On Tuesday October 4th Mick asked Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore a priority question on the ongoing situation in Palestine. Settlements are being constructed illegally by Israel in the area with 1,000 units given the go ahead in Gilo, East Jerusalem recently. Mick indicated to the Minister that Ireland needed to remain strong in its support of Palestine's proposed membership of the UN. He also requested that the Minister discuss Ireland's stance with the Israeli ambassador to Ireland. The discussion is detailed below and you can watch it here.
Question 52: To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if, following his declaration of support for the Palestinian application for membership of the United Nations, he will now consider appealing to the Israeli ambassador for an end to the construction of illegal settlements in Palestinian territory; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
I have consistently made clear, including in my address to the UN General Assembly last week, that the Government opposes Israel’s illegal settlement of occupied Palestinian territory and that we want an immediate halt to such activity. This policy is stated at every opportunity, both directly with the Israeli authorities, in international fora and in discussions at EU level. The illegal Israeli settlements are a key driver of the unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict.
The expansion of settlements inherently involves the seizure of Palestinian lands, destruction of homes and eviction of families, and the exclusion of farmers from their fields. The network of checkpoints and closed roads that bedevil the lives of Palestinians in the occupied territories exists primarily not to ensure the security of Israel, but the security of the settlements. Violence by settlers against Palestinians is increasing and is largely ignored by the military authorities. The whole settlement enterprise sends a clear message that there is one law for Israelis and another for Palestinians.
The settlements also constitute, and are intended to constitute, an obstacle to the achievement of a comprehensive peace. If the settlements had not been put in place, the way to a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab world would now be clear and that such an agreement would be readily achievable. I am firmly of the view that a reinstatement of the settlement construction freeze, which ended last September, would be a major confidence building measure that could enable direct negotiations to resume.
I commend the Tánaiste on standing by this in America last week. Surely, he must be as disappointed as I am that President Obama has failed to deliver. Sadly, during his three years in power, Mr. Netanyhu has given him the run around and there has been no progress in the Middle East and his international record will not look great. Obviously, he is now much more interested in trying to get re-elected and in cosying up to the Israeli vote rather than making decisions in the best interests of the Palestinian people who are getting a pretty raw deal.
I refer to the decision to give the go ahead for more than 1,000 units in Gilo in East Jerusalem. This was only days after the quartet asked that both sides avoid provocative actions so that the peace talks could get under way soon. What Israel did in the days after the UN meeting was a slap in the face for the quartet. Would the Tánaiste consider speaking to the Israeli ambassador about this issue? We know that as long as the settlements continue, there will be no appetite for peace.
President Obama is a very good friend of Ireland. This country has very warm and close relations with the United States which we will continue. President Obama will state his country’s position on international issues at the UN, just as I stated Ireland’s position on this issue. In respect of the expansion of the settlements, I said in reply to an earlier question that we strongly condemn the decision to go ahead with the 1,000 household settlement plan in Gilo in East Jerusalem. I agree with the Deputy that coming directly after the quartet statement, it was not a very good signal on whether progress can be made.
I remind the Deputy that the quartet statement is an agreed one between all the members, namely, the United States, Russia, the European Union and the UN, and it sets down a timetable. It also sets down very clearly that provocative and pre-emptive actions should not be engaged in, and I agree with that. My colleagues in the European Union, High Representative Ms Catherine Ashton and I will focus on how we can make that quartet statement become a reality, get negotiations going and try to get a settlement.
I do not disagree with the Tánaiste that President Obama may be a friend of Ireland but it does not change the fact that his international reputation will be seen as one of impotence and incompetence. I would still like the Tánaiste to have a chat with the Israeli ambassador and point out in black and white that its stance is completely outrageous.
On several occasions since I came into office, I have spoken to the Israeli ambassador and representatives of the Israeli Government. I have also spoken to its Foreign Minister Mr. Lieberman. He and I were to have met at the UN General Assembly but there were changes on the Israeli side to that arrangement and the meeting did not take place. It is fair to say the Israeli Government is in no doubt as to where Ireland stands on this issue and on the continued expansion of the settlements. We will continue to use every opportunity to repeat and reinforce that.