Middle East Conflict: Statements.

Thursday, 13 December 2001

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 546 No. 5

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Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  The last several days have seen very disturbing developments in the Middle East. There has been appalling loss of life, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has sharpened and the hopes of restarting the peace process have suffered a major setback just at the moment when the promising initiative taken by US Secretary of State Colin Powell was getting under way. Suicide attacks killed around 30 Israeli civilians at the beginning of December. The Government has utterly condemned these dreadful attacks on innocent civilians. No cause can justify such atrocities and mass murder will not advance any cause. The Government has repeatedly emphasised its abhorrence at the killing and wounding of innocent civilians, Palestinians and Israelis.

Unhappily, another brutal and horrific attack was carried out last night by Palestinian terrorists in which ten Israelis were shot dead. This is another slaughter of the innocent. It is totally unwarranted and marks a further very serious step towards chaos. However, this must be a time for cool heads to rule. The use of force, even in self-defence, must be measured. The gunmen and the bombers must not be allowed to take control of events. Once again, it is evident that political paralysis is the breeding ground for extreme violence.

We have repeatedly said that the only way to end this dreadful conflict is to resume the peace process. There is no military solution and to rely on force is to give in to despair. Neither the terrorist attacks nor the Israeli response have achieved their objectives. Violence has not brought greater freedom for the Palestinian people. The response has not brought greater security for the Israeli people. In both cases, the result has been the opposite of what was intended. Israelis and Palestinians must resume the search for peace. Agreement, if it is to come and if it is to last, must necessarily recognise both [1126] Israel's right to live in peace and security and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.

I issued two statements last week. In the first I expressed the Government's horror at the killing of Israeli civilians and I extended sympathy to the injured and the bereaved, to the Government of Israel, and to all who suffered in these atrocities. I urged the Israeli Government to persist in the path of peace. I said that, while it was essential that those directly responsible should be brought to justice, it would serve only the cause of those who are opposed to peace to go beyond this legitimate requirement.

I voiced the hope that the Israeli Government, even in this hour of great tragedy, would continue working to find a way to move forward and to bring an end to this conflict which had taken such a toll on human life. I also stressed the urgent need for the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to move quickly to renew security co-operation with the aim of ending the cycle of violence and to take all necessary steps to resume negotiations leading to a just, comprehensive and lasting solution. The statement also called upon the Palestinian Authority to do everything in its power to arrest and bring to justice the perpetrators of these awful acts and to prevent the repetition of such acts. Finally, I expressed the Government's grave concern at the Israeli helicopter attacks in the vicinity of President Arafat's headquarters. I called on Israel to desist from such attacks and to exercise the greatest restraint and prudence so as not to risk a further escalation of the conflict with unpredictable consequences.

In a second statement. I expressed my deep concern and disappointment at the extent and severity of the Israeli retaliation against the Palestinian Authority. We do not agree with the Israeli description of the Palestinian Authority as an entity that supports terrorism. We do not see what other partner Israel can have in fighting the terrorists nor do we see how destroying the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority and attacking its police stations and security forces can possibly help the Palestinian Authority to deal with the men of violence, as demanded by Israel. At the same time, these Israeli attacks, along with the continuing incursions into Palestinian territory, closure of Palestinian towns and settlement building undermine the domestic political support which President Arafat needs if he is to combat terrorism effectively. I wrote two letters to Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres extending the Government's sympathy and conveying our views on the situation. I also spoke to Shimon Peres on the telephone last Saturday and again person on Monday in Brussels both at the General Affairs Council and in a separate bilateral meeting.

I also addressed the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs on this matter on 4 December. Following its discussion, the select committee adopted a resolution deploring the escalating violence in the Middle East. The resolution also called on the Government to do all in its power to press for a resumption of peace talks directly, [1127] through the EU and the UN, and with other players. I am happy to assure the select committee that I am taking every opportunity to do so.

The Middle East was one of the major topics discussed at the General Affairs Council. A statement was issued after the meeting which said that only determined and concerted action by the European Union, the United Nations, the United States and Russia could help the parties break the cycle of violence and re-engage on the path to peace. The statement went on to state that this requires:

the re-affirmation and full recognition of Israel's irrevocable right to live in peace and security within internationally recognised borders, and the establishment of a viable and democratic Palestinian state and an end to the occupation of the Palestinian territories.

As a first step, the following commitments would have to be given by the Palestinian Authority: the dismantling of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist networks, including the arrest and prosecution of all suspects and a public appeal in Arabic for an end to the armed intifada. The Israeli Government commitments involve the withdrawal of its military forces and a stop to extra-judicial executions, the lifting of closures and of all restrictions imposed on the Palestinian people and a freeze on settlements.

On the basis of this EU position and in light of the discussions the Council had on the same day in Brussels with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and with the Palestinian Minister for International Co-operation Nabil Shaath, the Council mandated Javier Solana, the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, to return to the Middle East and to report back to the Laeken European Council tomorrow. The aim is to help bring about a speedy resumption of negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, without preliminaries.

The EU statement places an onus on both sides and they must act in tandem. Ireland sees President Arafat as the indispensable partner for dialogue. He alone has the stature among Palestinians to end violence and to negotiate a lasting peace with Israel. The alternative to President Arafat would be worse – either Hamas or a vacuum. No other Palestinian Authority leader has any possibility of winning popular support for a peace process. We agree that the Palestinian Authority should do more to bring the men of violence under control, but we recognise this is much easier said than done. President Arafat should not be faced with impossible demands, nor should he be made to feel isolated. It is neither realistic nor safe to expect President Arafat to go beyond a certain point without corresponding steps by the Israeli Government. Reliance simply on military coercion will not work in the longer term and, on the contrary, it makes President Arafat's task impossible.

[1128] It is for both sides to calm the situation and to de-escalate the conflict. The Palestinian Authority must demonstrate its commitment to facing down the men of violence. It must arrest those responsible for terrorist acts and keep them in custody. The sustained attacks by Israel on the PA, its security forces and its facilities are misguided and will have the opposite effect to the one intended. Furthermore, Israel's insistence on a seven day total ceasefire before implementing the Mitchell recommendations, or even discussing the political dimension with the Palestinians, is unrealistic and makes it practically impossible for President Arafat to carry out Israeli demands.

Ireland is strongly in favour of a return to the negotiating table and we will do all we can, together with the other member states of the European Union to support a renewed peace process.

We would also support constructive action in the United Nations Security Council. The usual practice in the Security Council is that initiatives on the question of Palestine are proposed by the non-aligned movement members. I understand the NAM held discussions in New York, but decided not to propose action in the Security Council at present. During Ireland's presidency of the Council in October, there was consideration of the Palestinian question and Ireland was authorised to make a statement to the press on 25 October. Further action was not possible in October due to the divergent views among Security Council members.

The situation in the Middle East as it stands is very discouraging. There is a solution, however, and it is a political one. The path to peace is clear. What is needed is the political will. I call on both sides, Israeli and Palestinian, to take the steps which they know are necessary. These steps are set out in the Mitchell report. The Government has warmly welcomed this report and fully endorsed its recommendations. These recommendations must be taken in their entirety, as there is no room for either side to select those measures which appeal to it and to avoid those which carry a cost. Furthermore, the measures have to be implemented within a close timeframe. They cannot be separated out in a phased sequence which moves forward one step at a time, with the implementation of each measure conditional upon completing other measures. The measures are mutually reinforcing and must be implemented as a package.

I call on the Palestinian Authority to act firmly to stop all acts of violence and in particular to do all in its power to prevent the murderous and senseless suicide attacks. I call on the Israeli Government to cease its present military action against the Palestinian Authority and to set about rebuilding security and political partnership with the Palestinian Authority. These are the steps which both sides must take if there is to be any hope of escaping from this terrible conflict.

[1129]Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  Approaching Christmas 2001, it is clear the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has rarely been worse. The news today that the Israeli Government is to break off all ties with President Arafat and proposes to launch widespread military activities on the West Bank and Gaza can lead to only even greater disaster.

Until recently it was possible to talk of the Middle East peace process but not at present. There is no longer a functioning peace process there, it is in bloody collapse. The problem for both sides is that when the peace process goes out the window it opens the door for extremist elements on both sides. The question arises as to whether we can contribute in any way.

We have had our own history of conflict and from that perspective have some insights to offer regarding conflict resolution. If there is to be a resolution it has to be a political rather than a military one. We can also contribute by discussing the issue. It is important that we do not fall victim to the move to extremism and are as balanced as possible in our approach. We must attempt to see the situation from both sides and the language we use should be measured in tone. That should not in any way stop us from condemning matters where we consider condemnation is justified. To be quite blunt, there is much to condemn on both sides.

This conflict has been going on for generations. I have always objected to the building of settlements by Israel in the past. It is contrary to UN Security Council resolutions and has always been a contributory factor to conflict. I seriously object to the march up the Temple Mount by Ariel Sharon prior to the last election. It was as inflammatory a symbolic act as one could devise. At this stage in the current intifada there have been some 1,000 deaths, most of them innocent victims and almost three-quarters of them Palestinian. The lines have become blurred between what passes as attack and retaliation. Both sides consider what has been done to them as an attack and likewise their response is considered retaliation. It is not for us to establish which definition applies.

The rejection of the Palestinian Authority as a partner for peace by Israel is of major concern. The PA has problems not least with its own people and some are related to its inefficiency and corruption. It appears to have been largely rejected by its own people who now turn more to Hamas and the extremists for leadership. Ariel Sharon has made demands of Yasser Arafat to stop the intifada and the question is if he can do that. He cannot do it at present and I am not sure he ever could. He certainly could have made a better effort, but even when he recently attempted to have the spiritual leader arrested he was faced down by the people and it was clear he was powerless on that issue.

I am critical of the lost opportunity by which he failed to further the peace process, if not reach a peaceful settlement during the Camp David talks. He is now in a mortally weak position but [1130] his weakness is compounded by the activities of the Israelis. I do not know their strategic aim. With whom do they suggest they might deal if he is not there? I agree with the Minister that the alternatives are almost certainly more extreme. I do not know what the Israelis are trying to achieve by undermining Yasser Arafat, knocking out his security installations, killing his policemen and then calling on him to deal with the extremists on the Palestinian side. That does not make sense.

I do not agree with the suggestion that it is unfair to criticise and deal with Israel in the same way as the Palestinians. I expect a civilised nation to comply with international law. I also expect higher standards from an established nation. Israel is the dominant player in this conflict and it has questions to answer from the point of view of international law and compliance with UN resolutions. In both areas it has acted shamefully on many occasions.

Israel maintains it is acting in self defence, but it is compounding the problem in the way it is dealing with the Palestinians. I call on the country to stand back and consider what it is doing because it is exacerbating current difficulties with every act of military violence. I applaud the creation of the state of Israel, but when looking at the Palestinians the Israelis should reflect that there is possibly little difference between Hamas and the Stern Gang.

Ireland has a role to play. We must condemn atrocities and reject as utterly unacceptable the activities of the Israeli government, including its military action. We must also ensure that we are in a position to contribute to a peaceful process. We must reiterate that any resolution must be based on politics rather than killing or military activity. We should be prepared to play a middle role and support the moderates on both sides, in so far as any remain. Above all, we must support the route map outlined by Senator Mitchell as the only way towards a balanced and lasting solution to the conflict. The pre-conditions set by Prime Minister Sharon, including the insistence on a period of peace before negotiations can commence, are ridiculous. Both sides should be prepared to follow Senator Mitchell's recommendations.

The US has a major role to play. It is largely considered to be a sponsor of Israel. It must be prepared to have a greater understanding of the difficulties on the Palestinian side. If not, it should stop pretending to be an honest broker.

There has been too much emphasis on the financial and economic rather than the political in the role of the European Union. The Union has become increasingly involved in the Middle East in developing co-operation aid on the Palestinian side. Given this, it too has, to some extent, been viewed as a less than honest broker. If it is to be regarded as such the Union must play a role more in keeping with how it perceives itself. In addition, given that the Middle East is adjacent to Europe, the Union must play a much greater [1131] role in the attempt to find a resolution. In the meantime I urge all parties to the conflict and the main outside players – the United States and the European Union – to use every effort possible to draw back from the chasm into which the conflict has descended and to get back to the negotiating table.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  On behalf of the Labour Party I have issued many statements on the Middle East. In the more recent statements, last August and earlier this month, I unequivocally condemned the appalling death of civilians that had taken place in Israel, both the circumstance and the form of the bombing. I today condemn the most recent killing of ten Israelis, again in horrific and unacceptable circumstances. The situation in the Middle East is disastrously sliding into terrible chaos from which it will be very difficult to recover. The forces of restraint, especially on Israel, have weakened and we are now likely to see a continuation of actions by groups whom Yasser Arafat cannot be expected to control and acts of retribution which fly in the face of international law.

On my first visit to Gaza – the Gaza strip is 25 miles by 15 miles – over 20 years ago, I was appalled at the conditions in which people were forced to live. Neglected by the international community since 1947, they were in their third generation. Children played in sewers. On my second visit, the same water rationing was in place.

The idea of a remembered, neglected wrong is central to one side of this conflict. It is impossible for anybody pursuing a moral resolution of the present terrible difficulties not to recognise the UN Security Council resolutions and verbal and rhetorical acceptances of the right of the Palestinian people to a viable existence and a viable state. Frustrations crossing several generations have emerged, producing not one but many intifada. On my second visit I encountered the only generation of Palestinians that had not been defeated in war.

On the other side of the conflict there is a legitimate aspiration for a state of Israel and for those living in Israel, civilians and others, to live in security. To attempt to balance the frustrated and neglected aspiration of the Palestinians against the legitimate and basic right of the people of Israel to live in security it is necessary to consider if there is a parallel with the conflict in Northern Ireland. The approach to the resolution in Northern Ireland, to the extent that there is one, has been to recognise the source of conflict at several different levels. In addition to efforts made on the ground, initiatives were taken at constitutional and institutional levels.

I fail to see how the changes taking place in the Middle East will make possible the semblance of a dialogue. If one says that the person who sat opposite one at talks some time ago is now a person one would define as a terrorist and if one [1132] takes the authority that person represents as a sponsor of terrorism, it is legitimate to ask to whom one will turn if that logic is pursued to its end. The only answer is “the defeated”. If that is the suggested answer, there will be a choice between disparate groups acting out of any connection with the talks that have taken place or people who will have been defeated or humiliated or who will have a further memory into the next generation of an incredible, vicious and appalling loss of life. There has been a perceptible change in the actions of Prime Minister Sharon since September. It is clear to anybody watching from outside that the victory, to some extent, of militarism over diplomacy in different parts of the world has given an example of how one may now shed diplomacy and move to a military response which will, somehow or another, bring a resolution. It will bring disaster and it has the capacity to destabilise not just the immediate region but a much wider one.

The language in which people suggest that executions from gunship helicopters are not just that but some form of surgical killing is an appalling moral point to have reached. I am offended by the fact that one or two people have written to me suggesting that my condemnation of the civilian deaths in Israel might be less than sincere. I am sincere in my condemnation of that. It is incredible that people are ignoring how the recent period began. It began with a provocative action – the visit to the mount. It began with Mr. Sharon's actions. We have seen the moderate attempts by Shimon Peres who has a distinguished record in seeking to build a peace process with the other side. It is not he who has eschewed, as it were, Chairman Arafat from the other side. Are these moderate peace views to be dismissed entirely? To what point are we moving?

I was very worried by the interview given by Mr. Sharon in the United States and his further interview on his return home, in which he claimed he had a mandate, so to speak, for a whole new approach to the problem. That mandate is horrific in its consequences. Javier Solana's visit, which was referred to in the Minister's speech, has left me even more worried. It had been my interpretation of the European Union's possible initiatives on the Middle East that it would do something fresh and would act in a manner which resonated with actions that might be taken through the Security Council. It is now clear that the Security Council will not do much in the short-term. It is also very clear that, unfortunately, the interpretation of Javier Solana's visit, from both of the press conferences he gave, including the one with Prime Minister Sharon, was the European Union had changed its view and was now closer to the present US position. That is a disaster for the European Union. I know there will be a report at the Laeken meeting from Javier Solana to the Council and I hope there will be explanations about what I regard as his rather [1133] eccentric and dangerous statements, not only on this issue.

I am concerned by the prospect of an absolutely apocalyptic landscape being created. If one digs up an airstrip that is rarely used, if one bombs helicopters, if one disposes of the means of communication and if one seeks to isolate the person with whom one was previously negotiating, what suggested mechanisms are there for dialogue? I do not justify the release of prisoners who committed horrific acts and I am not saying I question whether the authority of President Arafat was sufficient to achieve what was asked of him. No matter how difficult it may be to initiate a long and complex negotiation towards peace, if the key individual with whom negotiations might take place is defined as a terrorist there is practically no hope at all. We should consider what would have happened if, at the time of the worst situation in Northern Ireland, people had suggested the suspension of dialogue and that there should be selective executions in the Republic of Ireland. I look forward to the Minister's reply to the debate.

Mr. Briscoe: Information on Ben Briscoe  Zoom on Ben Briscoe  Before dealing with some of the points which have been raised in the debate, I wish to put on record some facts about the history of the land of Israel, beginning with nationhood and Jerusalem. Israel became a nation in 1312 BCE, two thousand years before the rise of Islam. Arab refugees in Israel began identifying themselves as part of a Palestinian people in 1967, two decades after the establishment of the modern state of Israel. Since the Jewish conquest in 1272 BCE, the Jews have had dominion over the land for one thousand years, with a continuous presence in the land for the past 3,300 years. The only Arab dominion since the conquest in 635 CE lasted no more than 22 years. For more than 3,300 years, Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital. Jerusalem has never been the capital of any Arab or Muslim entity. Even when the Jordanians occupied Jerusalem, they never sought to make it their capital and Arab leaders did not come to visit. Jerusalem is mentioned more than 700 times in the Jewish Holy Scriptures. Jerusalem is not mentioned once in the Koran. King David founded the city of Jerusalem. Mohammed never came to Jerusalem. Jews pray facing Jerusalem. Muslims pray with their backs toward Jerusalem.

With regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict and Arab and Jewish refugees, in 1948 the Arab refugees were encouraged to leave Israel by Arab leaders promising to purge the land of Jews. A total of 68% left without ever seeing an Israeli soldier. The Jewish refugees were forced to flee from Arab lands due to Arab brutality, persecution and pogroms. The number of Arab refugees who left Israel in 1948 is estimated to be around 630,000. The number of Jewish refugees from Arab lands is estimated to be at least the same. Arab refugees were intentionally not absorbed or integrated into the Arab lands to [1134] which they fled, despite the vast Arab territory. Out of the 100,000 refugees since the Second World War, theirs is the only refugee group in the world that has never been absorbed or integrated into their own people's lands. Jewish refugees were completely absorbed into Israel, a country no larger than the state of New Jersey. The Arabs are represented by eight separate nations, not including the Palestinians. There is only one Jewish nation.

The Arab nations initiated all five wars and lost. Israel defended itself each time and won. The PLO's charter still calls for the destruction of the State of Israel. Israel has given the Palestinians most of the West Bank land, autonomy under the Palestinian authority, and has supplied them with weapons. Under Jordanian rule, Jewish holy sites were desecrated and the Jews were denied access to places of worship. Under Israeli rule, all Muslim and Christian sites have been preserved and made accessible to people of all faiths.

With regard to the UN record on Israel and the Arabs, of 175 Security Council resolutions passed before 1990, 97 were directed against Israel. Of the 690 General Assembly resolutions passed before 1990, 429 were directed against Israel. The UN was silent while the Jordanians destroyed 58 Jerusalem synagogues. The United Nations remained silent while the Jordanians systematically desecrated the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives; it was also silent while the Jordanians enforced an apartheid-like policy of preventing Jews from visiting the Temple Mount and the Western Wall; and it further remained silent after three Israeli soldiers were kidnapped just over a year ago by Hizbollah terrorists dressed as UN soldiers, using UN uniforms and a UN car. The existence of video tapes containing footage of these events, which was filmed by UN soldiers, was denied by the UN for over six months.

I wish now to place on record some information about Mr. Arafat. When thousands of Chinese were mowed down in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the world said “shocking”, Arafat said “gratifying”; the world said “murder and repression”, Arafat said “restoring normal order”; and the world said “outrageous” while Arafat said “congratulations”. I will now quote Yasser Arafat's actual words to the Chinese Communist Party General Secretary, Jiang Zemin, which were printed in the Beijing People's Daily:

On behalf of the Arab Palestinian people, their leadership and myself, I express the warmest, most sincere congratulations to you, dear comrade, on your appointment to General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, and take this opportunity to express extreme gratification that you were able to restore normal order after the recent incidents in People's China. I wish you, close friends, more progress in your endeavour to achieve the hopes, goals, [1135] aspirations, stability and security of our friends, the Chinese people.”

I welcome the Minister's statement and I wish now to make a number of comments on it. He indicated that he “expressed the Government's grave concern at the helicopter attacks in the vicinity of President Arafat's headquarters”. I wish to point out that Israel attacks property not innocent civilians. The Israelis do not deliberately try to murder people. The Minister proceeded to state that “We do not agree with the Israeli description of the Palestinian Authority as an entity that supports terrorism. We do not see what other partner Israel can have in fighting the terrorists”. In that regard, where the Israelis destroyed police stations they had discovered that, in many cases, they were being used as bases to manufacture mortar bombs which were then fired from locations in their immediate vicinity.

The Minister also stated that “As a first step, the following commitments would have to be given by the Palestinian Authority: the dismantling of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist networks, including the arrest and prosecution of all suspects; and a public appeal in Arabic for an end to the armed intifada”. He proceeded to say that the Israeli Government would have to withdraw its military forces and put a stop to extra-judicial executions. In my opinion, one will follow the other if the Palestinians dismantle Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which are terrorist groups but which are often referred to on RTE as “resistance fighters”. Even Deputy Jim O'Keeffe referred to them as “extremist groups”. They are more than extremist groups, they are terrorist organisations. If they Israelis know where these groups are and can take them out, surely the Palestinian Authority must also know where they are and should also be able to take them out.

The Minister indicated that “Ireland sees President Arafat as an indispensable partner for dialogue”. Israel also saw him in this light for a long period, but there was a time when any Israeli who had discussions with him could have been found guilty of an offence and sent to jail because he was a terrorist. He has done nothing to stop the activities of Hamas, with the exception of making a few attempts to imprison some of its members. These people are usually released through the back door.

Any democratic country has an obligation to defend its people and Israel will continue to do so until these organisations cease their terrorist activities. A total of 30 innocent people were killed in the atrocity at Omagh. However, Israel has experienced the equivalent of more than 30 such atrocities. In the past month or so, between 70 and 80 would be suicide bombers were caught by the Israelis and incarcerated before they could explode the devices they were carrying.

I was pleased by the declaration on the Middle East issued by the European Union in Brussels on 10 December. This declaration, which, in my view, has been a long time coming, provided a [1136] reaffirmation and full recognition of Israel's irrevocable right to live in peace and security within internationally recognised borders. It also calls for the establishment of a viable and democratic Palestinian state.

I am glad I had the opportunity to place a number of points on record. In my opinion, Members would have welcomed the provision of 30 minutes per speaker to allow everyone to put their arguments across.

Mr. Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter  Zoom on Alan Shatter  It is right that the House should discuss the appalling conflict that has again descended on the Middle East. I welcome the fact that we are being given the opportunity to exchange views. I congratulate, as I did at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Foreign Affairs. In the context of the Irish Presidency of the Security Council and in pronouncements he has made in the past and reiterated today, the Minister has taken an important and constructive approach in terms of addressing the issues.

The Minister outlined the first steps that need to be taken to deal with the conflict between Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the fundamentalist extremists of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups. There is nothing the Minister said with which I would disagree. However, there is one matter I wish to deal with.

The tragedy of the entire situation in the Middle East as it stands at present is that 18 months ago on 25 July 2000 we were tantalisingly close to a final resolution between Israel and the Palestinians. Proposals were placed on the table at Camp David which would have formed the basis of a natural progression on the progress made at Madrid and Oslo. These proposals should have brought about a resolution of issues of the greatest difficulty for both sides in a manner that may have satisfied none, to the extent that neither side would have achieved its ultimate objectives, but which would have set out a compromise arrangement which should have resulted in the establishment of peace in the region. It is a great tragedy for President Arafat – who I have met on two occasions, once in this country and once, as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, in Gaza – that what was then on offer was not accepted by him.

The only way to resolve this problem would be to establish an independent Palestinian state side by side with that of Israel, with those living within the Israeli state living in peace and security and with that Palestinian state given the opportunity to develop economically in a manner that would address the obvious poverty and enormous difficulties faced by the Palestinian people at present. Instead, 18 months after the summit at Camp David, we have witnessed carnage, mayhem and appalling atrocities. While the House should not engage in the politics of condemning the last atrocity, we cannot also suspend judgment on some of the events that have occurred. Appalling acts of terrorist violence have been perpetrated [1137] against the State of Israel. Those acts have undermined the credibility and authority of President Arafat from the perspective of the Israelis in terms of his being involved in any negotiations that may take place. His tolerating a violent and unnecessary intifada for a period of 12 months has again brought the region to the verge of disaster. The current crisis has brought tragedy upon the State of Israel and those who live in it and also on the Palestinian people, and has entirely undermined the political credibility of the Palestinian Authority within the areas it governs.

We in this House have reason to show very high regard for George Mitchell for the work he did on our peace process. The Mitchell report of May 2001 set out a prescription for resolution and the tragedy is that prescription has not been adhered to. I would caution Members, in the context of the rhetoric in which we in this House engage on occasions, and in making value judgments, against trying to analyse what has happened and what is currently happening in a manner that is not in tune with what George Mitchell says.

The Minister, when he says the ultimate solution is contained in the full implementation of the Mitchell report and not in the context of anyone cherry-picking recommendations in it, is recognising reality. It is important to refer to two or three things in that report. At the beginning of the report, George Mitchell says:

Death and destruction will not bring peace but will deepen the hatred and hardened resolve on both sides. There is only one way to bring peace, justice and security in the Middle East and that is through negotiations.

He also says

Some Palestinians appear not to comprehend the extent to which terrorism creates fear among the Israeli people and undermines their belief in the possibility of co-existence, or the determination of the Government of Israel to do whatever is necessary to protect its people.

That is a reality. We have seen, in the many months since the Mitchell report, continued acts of violence and terrorism which have resulted in the tragedy with which we are now confronted.

For a long time I would have agreed with the statement made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs – this is the only issue I raise with him by way of quibble because I think it is important – when he said: “Ireland sees Arafat as the indispensable partner for dialogue.” I know from my contacts with Israeli politicians on different sides of the spectrum, that a large number believed Yasser Arafat was the indispensable partner for dialogue. There were always those on different sides of the political spectrum in Israel who did not perceive him that way and who did not wish dialogue to take place. I know also, from my contacts over many years that there is an absolute desire to bring about peace, to end conflict and to provide for resolution through dialogue. The [1138] tragedy today is that those within the Israeli political spectrum who are committed to dialogue and peace – and large numbers of people within the Israeli state – now doubt Arafat's capacity to be a partner for dialogue. They doubt – because of the events of the past 12 months – that dialogue conducted by him in the past was conducted in good faith. The concern that now arises is whether he is a partner for dialogue. That concern derives from things to which other Members of this House have referred.

A partner for dialogue in the context of any conflict is a partner who is in control of the territory they purport to govern. We are told that President Arafat is unable to control the extremists in the Palestinian authority area. Should he attempt to do so he may find himself out of the position he currently occupies. What is the purpose, from an Israeli perspective, of conducting dialogue with a partner who cannot provide the peace and security they are seeking.

George Mitchell has it right. We, in this House, should not try to selectively quote him or to water down what he had to say, but we need to acknowledge that the Mitchell report provides the political map through which this conflict should be addressed. “The restoration of trust [George Mitchell says] is essential.” He lists, in the context of the recommendations which need to be implemented, that the Palestinian authority should make clear, through concrete action, to Palestinians and Israelis that terrorism is reprehensible and unacceptable and that the Palestinian authority will make a 100% effort to prevent terrorism operations and to punish perpetrators.

The difficulty which we, in the European Union, have is that there is a credibility gap between what on occasions the Palestinian authority has said it will do and what actually occurs. The political map which the Minister prescribed in his speech, the need to dismantle Hamas and Islamic Jihad, following that, for the Israeli Government to withdraw its military forces; the need to lift closures and the need for a freeze on settlements are all confidence building measures and steps which are essential if dialogue is to bring about a resolution.

I hope we will see a change in the coming days but I am hugely pessimistic. I do not see, in the current context, dialogue taking place which will in the short-term bring an end to the appalling atrocities and violence we have all witnessed on our television screens in recent weeks and the continuing death, destruction and carnage which is impacting on so many innocent people in the region.

Mr. Deasy: Information on Austin Deasy  Zoom on Austin Deasy  I wish to share my time with Deputies Joe Higgins and Ó Caoláin.

Acting Chairman (Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin): Information on Breeda Moynihan-Cronin  Zoom on Breeda Moynihan-Cronin  Is that agreed? Agreed. The Deputy has five minutes.

[1139]Mr. Deasy: Information on Austin Deasy  Zoom on Austin Deasy  Any views I express in this debate are mine and mine alone. I have expressed these views at the foreign affairs committee on several occasions. As many here know well, I am a staunch supporter of the United States, its foreign policies, its political system, way of life and the manner in which it protects us in the free world. Without the US, where would we be? However, I wholeheartedly disagree with its policy regarding Israel and Palestine in general. It is time this country and others in western Europe and the free world took a very definite stand against American policy in Israel and Palestine.

I do not believe the Palestinian people have any rights. They do not have the right to work or to operate manufacturing industries. They are treated as third-class citizens and often are treated as badly as is possible. Life in Gaza must be a wretched existence. We are a country with a history of suppression. I expect that we, above all other countries in the western world, would take the lead by expressing our displeasure in a tangible manner. We should break off diplomatic relations with Israel forthwith. I have said this to the Minister on a number of occasions and raised it with him only yesterday by way of question. It will not mean any major loss to this country but it would be an expression of our sympathy with the Palestinian people and it might give a lead to the world. It might make people sit up and think, something they are not currently doing.

Irish people have a reputation for fair play and for standing up for the under privileged. We are not doing what we should for the Palestinians. It is no good anybody telling me that the Palestinians are terrorists and Yasser Arafat is responsible for the suicidal bombers who are striking Israel every second day. It is like saying John Hume was responsible for the IRA atrocities. Arafat is a moderate individual who has helped to calm those within the PLO and other militant Palestinian groups who wish to rise up and take part in an armed insurrection. His is the hand of moderation. We should help people who are moderate but we are not doing that. He has no control over Hamas or Hizbollah and for the Israelis to claim through their propaganda, day and night on radio and television, that it is Arafat's and the Palestinian Authority's fault is bunkum.

We know the truth because we experienced a parallel situation on this island. Why should we support a state which uses the most modern aircraft, tanks, gunships and helicopters against defenceless people in many cases? They are killing people at random, just as Hamas does on the other side. Why should we support them? We should not. It is about time we publicly took a stand.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins   (Dublin West): The Israeli ruling class is clearly determined through its present policies to crush the aspirations of the Palestinian people for an independent homeland. Prime Minister Sharon has calculatedly set out to derail any dialogue. His visit to the al-Aqsa mosque, [1140] which set off the latest round of the intifada was a deliberate provocation. Ariel Sharon is a war criminal, guilty of colluding in the 1982 massacre of thousands of innocent Palestinian men, women and children in the Sabra and Shatila camps in the Lebanon. He holds responsibility for the 800 Palestinians and approximately 200 Israelis who have been killed in the recent past.

The state terror being unleashed on the Palestinian people by the Israeli state must be called by its right name. It is monumental hypocrisy on the part of the United States to support the terrorist methods of the Israeli state, with murder and assassination as its stock in trade, while pretending to lead a crusade against terror elsewhere.

The curse of the Palestinian people is that they do not have a leadership worthy of them. The Arafat regime is a corrupt and rotten entity, a mirror image of the dictatorial Arab regimes which repress the Arab peoples across the region and the Maghreb. The Hamas and Jihad organisations represent a reactionary obscurantist philosophy. Utilising terrorism to prosecute their cause through indiscriminate attack on innocent people, their methods are reactionary and counterproductive.

What desperation compels Palestinian youths to become suicide bombers at the behest of these organisations? It is the appalling economic and social conditions. Life in Gaza is an affront to human dignity. I witnessed it myself. The massive desperation among the youth and the Palestinian people generally is the result of the situation in which they find themselves.

There is a solution. It is the establishment of a Palestinian homeland, independent and free, and an Israeli state where its citizens can live in peace. None of the leading protagonists can deliver this or any type of future for the ordinary Israeli or Palestinian. The current crisis masks a serious economic crisis within Israel where there is huge discontent among the working class with regard to unemployment and living conditions.

The Palestinian and the Israeli working class must make a common cause to overthrow the reactionary politicians who divide them and, on the basis of planning and democratic and socialist ownership of the region and its resources, a new future can be built.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  In the brief time available, I wish to express my own and my party's solidarity with the people of the Middle East at this terrible time in their history. South Africa has achieved a successful peace process based on freedom and justice. In Ireland, we are striving to achieve success for our peace process on the same basis.

However, in Palestine and Israel the peace process has failed catastrophically and there is one indisputable reason. The Palestinian people have been denied freedom and justice by the State of Israel and its international supporters. The Palestinian people were promised land for peace but [1141] they have been denied their land and now Israel is waging open warfare upon them. The tragic death toll in the past year tells the story.

The Palestinian people have suffered a plight akin to that of our own people. Communities have been evicted and uprooted, their country has been occupied and partitioned and over seven million of them have been forced into exile throughout the world. We see in Palestine today both the hypocrisy and the futility of the so-called war on terror – hypocrisy because the machine gunning of civilians from Israeli helicopter gunships is not regarded as terrorism but as combating terror and futility because it was the violence of the partition of Palestine, the repeated massacres of the Palestinian people and the botched peace process, which gave rise to the suicide bombers just as Israel's renewed war against Palestine will give rise to more of them.

Today the Israeli army bulldozed a Palestinian television and radio station in Ramallah in the West Bank. This follows the decision to break off all contacts with the Palestinian Leader, Yasser Arafat. These are acts of madness which must be deplored by the Irish Government and the EU. We must demand justice for the Palestinian people as the only real foundation for peace in the Middle East.

Acting Chairman:  The Minister will now take questions for 30 minutes.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  I wish to hear the Minister's views on two issues. The European Council meets in Laeken this weekend. Does the Minister accept that the conflict in the Middle East is at one of its most awful stages? In fact, some believe it is heading for Armageddon. Can the European Council bring forward any new initiative or fresh approach in terms of establishing a stronger EU policy to try to get the parties out of the chasm of chaos into which they have descended?

The second issue is Chairman Arafat and the references to his inability to control the situation in Gaza and the West Bank. Does the Minister have any understanding from the Israeli authorities of a decision to by-pass Mr. Arafat by either having him disposed of or at least driven from power? Has he given any thought to what the consequences of such an outcome might be? Do we know if the Israeli strategy is to encourage civil war among the Palestinians as the only way to defuse tensions on that side? Is it hoped that they might turn on each other in a succession race following the downfall of Chairman Arafat? Is there any indication that this is the strategy being followed and might part of that strategy be the announcement today that the Israelis are breaking off all contact with Chairman Arafat?

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  The question of whether the Israeli government wishes to deal with President Arafat is important. When I met Foreign Minister Peres in Brussels on Monday, he assured me that Israel is not seeking to topple President Arafat. He said [1142] it is Israel's wish to see a modern cabinet and government structure for Palestinians. It is clear that the current Israeli action is not helping the work of the Palestinian Authority and I made this point to Foreign Minister Peres. I am also concerned by various statements, particularly from Prime Minister Sharon, which suggest that Israel no longer sees President Arafat as a negotiating partner. This is precisely the dilemma.

When I met President Katsav on 10 September, which is not long ago, the critique he gave me was that Israel believed President Arafat was never in a stronger position to do what was necessary to ensure the peace process could proceed according to the Tenet agreement and the Mitchell proposals. Within two months there is now a suggestion or critique which says he is incapable of doing anything that is required. This is where I find an inconsistent approach. Both are wide of the mark. President Arafat cannot do everything but, equally, he cannot do nothing. What is clear is that the Mitchell plan has been accepted precisely because it is tough on both sides. As has been said by Members, only implementation of the full Mitchell plan will work. However, the problem in getting the Mitchell plan to leave the train station has been the cooling-off period. When I speak to those such as Mr. Solana, who was on the Mitchell plan commission, I am told the idea behind the confidence building measures was not to reward the cessation of hostilities over a period of time, as is the present Israeli position and particularly that of the Prime Minister, but to progress in tandem with a declaration of ceasefire.

The basic analysis in the Mitchell plan is that there cannot be a military solution. Both the Israeli and Palestinian sides know that militarisation, and the atrocities taking place are not providing extra security for anybody. Instead, authorities and governments are responding to angered domestic public opinion. The situation then deteriorates into the politics of the last atrocity. People should step back and recognise that the interlocutor is the Palestinian Authority. There were elections to the Palestinian Authority conducted under the auspices of the European Union. Those elections were one of the major contributions by the EU to the Middle East peace process. The Authority has a democratic mandate.

Nabil Shaath said on Monday that at the moment opinion polls give the Authority 29% support while Hamas has 25% support. If this problem is to be solved, the Israelis must deal with the legitimate head of the Palestinian Authority. Peace is not made with friends but with enemies. The Palestinians may not like the fact that the Israelis have by democratic mandate decided that Mr. Sharon is to be their Prime Minister. Equally, the Israelis cannot say “We do not like your chairman at the moment. Change him and then we will talk to you.” That is not an acceptable democratic basis on which to resolve the conflict.

[1143] Deputy O'Keeffe asked a straight question. It is clear from what has been done so far that the Israelis have hit at President Arafat's headquarters. They have been engaged in lowering his status among his people. Whether intended or not, that is the effect. Based on what Shimon Peres has told me – he is a person I respect – and on background security information including a discussion with Nabil Shaath, the questions asked were whether the Israelis agree that it is with the Palestinian Authority they must deal, and whether the Israelis consider the Palestinian Authority a genuine partner for peace. The answer was yes to both questions and there is an attempt to re-establish a basis for trust on both sides.

I have to accept, both on the evidence and on the statements of Peres, that they are dealing with Arafat. I am very concerned, however, with what I hear the Israeli Prime Minister saying. There is a duality of opinion in the Israeli Government. To what extent we can overcome that is another part of the jigsaw that must be put in place.

In relation to the EU, Javier Solana's envoy has just visited the region to get a picture of what is happening on the ground. He will be reporting to the European Council tomorrow as a result of his visit. It is clear that the common position of the European Union is implementation of the Mitchell plan. I have not yet read the press reports referred to by Deputy Michael Higgins, but I will examine them to obtain some context as to Mr. Solana's visit to the Middle East. It is important that, as we search for a solution to the present downward spiral, we do not move away from the principled position which is the implementation of the Mitchell plan. That plan, as intended by Mitchell, is the common position and there is no other.

Mr. Briscoe: Information on Ben Briscoe  Zoom on Ben Briscoe  Can the EU take a new approach to influencing Iran and Syria, who have a big interest in keeping Hizbollah and Hamas active, and in arming and training those groups? I do not hear from European visits to Iran and Syria that the message is getting across that the sooner they stop supporting these groups, who kill people through terrorist acts, the better. It would be a big step forward if that message could be got across. The Minister might discuss this matter at tomorrow's conference in Laeken.

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  The Madrid process, begun in 1991, envisaged a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict in all of its manifestations, not simply the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It is important to recognise the progress that has been made. The idea that this process is just a talking shop where nothing is happening is wide of the mark. We have had the Madrid process and the Oslo process, which began in 1993. We have the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty of 1994. Last year, we had Palestinians and Israelis discussing final status talks. There has been movement although not [1144] sufficient progress. Unfortunately, we see highs and lows that are greatly destabilising the prospect of a sustained process that might have a positive outcome.

In the EU-led process, I have engaged with the Syrian Foreign Minister al-Shara. I met him at the UN in bilateral discussion as an outcome of our EU-led meeting. Syria has a very rigid, dogmatic approach to this issue, based on a return to pre-1967 borders, water and other issues. They will not get into negotiation until that is ceded. The Israeli position, as I understand it from Shimon Peres, is that they first wish to negotiate and get into a process, even if that ends up close to the Syrian position, in line with UN Security Council resolutions. It is very unfortunate that the Syrians and the Israelis, whose relationship is not good, have been unable to get into some sort of a negotiating framework. That is hindering the opportunities for progress.

The withdrawal by Israel from Lebanon to internationally recognised borders, and Hizbollah participation in the resistance, as they saw it, to occupation by the Israeli government in south Lebanon, has sent certain signals that such a path of resistance is the way to go. That has been misread and the conclusion has been reached by some that this method should now be replicated in Palestine and elsewhere. That is a dangerous thing because the Israelis have the power and capacity to defend Israel from all comers. They have done so five times already.

There is much discussion ongoing between Iran and the international community, particularly in the post-11 September period, because of the particular composition of the government there and the attitude it has taken to the Taliban. It has been opposed to the Taliban at all times because its ethnic constituency, if you like, or its religious constituency, the Shias in the central highland area of Afghanistan, have historically, it is felt, been discriminated against by successive regimes. Thankfully, there has been a reopening and a deepening of discussion with Iran, principally through the US and the UK, which I hope might lead to a constructive role being played by them in this process.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  I have a number of questions for the Minister, some of which he has touched on already. I hope we will have another opportunity to discuss the wider issue of Deputy Briscoe's statement which seems to suggest that the entire region is the land of David and the Palestinians have no place in it. We can return to that on another occasion as to whether it represents the Minister's view.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Deputy, address your questions on this occasion to the Minster.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  I will. Does the Minister agree it would be a very dangerous foreign policy if one began drawing up a list of places to whom one would define—

[1145]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  There are other Deputies offering and we only have 13 minutes altogether.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  I am aware of that, and I have taken up very little of the time.

I would like to ask the Minister straightforwardly about the report that may have been given to him or since to Javier Solana on his visit to the Middle East. I am not going to say more because the Minister undertook to examine the press statements. There is no reference to the Mitchell plan, as I understand it, in the Israeli statement following the visit of Javier Solana. There is, however, a very specific reference to the suggestion that they see it as the European Union position as having moved closer to the new United States position. I believe that warrants clarification. It is not consistent with the common position of the European Union up to now and it does not assist a new position. The second question relates to such discussion he might have had as to the conversations between Prime Minister Sharon and the United States as to the basis for Mr. Sharon's suggestion that it was a most successful visit and gives him a new mandate.

In relation to his contacts with Shimon Peres, the Minister has said he believes communications are still under way. Did Foreign Minister Peres give any indication as to the role the European Union might take in getting past the impasse of a difference between himself and Prime Minister Sharon in terms of reopening discussions within the general parameters of the Mitchell plan? Does the Minister agree in principle with some of us in this House at least that it is not consistent with international law or obligations to justify acts of state terror as responses to suggested acts of terrorism or real acts of terrorism? Is the position of the Irish Government that it sustains the international legal positions sustained by covenant that a state is not free to act disproportionately and involve itself in acts of state terrorism against acts of terrorism? Does the Minister see the European Union maybe achieving a common position towards an initiative at the Security Council that would get us past the present impasse – and I am thinking of the next week or two?

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  It is the view of the Irish Government, and stated by it in recent days, that this is an issue which should be discussed by the Security Council. There is a threat to international peace and security and under international law, it is a forum which has a locus standi in this matter to discuss. As to how it would come on the agenda, if it was the Palestinians who were looking to put it on the agenda usually they would go through the non-aligned movement group. It is not for us to second guess the Palestinians but there has been no request from the NAM group to discuss it at this stage. There has, however, been a consistent fixation with further resolutions of the Security Council being the only means by [1146] which the Security Council should discuss this, and I do not agree with that. The idea of a resolution which is drafted in such a way that will obviously attract a veto is clearly not beneficial to anybody.

During our Presidency of the Council, we strove very hard and, indeed, had available a Presidency statement which would have had unanimous agreement, including US agreement, on the calling for a withdrawal from areas A, etc. I would have seen this as an advance in public terms which should be grasped when the opportunity comes so that if, as a result of the Presidency statement contents not being implemented, the question of a resolution could then be considered on the same basis. This will denote progress. I have stated to our Palestinian colleagues and to others that it has not been clear to me what the strategy at UN level is as far as the Palestinian Authority is concerned. I respectfully suggest that it needs to address that question.

The Deputy asked about Shimon Peres, who is seen as a moderating influence, certainly within the Israeli Government, and how the European Union might be able to assist in bringing that point of view more into the ascendant. The realpolitik of the situation in my view and judgment is that as long as this present level of violence continues, the prospect of that happening is reduced all the time. Therefore, one of the issues being addressed to Nabil Sh'ath on Monday is the question of strategy. I know how difficult it is for the Palestinian Authority to do certain things but in the interests of its people, getting us to a process, putting the responsibilities where they lie and providing leverage for a Government like Israel to respond in kind, there is a need for it to do more than it is doing now, however difficult it may be, while recognising that the tactic being used by Israel is complicating and making it more difficult to do what needs to be done without shying away from the fact certain things need to be done. That, of course, reinforces the distrust and suspicion as to what real Israeli intentions are. Then we come back to this dual approach where I do not see, frankly, a sufficient breadth of consideration being given to the complexity of all these issues in the Israeli position as it is emerging.

On the question of the Solana visit and the Israelis feeling the European Union is moving closer to the American position, again I have to consider that and examine what precisely that is about but I would say that it may be the following. It is clear from the statement that came out of the General Affairs Council on Monday that there is a necessity for the Palestinian Authority to do more but that is not to be at the expense of the Israelis doing less. We are asking the Palestinians to do more precisely because the Israelis must do more. We are back again to this dynamic as to how we trigger this process. The United States needs to use the undoubted influence it has with the Israeli Government and administration to get it to see that trying to solve the immediate [1147] issues in an exclusively military sense has no prospects and greatly exacerbates the situation for its own citizens – let alone the difficulties it is causing for the people in the territories and in the Authority area.

The European Union with the United States, Russia and the United Nations – despite the very stereotypical views that are dominant in Israeli political circles about all of these bodies for, I think unjustified reasons – are trying to be political circles about all these bodies for unjustified reasons. We are trying to be honest brokers and to be fair and honourable to all sides. Remember that there were three Europeans on the Mitchell commission that drafted the Mitchell report. The idea that we are not participating as we should is wrong.

Another point that is often forgotten is that the European Union is providing the financial lifeline for a Palestinian Authority whose ability to survive is under threat – financially and economically – because of Israeli policies, closure of territories, and the failure to allow people go to work under the permit system in Israel. Often, that is not factored in sufficiently by successive Israeli administrations. There is a need for them not to suggest that the EU is participating on behalf of Palestinians as their cheerleader. The EU has a far more sophisticated and balanced position. Israeli governments should recognise that, because of EU support, there is still a Palestinian Authority as interlocutor. Without the EU's support, apart from the political mess that would obtain in the Middle East, the economic and financial reality would be that the Palestinian Authority would not survive. That gives legitimate leverage to the EU, which has equal standing as a partner with the United States, which is also clearly indispensable in terms of trying to broker a deal. The EU must be given the locus standi that it has not been given in the past.

It must be remembered that the EU is the biggest market Israel has. Up to 44% of its exports go to the EU. There are issues concerning products of origin going through arbitration at the moment. They can no longer be regarded as procedural, are coming to a head and must be dealt with. Prime Minister Mr. Sharon's catch phrase is “I say what I mean and I mean what I say”. We are coming to a point in the EU's economic relationship with Israel where we have to say what we mean and mean what we say. The arbitration procedure has been an elongated, exhaustive one, and has not a semblance of resolution on the basis of a clear agreement ordaining that Israel be dealt with in the same way other countries are dealt with in the EU. There is insignificant recognition of that problem either, which has been very kindly handled by the EU in the interests of trying to be helpful and legitimately influential as it tries to broker this deal between Israel and Palestine.

[1148]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  There are just three minutes remaining. Three Deputies have offered to contribute. We will take a very brief supplementary question from each of them. If they are not brief I will be able to allow only one.

Mr. Deasy: Information on Austin Deasy  Zoom on Austin Deasy  Deputy Jim O'Keeffe asked what the Israelis are doing? It seems to me, and many of us, that military suppression is all they are interested in. Why cannot the Minister take unilateral action? We are not bound by EU foreign policy. We probably adhere to it, but we are not bound by it. In cases like this we should show our individuality.

How does the Minister classify terrorism? From my having listened to the radio and watched television, it seems the Palestinians are depicted as the terrorists. From my perspective, the members of the Israeli government are institutionalised terrorists. Does the Minister agree with that classification?

Mr. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  (Dublin West): There is unanimity in the condemnation of terrorist attacks in the form of suicide bombing and killing civilians. What does the Irish Government say about the methods of the Israeli state? Why will it not say publicly that blasting the Palestinian Authority, targeting and murdering people and carrying out extra-judicial executions constitute terrorism and murder? What does the Government say about the United States full support for Israel in these methods while it is literally conducting a war against terrorism?

Mr. Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter  Zoom on Alan Shatter  Does the Minister agree it is regrettable that my colleague, Deputy Deasy, is incapable of understanding the impact of suicide bombings in the state of Israel and the huge problems they create in progressing any peace process.

Mr. Deasy: Information on Austin Deasy  Zoom on Austin Deasy  I understand perfectly well what is happening.

Mr. Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter  Zoom on Alan Shatter  I did not interrupt Deputy Deasy. Perhaps he will let me finish. Will the Minister indicate what steps he has been able to take, personally or at EU level, to persuade both Syria and Iran to cease funding the type of terrorist activities in the region?

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  I have responded to the second part of Deputy Shatter's question. He may have been out of the House for a moment when I answered Deputy Briscoe's question in the same vein. The record will show my position. There is no doubt that suicide bombing deeply affects the psyche of the Israeli people. With regard to the disagreement the EU has with Israel, when I asked Shimon Peres why there are killings taking place, he said: “We stop 80% of what is coming through. It is called a ticking bomb. Once they are on the move, we have no way of controlling it.”. He justifies killing those people for that reason. That is his explanation. Under international law, it is important that all efforts be [1149] made to apprehend people and bring them to justice etc. We all know the law. These questions are asked by Ireland. They are asked in a frank way between two countries that have full diplomatic relations, which should be maintained.

We have a basic disagreement with Deputy Deasy on this point. By having diplomatic relations with Israel, I was able to speak on the telephone to Shimon Peres on Saturday afternoon. I was able to speak to him on Monday bilaterally. I am not sure how many others he saw bilaterally. I spoke to him in Jerusalem at length because, in an effort to ensure that the tragedy for both Israelis and Palestinians stops, I want to offer a perspective based on our experience of peace building, not that the origin of the Israeli conflict is the same as the origin of ours. However, that is what we offer.

If we want to get involved in what I regard as token politics, we can tell the world that we have such moral sensibilities that we will break off diplomatic relations with the state of Israel. How could we influence events then? How soon would we be listened to by what is the democratically elected government of Israel? One might disagree with its politics and policies and its reactions to the crisis, as I do, but I am not in the business of walking away and saying I will not deal with the problem. I want to contribute. I have listened to colleagues at EU level talking about this problem, whose sincerity I accept absolutely, who do not know how hard it is make peace with one's enemies. Some of them do from their own historical experiences following the Second World War.

Having been involved in the Irish peace process, I know how difficult it is to do the right thing and sustain support. What one has to do is identify people on the other side and agree that, whatever happens, the hill will be climbed together, even it means being thrown down every so often. It must also be agreed that extremists on either side will not be allowed to derail the process at the expense of the wider good, which is that people will get up some morning and tend to their olive trees, whether they are Israeli or Palestinian, and live a decent life.

I have heard Shimon Peres speak eloquently about his vision for peace and of two states existing side by side between the Jordan and the Mediterranean sea. It is heartening that there are still people in the midst of this cataclysmic series of events who have the moral courage to express themselves thus. They need support. I do not agree with Shimon Peres on every issue but I admire him. He has difficulties with his own Government and I know how the axis of politics in Israel has moved to the right and how scattered the peace movement is. These are difficult times for those in Israeli politics who are interested in peace. If we want we can criticise and show that criticism by taking extreme measures against those we feel are not coming up to the mark and not showing the vision necessary in positions of leadership in the Israeli Administration. [1150] Satisfying myself when I go home that I hit a home run and got a headline by withdrawing diplomatic relations with Israel does not strike me as a manly or constructive idea given that people are dying as we speak.

I say the same to the Palestinian Authority. I say to Nabil Shaath that there are governance issues in relation to the Authority that must be resolved. There are credibility gaps, but there were also credibility gaps in our peace process last August. I told those who had influence that if they wanted to close the gap they had to do what they had been holding back from, which was putting arms beyond use and that if they did not we would not be able to sustain the process. There are credibility gaps at present in the Middle East peace process and some people are going to have to do more than they did before to satisfy those of goodwill on the other side – the people who want to stick with this process and who hope the visions of Madrid and Oslo become a reality for their people. It is our job to support those interested in that process.

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