The Middle East Situation: Statement by Minister Cowen to Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs
Over the past few days there has been a very serious deterioration in the situation in the Middle East. Appalling suicide bomb attacks killed 26 Israeli civilians at the weekend. Israel has responded with great force.
Yesterday I wrote to Mr. Shimon Peres, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Israel, expressing the Government's sympathy and utterly condemning these attacks on Israeli civilians. I said that no cause justifies the deliberate taking of innocent lives.
I went on to urge the Israeli Government to persist in the path of peace. I agreed that it was essential that those directly responsible should be brought to justice. However, I pointed out that going beyond this legitimate requirement would serve only the cause of those who are opposed to peace.
I voiced the hope that, even in this hour of great tragedy, the Israeli Government would continue working to find a way to move forward and to bring an end to this conflict which had taken such a toll of human life and I assured Minister Peres of Ireland's strongest support.
I also issued a statement stressing the urgent need for the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to move quickly to renew security cooperation with the aim of ending the cycle of violence. I said they should 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 yesterday afternoon 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.
I have written a second letter today to Minister Peres conveying my deep concern and disappointment at the extent and severity of the Israeli retaliation. We fear that this will lead to further escalation of the violence. We see it as reinforcing and driving a vicious circle of attack and reprisal. 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.
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. There is a solution, however, and it is a political one. The path to peace is quite 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. In particular, I call on the Israeli Government to cease its present military action against the Palestinian Authority and to set about rebuilding the security and political partnership with the Palestinian Authority which alone offers any hope of escaping from this dreadful conflict.
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.Top