Thursday, 15 June 2006
Dáil Eireann Debate
33. Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps Ireland will take to ensure Israel’s compliance with international law, in view of the fact that the Israeli Government has chosen calls by the Quartet to freeze settlement expansion and the construction of the separation barrier; the role the Irish Government is playing in mobilising the Quartet to give meaning to the vision of two viable States of Israel and Palestine, recognising that actions on both sides have contributed to the situation of insecurity and poverty and that without international impartiality peace will be elusive; if the Irish Government will commit to providing the aid that had been ear-marked to the Palestinian Authority and call for a full resumption of EU assistance in view of the deepening poverty levels among the Palestinian population; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23286/06]
The Government shares the widespread concern about the situation in the Palestinian Territories. Recent events serve to underline the urgent need for the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority to recognise and act on their obligations under the Quartet Roadmap and under international law. The Government has continued to raise directly with the Israeli authorities our concerns about the serious humanitarian and economic impact of policies and activities in the Occupied Territories. We have also worked with our partners in the EU to ensure that the Union maintains its clear position that Israel must end all activities in the Territories which are contrary to international law and which threaten the viability of a solution based on the co-existence of two States. These include the continued expansion of settlements, the construction of the separation barrier on occupied land and the demolition of Palestinian homes.
We have been consistently active within the EU and the UN in promoting a lasting, peaceful and just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and remain convinced that the only way forward is through negotiations between the parties leading to a viable two-State solution. Within the Union, the Government continues to pursue a policy approach aimed at ensuring that the EU remains fully engaged in the process, with a clear and balanced message for the parties. The EU is playing a vital role in the work of the Quartet to create an environment for the earliest possible return to negotiations.
The EU has been the strongest supporter of the Palestinian people internationally. It is also the largest donor. Overall EU assistance, including ding bilateral assistance from Member States, averages €500 million annually. This has covered humanitarian assistance and support for Palestinian institutions, NGOs and civil society, as well as contributions to the UN and other international organisations. In February, the Council approved the urgent release by the Commission of €121 million in humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, and a further allocation will be made shortly. Since April, the EU has been reviewing its assistance against the Hamas Government’s commitment to the principles set out by the Quartet and the EU since 30 January. These entail renunciation of violence, recognition of Israel’s right to exist, and adherence to agreements already negotiated by the Authority and the PLO.
I regret that Hamas has not yet demonstrated any significant movement towards acceptance of the peace process. While we understand the difficulty of the transition Hamas must now make, I believe it would be unreasonable to expect the EU to continue its capacity-building support for the Government irrespective of its willingness to commit to the basic rules of the peace process. I also strongly believe that the Palestinian people should not have to face a humanitarian crisis because of the reluctance of their Government to meet its responsibilities.
In early April, the Commission temporarily suspended direct assistance to the Palestinian Authority. However, the EU has made it clear that it is committed to continuing necessary assistance to meet the basic needs of the Palestinian population. Ireland has argued for the widest possible definition of those needs. Following the meeting of the Quartet on 9 May and the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 15 May, the EU has undertaken the urgent task of developing a temporary international mechanism to channel assistance directly to the Palestinian people. The Commission aims to have the mechanism in place within weeks. I hope that the major international donors, including the Arab States, will cooperate to ensure the effectiveness of these temporary structures. The EU has also called on Israel to resume the transfers of withheld Palestinian tax and customs revenues, which are essential in averting a crisis in the Occupied Territories.
As the Deputy will be aware, the Government is committed to maintaining the level of Ireland’s bilateral assistance to the Palestinians which amounted to over €4 million in 2005. Already this year €1.5 million has been allocated in humanitarian assistance through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. I expect to make further allocations in the near future.
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