Minister Cowen's Statement to Seanad Eireann on Israel / Palestine (Part II)
I am afraid that the Rules of Procedure of the International Court of Justice do not permit me to make the text Irish submission publicly available at this time, but I can assure Senators that it is firmly grounded in well known Irish positions on the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the occupied Palestinian Territories and the applicability of international humanitarian and human rights law in this case.
As the motion before the House urges, it is my intention to remain closely engaged in the search for peace in the Middle East. I have already outlined the extensive contacts which we have recently undertaken. I hope to pay a further visit to the region myself a little later in the Presidency. The possibility of high-level Presidency representation at the Arab League Summit meeting in Tunis in late March is also under consideration, should it appear that the Summit will take concrete action on the peace process.
In the meantime, the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Territories continues to be a matter of grave concern. Development Cooperation Ireland will continue its work in the Palestinian Territories. This will involve a visit in the coming days by a programming mission to develop a country programme for implementation over the next three years. Development Cooperation Ireland's existing interim programme for 2003-2004 allocates some €3million to assistance to the Palestinian people. The Minister of State at my Department responsible for Development Cooperation Ireland, Deputy Kitt, intends to visit the Palestinian Territories later this year to inspect the implementation of Irish programmes.
The European Union will also continue its extensive funding in the region. The plight of the Palestinian Authority is a cause for grave concern. It relies far too heavily for its continued existence on funding from the Union. I would appeal to other donors to play a greater role and for Israel to release funds belonging to the Palestinian Authority.
Humanitarian and human rights issues are always prominent in our thinking on this conflict. The Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War is fully applicable to the Occupied Palestinian Territories and should be observed by the Israeli occupation forces. The Palestinian people live under military occupation, subject to restrictions on movement, curfews, arbitrary detention and daily petty humiliations. Significant numbers of Palestinians continue to be killed in the course of Israeli military actions. Ireland has consistently urged the Government of Israel to address humanitarian issues as a means of countering the atmosphere which generates support for terrorism.
It is important to remember that Israelis are also suffering. Innocent men, women and children have been the victims of random terrorist violence, including suicide bombings. Israelis have a right to live in a society free from the threat of terror. Again, we have urged the Palestinian Authority to do all that remains in their power to act against those who plan and execute suicide bombings and other acts of terror. Not only are such actions wrong in themselves, they are the most potent weapon available to those who seek to justify the building of the separation barrier.
The outlines of an eventual settlement to Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been clear for quite some time; two States, living side by side in peace and security, within internationally recognised borders. As long ago as 1980, my distinguished predecessor, the late Brian Lenihan, called for the establishment of a Palestinian State in his Bahrain Declaration. This subsequently became the policy of the European Union and is now universally accepted as one of the requirements for a comprehensive settlement. The two-state solution is at the heart of Resolution 1397 which was adopted by the UN Security Council with strong support from Ireland when we sat on the Council in 2002. The two-State solution is the basic premise of the Roadmap presented to the parties by the international Quartet in April of last year.
Amid the gloom currently prevalent in the region, there are some small signs of hope. The Geneva Initiative promoted by Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabo is a welcome indication that rational discussion between senior representatives on both sides is possible. This plan points to some ways in which the difficult final status issues such as Jerusalem and the right of return of refugees might be addressed. I was pleased to see that the authors were in Brussels to brief the European Union's High Representative, Dr. Solana, earlier this week. Discussions about dates for a visit to Dublin are in progress and I look forward to welcoming them in the near future. Other initiatives among civil society representatives are also in train involving academics, political figures and former military and intelligence officers. This all serves to show that dialogue is possible, even on very difficult and emotional issues.
I am also encouraged by suggestions that the Arab League may move to reiterate its initiative adopted at the Beirut Summit almost two years ago. This idea, advanced by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, was that in return for Israel's withdrawal to the 1967 boundaries relations with all its Arab neighbours would be normalised. Normalisation would involve de jure recognition of Israel by the entire membership of the Arab League, the establishment of diplomatic relations, the establishment of trade links and the opening of possibilities for technical and investment exchanges in all sectors. At the time this proposal received insufficient attention in Israel, but I think that with the Roadmap on the table this initiative could prove to be complementary. It might also serve to reassure Israel as to the wisdom of proceeding towards a peace agreement with its neighbours, Syria and Lebanon. I would urge the leaders of the Arab League to use the opportunity of their forthcoming Summit meeting to advance the prospect of normalisation to Israel once again. They should emphasise their desire for a comprehensive peace which can only be of benefit to all the countries of the region. I would also urge the Israeli leadership to consider carefully the benefits and advantages which they could reap from a normal relationship with their wider neighbourhood and assuming their proper role in their natural economic and political region.
The recent proposal by the Syrian President that talks on a peace agreement should resume is also encouraging. Israeli President Katsav's suggestion of talks in Jerusalem was welcome in many respects. Prime Minister Sharon's suggestion that talks should resume without pre-conditions is positive. However, an insistence that talks cannot resume where they last left off should in my view not itself become a pre-condition for negotiations. At the time of the last peace negotiations in 2000 under the auspices of the US, the outstanding issues between Israel and Syria were not very great. The talks should be resumed without preconditions on either side and with the support of the international community.
Inaction in the peace process is not an acceptable option while Israelis and Palestinians are being killed and the situation on the ground moved further away from a negotiated settlement. The Government is convinced that with political will on both sides and an end to violent activity, it will be possible to make early progress towards the realisation of the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side, within borders based on those of 1967, in peace, security and prosperity.
Israelis need not live in a fortress, surrounded by hostile neighbours; where they are in danger of walking the streets or driving the roads; where young soldiers – boys and girls - are placed at constant risk; and where a great part of their national resources are consumed by the burden of defence.
Palestinians need not live in hopelessness and indignity; where young people are encouraged to blow themselves up; where homes are bulldozed and destroyed; where employment is scarce to no-existent; where people are not free to travel around their country; where emigration seems to offer the only escape route.
We must help the people of Israel and Palestine to find the courage and wisdom to build a new peace. Courage, to face down those who would reject compromise. Wisdom, to understand that putting an end to the insecurity and suffering of their neighbours is in their own long term interest.
If we can achieve this, the Holy Land may yet become a land of peace and prosperity.
Thank you, a Chathaoirleach.