be in abeyance at this time but it remains wholly relevant. It sets out the principles and the practical steps to which the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority must commit if there is to be a sustainable settlement.
The European Union has been consistent in its message for the Israeli Government. We have encouraged Prime Minister Olmert in his stated intention to reach an agreement with the Palestinian Authority, represented by President Mahmoud Abbas. The European Union has also consistently and strongly conveyed its serious concerns about Israeli practices in the occupied territories which threaten the viability of a two-state solution and which are contrary to international law. These include the continuing expansion of settlements, the illegal construction of the security barrier, or wall, on occupied Palestinian land, the demolition of homes and activities in and around Jerusalem and in the Jordan Valley. The Government has also made these points directly to the Israeli Government. We will continue to do so in a spirit of constructive dialogue and in the interests of the welfare of the Palestinian and the Israeli peoples.
We fully recognise the right, indeed the duty, of the Israeli Government to protect its citizens against both targeted and random terrorist attacks. However, measures taken to strengthen the security of Israeli citizens must not be at the expense of the basic human rights of Palestinians. We are particularly concerned that there should be an end to all extra-judicial killings, which are contrary to international law. Such acts do nothing to provide long-term security. They simply add to the already poisonous and dangerous atmosphere of bitterness and alienation, which has blighted the lives of too many generations of Palestinians and Israelis over the years.
The credibility of the European Union'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 and we always have been. The European Union must be seen by both to adhere consistently to a scrupulously balanced approach. This is vital. We have been entirely consistent in our approach to the Palestinian people and their representatives.
The European Union is the strongest supporter of the Palestinian people internationally. I have seen that at first hand.
Successive Governments have ensured that Ireland has made an important contribution to development of EU policy on the rights of the Palestinians. The EU has steadfastly supported the Oslo process, which is based on the Israeli-Palestinian accords which have been negotiated since September 1993. No process that is based on the need for compromise and accommodation will perfectly meet the sincerely held positions of both parties. It could be argued that the temptation to follow a unilateral approach in recent times was born of the frustration of the Israeli public at the slow pace of the process and the growing perception among the Palestinians that the process was being applied in an unbalanced and unfair manner. It would be dangerously irresponsible of those who wish to help the various parties to cast aside the achievements of the past 12 years because of serious setbacks and slow progress.
The democratic elections in Palestine in January of this year were held under the Oslo process. Rightly, there was universal praise for the manner in which they were conducted in difficult circumstances. Hamas, which won a clear majority of seats and formed a government in March, is a movement in transition. It is not long since it was engaged in a campaign of terrorist violence, including suicide bomb attacks, against Israeli civilians. Such attacks have been alluded to during this debate. Hamas undertook to observe a suspension of violence last year. It showed some political pragmatism by using the Oslo process, which it had rejected, to achieve power by democratic means. Hamas must complete a full transition to democratic politics and commit to the peace process.
The EU and the wider international community have set out the steps which Hamas must take. It must give up violence, recognise Israel's right to exist and commit to the agreements which were negotiated by the PLO and the Palestinian Authority. We have strongly supported the courageous efforts of the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, to persuade Hamas through a national dialogue to commit to the platform of peace on which he was directly elected and to accept the objective of a two-state solution.
The agreement that was reportedly reached by most of the Palestinian groupings at the end of June has not yet been finalised. Having studied the main elements of the initial agreement, we are convinced that, if followed through, they have the potential in the right circumstances to help all parties to move on from the current deadlock. The crisis in Gaza has inevitably halted the internal Palestinian political process. We must do everything possible to support President Abbas as he works to conclude that process. We fully support him in that regard.
It seems clear that the agreed document does not represent full adherence by Hamas to the three principles outlined by the international community. However, the Government has consistently stated that if there is clear and significant political movement by Hamas in this direction and there is an absence of violence it will argue strongly for an appropriate EU response. It is a matter of public record that the Government has signalled that clearly within the EU and at UN level.
The EU will continue to encourage positive political movement by the Government of the Palestinian Authority. It is committed to preserving the democratic functioning of the authority's institutions. I cannot accept that it is reasonable to argue that we should continue to provide capacity-building assistance to the Hamas Government, irrespective of its attitude to the peace process. That would not be possible. The EU Commission has suspended its provision of direct assistance to the Palestinian Government since last April. I stress that the EU has not suspended its provision of assistance to the Palestinian people.
The Palestinian people should not face the prospect of a humanitarian crisis because of the reluctance of their Government to accept its responsibilities and adhere to the basic rules of the peace process. In recent years, overall assistance to the Palestinians from the EU has amounted to around €500 million per annum.
Approximately half of this funding has been administered by the EU Commission. Over the past month, the EU has taken the lead in developing a temporary international mechanism to channel assistance directly to the Palestinian people who deserve it, need it and are getting it.
The temporary mechanism focuses on essential services, starting with health and includes a programme of vital assistance to families in need. The EU Commission has announced an allocation of €105 million under the temporary mechanism, thereby bringing the total level of EU aid to the Palestinian people so far this year to €259 million. Ireland has argued strongly for the widest possible coverage of needs, through the temporary mechanism, and the widest possible international donor involvement, including by the Arab states. It is essential for Israel to find a way to resume the transfer of withheld Palestinian tax and customs revenues, which is an issue that Ireland has consistently raised. The revenues in question are essential to the avoidance of a humanitarian crisis. Their retention has been the chief element of the financial crisis in the Palestinian territories.
In my current role, I have been party to many meetings about the complex and tragic situation in the Middle East. Such meetings have been held at many levels, including EU Council, Heads of State and at EU ministerial level, including the General Affairs and External Relations Council and Council of Europe ministerial levels. Neither Ireland nor the EU has failed to take a strong, constant, consistent and even-handed attitude to this sad situation. If the EU had not engaged in such persistent efforts, there would not be any real recognition or mobility in this situation at international level.
The international Quartet of the EU, the UN, the US and Russia has helped to make practical, pragmatic and sensible proposals on a daily basis. Mr. Javier Solana, who represents the EU at secretary general and high representative level, and successive EU Presidency representatives have made significant and positive efforts to develop an environment of peace and mutual respect in the region. Ireland has engaged with them fully at every level, including at diplomatic level. We are very proud of the work our diplomatic team does on a daily basis at every level on behalf of this country and the Government.
I reaffirm the Government's strong commitment to providing a balanced long-term programme of bilateral assistance to Palestine. That assistance amounted to over €4 million in 2005. The current level of funding will be maintained this year. We will respond generously to humanitarian developments, including by supporting the Palestinian office in Ireland.
I appreciate the strength of feeling in the Seanad on the current problems in Palestine. It reflects the Irish people's real sense of concern in this regard. The Government shares the strong belief that the current crisis must be resolved peacefully through dialogue and diplomacy, without further death or injury. The only people with an interest in an alternative outcome are those who do not want a peaceful settlement to the Israeli -Palestinian conflict. We are determined to maintain Ireland's active involvement, directly and as an EU member state, in the urgent promotion of a negotiated two-state solution. That is the only viable way forward for the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. I commend the Government's amendment to the Seanad for its approval.
I thank the Minister of State for his balanced contribution. He referred in his speech to what he termed the Government's "balanced" and "long-term" approach. It is clear that it is balanced and that it focuses on the long term. The crisis being faced at present needs to be dealt with in the short term, however. Every hour that passes during the current crisis will make it harder to manage the problems in Palestine in the long term.
I thank the Minister of State for outlining what he described as the Government's "balanced" and "long-term" approach and I commend Senator Ryan on proposing this motion, which I support. As a democratically elected House, it is extremely important that the Seanad should discuss this matter of such global concern. Senator Minihan spoke earlier about RTE's coverage of the current difficulties in Palestine. My information on this issue comes largely from RTE reports. I commend RTE, and Mr. RichardCrowley in particular, for its extraordinarily well-informed and extensive reports on the matter. I am glad that RTE has allowed Mr. Crowley to report the recent developments in Palestine to the people of this country.
The Seanad is an elected House. While many people did not like the result of the Palestinian election and do not like the Hamas-led Government, they cannot deny that the Government of Palestine was democratically elected. It is often the case that people do not like the results of elections, but in this case a Government was democratically elected to represent the Palestinian people and it must be treated as such.
The Hamas Government must commit to the peace process. It must be our stand that all parties commit to the process. However, when was the last time democratically-elected representatives were bombed into a peace process? When was the last time a people were starved into submission and a peace process? If they were bombed, starved or terrorised to the negotiating table, did it achieve the right long-term result? I do not believe it would have. Is the Israeli strategy designed to build trust and produce a balanced long-term solution? It does not appear to be.
The pictures of the building of the West Bank barrier are outrageous to our democracy. We should look to examples of our history to see how we have proceeded with our peace process. All Members want a peace process between Israel and Palestine. In our peace process, there had to be a ceasefire first and a buying into the process. Recently, during the comments on the legacy of the former Taoiseach, Mr. Charles Haughey, it was recalled there were times to keep the door open to people who many would consider terrorists. In the Palestinian case, it is a democratically-elected Government.
The EU approach to the process is very difficult and it must do more for it. The EU embargo against the Hamas Government is not the way forward and I do not support it. The reason the motion does not refer to Corporal Gilad Shalit is that when we submitted it last Thursday, we hoped his abduction would have been resolved.
Members on both sides of the House have expressed strong views for one side or the other. The Minister has produced a balanced long-term approach. It may appear to some that our motion is not balanced. It represents, however, the views of many people — that there has to be a pull-back. One speaker asked what violence the motion referred to. We are referring to all violence. The House must recognise, however, there is a disproportionate burden of suffering inflicted on the Palestinian people.
I do not believe the media are filtering information on this issue. It is from journalists such as Richard Crowley and Robert Fisk, who has written on this topic, that I get my information. I have not visited either state unlike many Members who have and are better informed than me. I am processing my information as most members of the public do. It is clear there is a disproportionate burden on the Palestinian people. Stating that does not mean the House is not supportive of the demand for the Hamas Government to commit to the peace process. What is happening is not acceptable and cannot advance the peace process.
I congratulate the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Treacy, for his speech on this motion. He began and finished the speech addressing the humanitarian aspect of the situation, which has not been a feature of the debate. We can all apportion blame, pointing the finger at the terrorism of the Israeli state or Hamas. The dominant concern of the Government and the EU must be the humanitarian dimension. It is worth noting the conclusions of the EU Presidency of the European Council meeting of 15 and 16 June. It states:
The European Council urges Israel to resume transfers of withheld Palestinian tax and customs revenues which are essential in averting a crisis in the Palestinian territories.
The European Council stresses the need for a coordinated international response to the deterioration of the humanitarian, economic and financial situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The European Council endorses the proposed temporary international mechanism to channel assistance directly to the Palestinian people, which has been drawn up by the Commission following consultations within the EU as well as with Quartet members, major donors, international financial institutions and partners in the region. The European Council appreciates the Commission's work so far and requests it to continue urgently establishing the mechanism, in conjunction with Quartet members, other key international partners and the Palestinian Authority President's Office.
The European Council agrees that, in order to achieve an immediate impact, the mechanism will focus on essential supplies and running costs for social services and health, supply of utilities including fuel, and social allowances. Other donors, including Arab states, are invited to provide funding and to consider early and substantial contributions.
One would have thought other Arab states would have been the immediate donors before the EU. The EU, far from ignoring these matters, is deeply concerned with them. I support Christian Aid's position. On two occasions I have raised the matter at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs and once at the Forum for Europe with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and, more recently, the Finnish ambassador. I am disappointed that in the Finnish EU Presidency's objectives only a passing reference is made to Palestine. The humanitarian aspect has to be the dominant one in the EU's approach. Finland has a good record in this area. I appeal to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, through the GAERC and the Finnish EU Presidency, to keep this matter dominant in discussions on the Middle East peace process. Our objective is peace but we must concentrate on the people most affected, namely, those on the ground.
President Abbas must be supported because he is in a difficult position in dealing with the Hamas Government. He has shown himself to be a good leader and keen to negotiate. He is the key to progress in the peace process.
There is also the matter of the body of Private Kevin Joyce. I, and others, met the late Mr. Arafat on several occasions. At one time, the former Senator Mick Lanigan was very vigorous and vocal on the need to recover Private Joyce's body. At the time, Mr. Arafat gave undertakings that he would try to do so. I believe he did everything in his powers but to no avail. We must concentrate more on resolving the issue.
Law is law. One cannot bulldoze houses and detain parliamentarians. If a state does so, it must lay charges and not just do it unilaterally.
I thank Senator Dardis for sharing time with me. I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Treacy, and commend him on the quality of his speech. I also welcome the Palestinian envoy to Dublin, Dr. Hikmat Ajjuri, who is present in the Distinguished Visitors Gallery.
I wish to express my appreciation to the Labour Party for tabling this motion, which I regard as well-crafted, in its Private Members' time. Irrespective of the different wording in the Government amendment which was written by officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs who are there to provide back-up, it would be worthwhile if we were to produce an agreed statement at the end of the debate. This would be more helpful in the circumstances in which we are trying to achieve a reconciliation between two different countries.
This crisis began with the killing of approximately 34 civilians by the Israeli Government in the Gaza area. One family was wiped out on the beach there. This was a horrific act by the Israeli State against the oppressed people of Palestine and Gaza. The reaction by the group that took the young soldier, Gilad Shalit, has been most unproductive. In the circumstances, the group should have been conscious that taking such an action would create an opportunity for the Israeli Government to hit back with extreme force, which has been the case. I commend the father of the young corporal for his approach. He is a most noble man. In what is clearly a most difficult hour for him, he has called on the Israeli Government and other parties not to take any action. He just wants his son returned. The only way his son will be returned to the family is with the assistance of the Israelis in terms of the action they take.
In bombing the power station, the Israelis have inflicted the most serious damage on the Gaza region. We cannot even comprehend what the effect of that will be. It appears that the Israelis will neither rebuild the plant or allow this to be done. Our representative in the region, Mr.Holohan, is doing tremendous work on behalf of the Government there. I commend him and his assistants for their work.
This is an intensely worrying situation as the crisis is deepening. I appeal to both parties to return to the negotiating table. There is no alternative to negotiation. Parliamentarians who are Ministers in the Hamas Government have been arrested and are currently in custody. Hamas was elected as the legitimate Government of the Palestinian people and we must accept this fact. The president has been a great man of peace and a solution will be found if he is allowed to work with the Israeli Government. I commend the amendment to the motion and thank the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, for his excellent contribution to the debate. We should all co-operate in this regard.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, and his officials. I support the Labour Party motion and commend the party on giving its time to a discussion on this worthy subject. I have never previously spoken on Middle East affairs in the Seanad and I am pleased to have the opportunity. Along with other Members of the Oireachtas, I had the chance to travel to Israel and Palestine to witness at first-hand some of the difficulties that exist in that part of the world. It was an eye-opener for me.
Senator O'Meara stated she did not have first-hand knowledge of this issue and before that visit I would also have been in that category. One has to see what goes on there to understand the entrenched nature of the difficulties that exist. We have difficulties on this island between North and South and between the different communities contained within the island of Ireland but it is nothing compared to the entrenched nature of the problems in Palestine and Israel.
Leaving Palestine on that occasion I was doubtful about the future development of the area or future co-operation between the two communities because of the level of bitterness that exists. We have had a fair amount of that even in tonight's debate. There is an old saying, "the more heat, the less light". We have had much heat in this discussion and people should reflect more on what they say because this issue will not be resolved by shouting. There are wrongs on both sides and I believe everyone accepts that. There is no use in pointing the finger at either camp and levelling all the blame in one direction because it is clear that this is not the case. That said, issues need to be resolved and I am pleased the Labour Party tabled this motion so we can discuss these issues.
I visited Palestine and Israel last year and I had the opportunity to see at first-hand the difficulties people in both communities, but particularly those in the Palestinian community, experience in their daily lives. The Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, gave a very balanced account of the situation there to the House. He referred to the duty of the Israeli Government to protect its citizens, which everyone would acknowledge. The Minister of State also spoke of the need to protect the civil liberties of the Palestinian people. Many of their civil liberties are abused and all too frequently removed.
On the occasion of the trip to the Middle East last year we had an opportunity to visit Bethlehem which is a place of great significance for Christians, Muslims and Jews. We saw at first-hand the wall that is being built around the city of Bethlehem. Some people who live in the city try to make a living from land they own outside it where they raise animals or tend olive groves. However, given the wall, they can no longer go about these simple tasks as they are restricted in everything they do.
That type of abuse is bound to have repercussions. The area is a fertile breeding ground for people who want to engage in terrorism. The Minister of State touched on this subject. Many of the actions of the Israeli Government have added fuel to the fire and made it easier for terrorist groups to recruit members. If we are to find a resolution we need to see bread and butter issues addressed, such as the construction of the wall — which is more than a wall in some areas — and the extension of water rights. The Palestinian Authority still has enormous difficulty in gaining access to water for their communities in both the West Bank and Gaza.
I could not believe that Palestinians were in most cases not allowed to travel on the main roads even in the occupied territories. They have to use the back roads as all the main roads are blocked off with boulders from the local villages. Thankfully, a number of groups are involved in trying to alleviate the situation. Reference was made to Christian Aid and other Government supported agencies that are trying to help those beleaguered Palestinian communities get on with their lives and have some sort of normality restored.
Previous speakers referred to the crucial role of President Abbas. It is important that we support him. The Government is doing its best in this regard. He is in a most awkward and invidious position in his role as President of the Palestinian Authority. I fully endorse what various speakers on both sides of the House have said on this issue. Members have also spoken about the arrest and detainment of elected public representatives of the Palestinian Authority. These people are being held without any sign of charges being pressed or actions being taken. This is a flagrant abuse of international law and should not be allowed to continue.
I commend the reporting of most of the major media outlets, including RTE, for which Richard Crowley does a very good and balanced job in his reporting of difficulties in this area. That is not an easy job.
Members have expressed concern about Hamas being a majority in the new Palestinian Government. Given the history of that organisation, I too am uneasy about this reality. I agree with Senator Mooney's observation that its constitution is a repugnant document. However, it is in the majority in the democratically elected Government of the Palestinian people and, as such, we must deal with it.
Senator O'Meara is correct that attempts to bomb or starve the Palestinian community to the negotiating table will not succeed. The correct approach is one of co-operation. The Hamas Government had made the first tentative steps towards recognising the state of Israel and moving further down the road to full democratisation of its procedures. There have been some backward steps in the intervening two weeks. I agree with previous speakers that the Palestinian people suffer disproportionately in comparison with the Israeli people. It is in the interests of all, however, to secure a balanced and agreed programme between the two communities so that they can continue to coexist into the future.
When I visited the area, I was struck by its beauty. We would all visit it on a regular basis if it was a secure destination. Standing outside the gate of the Garden of Gethsemane with Senator Leyden, I looked across at the Wailing Wall and the remains of the old temple and further across to the Kedron Valley. These are places with which all of us who are Christian are familiar from those parts of the Bible we remember. There is so much potential in this deeply divided region. We must engage in serious work to ensure there is co-operation between the two communities into the future.
Senator Minihan argued that in its reference to the "disproportionate burden of suffering inflicted on the Palestinian people by the actions of the Government and armed forces of Israel", the Labour Party motion was concerned only with violence inflicted by the Israeli authorities. That is not the case. Senator O'Meara made the point that it matters not from which side the violence comes. All violence must cease, whether it is inflicted by the Israeli Government or by militants on the Palestinian side. The motion is clear in this regard and I fully endorse it.
There are two parties to this conflict. On the one hand, we have a Jewish state that was carved out of territory that did not belong to it. Israel is very tough in all its dealings with others. I have been to that country and the attitude of its people is that they will never again endure another Auschwitz or Bergen-Belsen.
However, I do not believe Israel is a viable state because it is heavily dependent on the support of the United States. It is tough in its dealings not only with Muslims but also with Christians. I understand it is no longer possible to build a Christian church there. Each year the state encroaches further on the land of the Franciscans near Galilee and other places. These people are no saints, as they say in Donegal.
On the other hand, we have a group of people who have been dispossessed and are living in camps and enduring terrible conditions for almost four generations. I have been to Jericho, where the Israeli armed forces rolled up in tanks and gave the Palestinian residents 20 minutes to leave before their homes were bulldozed and the land given to settlers from other countries. The international community advised the Palestinians to engage in the democratic process by electing a Government. They did so and the Government they elected is led by Hamas. Like Islamic Jihad and perhaps Hizbollah, Hamas is a radical movement whose raison d'être is the destruction of the state of Israel.
Nevertheless, we cannot tolerate the arrest of democratically elected parliamentarians no matter who they are. Whether they are right wing or left wing makes no difference. A similar situation arose in Austria some time ago, and in Allende's Chile many years ago where because they did not approve of the person elected, the authorities did their best to oust him. At the Inter-Parliamentary Union meetings we attend all over the world, participants are always in agreement that democratically elected persons must not be removed from office by undemocratic means. If the Israelis do not like the Palestinian Government, that is too bad.
At the same time, we must appeal to Hamas to work with the Israelis to devise some means of agreeing a two-state system. I can see no other way forward. The situation is not entirely hopeless. There are many people working for peace. I pay special tribute to Mr. Pat Hynes who is in the Visitors Gallery today. He has worked on his own initiative to bring Israelis and Palestinians together, organising conferences and so on in an effort to get then talking to each other. There are many people who do wonderful work in Israel, East Timor and elsewhere. The situation is not without hope; it is a question of negotiating to secure the safety of both nations. The Israeli authorities react very violently to even imagined infringements and Hamas is not much better when it responds by lobbing missiles into Israeli territory. The approach outlined by the Minister in his speech is the only way forward.
I can find little to fault in the Labour Party's excellent motion. I do not see much difference between it and the amendment. We should try to work together on issues such as this. Our shared objective is the pursuit of peace in the Middle East. If there is no peace in that territory, there can be no peace in the rest of Europe and beyond.
I compliment the Minister of State on his speech which was exceptionally well crafted and balanced and very much in keeping with the excellent service provided by our diplomatic service. We have an exceptionally proud record in that regard. I also compliment the Labour Party group for using its Private Members' time to afford the opportunity for this important debate. It is certainly an improvement on having to depend on mere soundbites on the Order of Business. My contributions in that regard have been to the effect that the young Israeli soldier should be returned to his unit and his family. If Hamas had any involvement in this — of which we are not certain — and if it had any control over it, the correct action was to show magnanimity. It is interesting that one small human act can often unlock much compassion and co-operation.
I would like to believe Israel will also respond and release the hundreds of prisoners it has kidnapped during its many incursions into the Gaza territory. By so doing, it too might contribute to a new momentum. I recall that President George Bush, in speaking of the Middle East conflict, asked people to turn their backs on violence and embrace the democratic process. Hamas did so but the last votes were hardly counted before the spokespersons for Washington made it clear they would not deal with the people who had responded to the President's call to embrace democracy.
What form might this debate have taken if, for instance, the Hamas Government had kidnapped or captured 12 Israeli parliamentarians? I have no doubt that there would be an absolute outcry and rightly so. Such behaviour is against all ethics where war is concerned, if such ethics exist. Given that it was the other way around, however, we seem to have a different reaction. My fear in this regard is that we might tie ourselves into a particular world order. If one looks back on the history of the United States, in every place in which it intervened to in some way dislodge, dismantle or undermine a democratically elected Government, it always failed and left chaos.
I have seldom seen sanctions work in the manner in which they are being employed in this case. They ultimately harden attitudes. I heard Palestinian mothers interviewed on television recently and, even though they were suffering deprivation as a result of the current situation, their first reaction was to refer to their sons and daughters who had been killed.
When one uses a weighing scales in measuring human lives the battle is lost. No solution can be found by asking how many the Palestinians killed and how many the Israelis killed. Equally, no solution can be found if we do not recognise a democratically elected government. Even at the worst times during the conflict in Northern Ireland, no matter how tempted the British may have been, elected representatives were not arrested. This was because every dispute in the world must, ultimately, be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy. The vehicles for dialogue and diplomacy are those given a mandate by their people. The moment one undermines that system it goes out of control.
I accept that the Government's amendment is probably the best we can have. However, I see little difference between the Labour Party motion and the proposed amendment. I agree with Senator Lydon in hoping that, on some occasion, on an issue of this kind when we all wish to demonstrate that we are both democrats and humanitarians we should try to be united.
I compliment RTE fully on the job it is doing on this issue. We depend on the media for coverage of this complex issue and we should not be upset because people put forward different points of view. On the contrary, I would prefer to have dialogue in this Chamber, under the rules that govern this Chamber as an arm of Parliament than to depend on outside lobby groups with specific agendas. I am pleased to hear different views expressed this evening. The Government has served an exceptionally important role in bringing, as Senator O'Meara said, a balanced approach. If we leave this House this evening with a united approach we will have helped both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples.
I compliment Senator Ryan and the Labour Party on having this matter debated in their Private Members' time. The House should be complimented on its deep and consistent interest in the subject as shown by numerous interventions on the Order of Business.
The situation is a sad and tragic one. The Israeli Government has adopted a policy of massive retaliation for much of the past 50 years to any attack or offence and I do not underestimate the threats to which it has sometimes been subjected. This policy has, manifestly, not been successful. Israel has had to withdraw from the Gaza strip and there is no substitute for negotiated agreement. Equally, the attacks, of a fundamentalist character, on the state of Israel have not improved the position of the Palestinian people and they have lost much territory.
Much experience can be drawn from the Northern Ireland peace process. Last week the Financial Times posited what might have happened had the British Government adopted Israeli-type tactics, including arresting Government Ministers in Dublin and carrying out systematic raids south of the Border, during the Troubles. One can only imagine what the consequences could have been.
The Government has taken a balanced and moderate approach to this issue and has been a good influence in the EU for several decades. However, some of the preconditions for negotiation and demands being made of Palestinians are simply unrealistic. Acceptance of the state of Israel will be achieved only through agreement, not through the setting of preconditions.
I do not wish to suggest the situation in Northern Ireland and that in the Middle East are similar. However, I feel we have much to offer from the point of view of a peace process. It seems as though slowly, gradually and, unfortunately, very painfully, Hamas is beginning to move in the direction of a realistic alternative. We are probably in a better position to assist than most EU member states.
I apologise if I gabble because I want to refer to a number of things. I thought there was a united view in the House on this issue, with one or two exceptions. A couple of speeches were entirely wrong about our motives, our omissions and about certain realities. I will not dignify some of the more abusive comments by even making reference to them because there are many in this House who wish to be serious about this issue and keep an even-handed view on what is an extremely difficult and human crisis.
I have only one reason for identifying in this motion a disproportionate suffering on the part of the Palestinian people and that is because it is an undisputable fact. No Israeli children will die tonight for the want of clean water or because their drinking water is polluted by sewage or because there is no electricity. Nobody has the political or military capacity to do that to Israel. There are many thousands of Israeli children. One Israeli soldier has been incorrectly kidnapped captured and detained in Gaza somewhere. Please God he is still alive. There are at least 1,000 Palestinians detained without trial by Israel. That is what I mean by disproportionate and it is the only argument I have with the speech by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Treacy.
The Minister of State's speech was finely crafted a speech as one can get from the Department of Foreign Affairs. The Department can craft them very well and I mean that in the best, most positive sense. I have a very high opinion of the Department and its staff, even though I have had disagreements with it. The fundamental flaw in our policy is not the even-handed nature of our rhetoric, condemnation or support but the absolutely uneven-handed nature of our actions.
One of the conditions that has been imposed on Hamas is that it must give up violence, unconditionally, and if it does not, we will not talk to it. We have never said to Israel that it must give up violence, unconditionally, or we will not talk to it. We have wrung our hands, wept, rhetorically at least, and said we wished it would. We have told Hamas that it must recognise Israel's right to existence. We have spent years but still have not got unequivocal, unambiguous acceptance by Israeli Governments of the right to existence of a Palestinian state. We have told Hamas that it must commit itself to agreements already made but the Israeli Government is not committed to agreements already made and has made that perfectly clear. The former Prime Minister, Mr. Ariel Sharon made that clear, as did his rival for the leadership of Likud, Mr. BenjaminNetanyahu. The last Israeli Prime Minister who unequivocally supported the right to existence of a Palestinian state was Mr. Ehud Barak, who lost power a long time ago and been replaced in government.
Israel does not meet the conditions that are being imposed on Hamas. As if that is not bad enough, we will take no action in that regard. That is the fundamental flaw in the EU position, namely, that it took immediate and drastic action because a government was elected in the Palestinian territories that it did not like. It insisted that government must do certain things but did not make the same demands of Israel. That is why I cannot accept the Government amendment. The amendment supports not a form of criticism, a form of words or a form of political statement but a form of international action which is scandalously one-sided.
I urge the Senator to read the speech in its totality, paying particular attention to page 6 in the script that was made available to him.
I listened carefully to the speech. In one section, it refers to the kidnapped, captured and arrested members of the Hamas Government and urges Israel to either release or charge them. I say to that, "Hold on for one minute". Israel invades another country, arrests members of the Government of that country and we presume it has the right to charge them. Is that even-handed? Imagine if the Palestinians arrested a member of the Israeli Government, brought him or her to Jericho or Gaza and charged him or her with some of the offences that everybody accepts Israel has committed under international law. There would be international outrage at the mere suggestion that the Palestinians had the right to charge that person.
The speech also contains a peculiar request to Israel to find a way to resume the transfer of taxes, but to whom? The Minister of State will not say because what that request really means is that we wish that Israel would find some way of giving the Palestinian taxes back, but it must not give them to the Hamas Government because we are not giving money to that Government. Who is Israel to give the money to?
We try to be unequivocal about whatever Government is elected in Israel. We do not make distinctions. While we would all probably wish for a Labour Government in Israel, it does not have one, yet. However, we are now saying that one political leader, namely the President in the Palestinian territories, is acceptable but another political leader, the Prime Minister, is not. That is known as interfering in the internal affairs of another country and if it were anywhere else we would accept that it was a gross intrusion on sovereignty.
The fundamental disagreement between me and the Government is not about what we say, have done in the past or hope to do in the future in terms of aid or support, but about the fundamental fact that we punish the Palestinians and their elected representatives when they do not do what ——
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 30 (Cyprian Brady, Michael Brennan, Peter Callanan, Margaret Cox, Brendan Daly, John Dardis, Timmy Dooley, Liam Fitzgerald, Camillus Glynn, Brendan Kenneally, Tony Kett, Michael Kitt, Terry Leyden, Don Lydon, Marc MacSharry, Martin Mansergh, John Minihan, Paschal Mooney, Tom Morrissey, Pat Moylan, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Shane Ross, Eamon Scanlon, Jim Walsh, Kate Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Against the motion: 19 (James Bannon, Paul Bradford, Fergal Browne, Paddy Burke, Ulick Burke, Paul Coghlan, Noel Coonan, Maurice Cummins, Frank Feighan, Michael Finucane, Brian Hayes, Michael McCarthy, Joe McHugh, Kathleen O'Meara, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Brendan Ryan, Sheila Terry, Joanna Tuffy)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Minihan and Moylan; Níl, Senators Cummins and Ryan.
Amendment declared carried.