Dáil Éireann - Volume 491 - 28 May, 1998

Written Answers. - Middle East Peace Process.

31. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government's view of the state of the Middle East peace process and, in particular, the Israeli Government's refusal to meet the commitments of the Oslo peace accord with regard to the handing over of occupied land on the West Bank to the Palestinian authorities and the opening of a secure land corridor between Gaza and the West Bank; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12490/98]

45. Mr. Sheehan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the British EU Presidency has briefed the EU General Affairs Council on progress in the Middle East peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12396/98]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Andrews): I propose to take Questions Nos. 31 and 45 together.

The Government is extremely concerned at the current impasse in the Middle East peace process. The decision by the Israeli Government, reported earlier this week, to reject the current US proposals for a second redeployment as provided for under the Oslo Agreement is particularly disappointing.

As Deputies may be aware, the Middle East peace process is based on the Oslo Agreement signed by Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation in September 1993. This very comprehensive agreement, which was supplemented by several secondary agreements, envisaged a series of Israeli redeployments from the Occupied Territories — the West Bank and the Golan Heights — overrun by Israeli forces during the 1967 war. It was intended that, once these redeployments were completed, final status talks would begin to address the remaining outstanding issues, such as the status of Jerusalem and refugees. The entire process was to be concluded by May 1999.

Up to early 1997, the process envisaged in these agreements was more or less on track. However, due to a combination of events, including unilateral Israeli attempts to expand settlements [1051] in the Occupied Territories and terrorist suicide bombings, the process stalled.

Since last summer, the US Administration has been making very strenuous efforts to restart this process — efforts which Ireland and other European Union member states have fully supported. The basis of this approach has been to link progress in redeployment with progress in tackling terrorism.

In recent weeks the US has mounted a major diplomatic effort to persuade Israel to accept its proposals. This has been complemented by the very active support of the EU Presidency, including separate visits to the region by Prime Minister Blair and the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook.

Following these visits the main parties were invited to London by the British Prime Minister. Mrs. Albright, the US Secretary of State, held lengthy negotiations with the Israeli Prime Minister, which were subsequently resumed in Washington. It now appears, as I indicated earlier, that the Israeli cabinet has formally rejected the US proposal.

While we appreciate Israel's concerns regarding its security, both internal and external, we find difficult to understand their refusal to implement their commitments under the Oslo agreements, thereby jeopardising the entire peace process.

In view of the widespread international concerns, new initiatives are already being mooted, notably a recent Franco-Egyptian proposal for a high-level international conference and a call by President Arafat for a summit meeting of Arab leaders.

The General Affairs Council has been kept fully briefed by the UK Presidency on all developments, most recently at its meeting on 25 May. The EU's Special Envoy to the Middle East, Ambassador Moratinos, has also been very active in his efforts in supporting the Middle East Peace Process and has kept the Council fully informed.