Breen urges Foreign Affairs Minister Michael Martin to meet with US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to encourage the US to join with the EU in developing a new Road Map for Peace in the Middle East.

January 28th, 2009 - Pat Breen

 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on whether the unconditional support given by previous US Governments to Israel has been an obstacle to achieving a permanent peace in the Middle East; if, in his contacts with the new US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the US Administration, he will urge her to join with the EU in developing a policy which respects the rights and addresses the fears of both the Israeli and Palestinian communities and ensures that there is no reoccurrence of the events that happened in Gaza in the past month; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2313/09]


Deputy Micheál Martin:   The war in Gaza, arising from the launch of Operation Cast Lead by Israel on 27 December 2008, was a profound tragedy for the people of Gaza and for the region.  I welcome that the unilateral ceasefires announced by Israel and Hamas on 18 January continue to hold.  The costs of the war have been stark – 1,300 Palestinian dead and over 5,500 severely injured, with more than 40% of the victims women and children.  Much of Gaza lies in ruins, with extensive destruction to homes and public infrastructure and utilities throughout the territory.

  The immediate imperatives are the delivery of humanitarian relief to the population of Gaza and the consolidation of the current fragile cessation into a durable truce through the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1860.  Following the halt in rockets launched into Israel and the withdrawal on 21 January of Israeli troops from Gaza, the crossings into Gaza must to be reopened and a mechanism developed to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza.

  The conflict witnessed a number of appalling incidents and alleged violations of international humanitarian law by both parties.  I have already made clear that I agree with and fully support the call by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for these incidents to be fully investigated and, where evidence of violations of international humanitarian law is adduced, those responsible should be held to account.

  I believe that there is a case for an independent international investigation and I made clear my position to EU Foreign Ministers on Monday last.  Among the incidents which require to be properly investigated are the shelling of UN schools and facilities, with attendant heavy civilian casualties, including children; attacks on humanitarian convoys and the deaths of humanitarian and medical personnel; reports of the parties using civilians as human shields; and the use of white phosphorous by the Israeli military.  I note that the Israeli Government is to set up an investigation into allegations against its defence forces.  At a minimum such an investigation would require the involvement of independent international experts if it were to have any credibility.  No investigation needs to be conducted to prove that Hamas, in its indiscriminate shelling of southern Israel, violated international law.

  Looking forward, and in order to move away from the grim cycle of violence which has too often characterised the region, the search for a comprehensive peace in the Middle East must be the diplomatic priority for the international community.  In general, the US has endeavoured to play a constructive role in supporting the efforts of the parties to reach a settlement.  At the same time, the nature of American support for Israel has, at times, impacted upon the perception, and arguably the reality, of the role of the US as a neutral or honest broker.  However, the US remains an indispensable partner for peace in the Middle East.

  I am very much encouraged therefore that President Obama has promised that his Administration will “actively and aggressively” pursue Middle East peace and that he will invest time, political capital and finance in the effort.  I also warmly welcomed the appointment of Senator George Mitchell, a true friend of Ireland and a masterful mediator, as an inspired choice to serve as President Obama’s Middle East envoy.  Ireland and our EU partners look forward to working closely together with Secretary of State Clinton and Senator Mitchell in a renewed transatlantic effort to promote what Europe and America recognise as the strategic priority of a comprehensive Middle East peace settlement.

  Following this crisis in Gaza, it is more critical than ever that the Palestinian and Israeli people can have faith in a revived and credible political process that is seen to be addressing the underlying causes of the conflict, ending the occupation and leading to a two-state solution.  However, no comprehensive peace is possible without intra-Palestinian reconciliation and the political reunification of Gaza and the West Bank, and I support the efforts of Egypt and other regional actors to promote such reconciliation.


 Deputy Pat Breen: Like Deputy Higgins, I was disappointed by yesterday’s meeting in Brussels.  History has shown that no political problem can be resolved militarily.  Any attempt using excessive force only creates a new breed of terrorist.  The situation is volatile.  This morning, two people were killed.  We do not yet know whether this incident has broken the ceasefire, but the Israeli Minister for Defence, Ehud Barak, has stated that he is willing to use force again.

  Does the Minister plan to meet the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, regarding her new job and her special relationship with Ireland?  Senator George Mitchell, who is on his way to the Middle East as we speak, has a major task in hand.  He has a good record of conflict resolution.  He is meeting a number of prime ministers and other interested parties, but should he also meet Hamas during his discussions?  Irrespective of whether one likes it, Hamas is a significant part of the problem and has been recognised by the Palestinian people.  Fatah is not as popular as it was.  Some damage was done to the President, Mahmoud Abbas, because of his support for Israel at the start of the conflict.  The EU and the Americans should make a considerable international effort and work together on a resolution to the conflict.


   Deputy Micheál Martin: We will meet the Secretary of State in due course.  Indeed, we have written to congratulate her on her appointment and to offer any assistance.  I have also written to George Mitchell to congratulate him on his appointment and to offer any assistance or advice that Ireland can give, considering our history of conflict resolution and the noble role that he played in assisting the peace process, which led to the Good Friday Agreement.  He is an experienced mediator and is not new to events in the Middle East.  He is fully aware of the different approaches to various parties.  The main game in town is the Egyptian process and the sets of negotiations in which the Egyptians are engaged.  Senator Mitchell, who is in the Middle East this week, will take cognisance of the process and talk to all of the major players.

  The question on Hamas was fair.  During the EU meeting, it was raised by a number of Foreign Ministers.  In our situation, people who were outside the mainstream of political opinion, such as those in the Sinn Féin movement, took a lengthy period before they entered the political discussions.  Events had to occur beforehand.  They did not occur by accident.  People needed to change their positions and sequencing, mutual understanding and so forth were required.  All of these constitute the delicate art of peace building and will be required in the Middle East.

  Hamas must also move.  It cannot stay rooted.  Seeking ways to bring Hamas and others into the political mainstream, to have it renounce violence and to enter a process that offers a genuine two-state solution, would be worthwhile.  There must be a sincerity behind the process.  This is the creativity that Senator Mitchell and others will bring to the table.