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European Union (EU)
11 February 2004
Statement by Minister Roche at the European Parliament, on behalf of the Council of Ministers, on the EU position on the hearing at the International Court of Justice on the Israeli Wall
In addressing the situation in the Middle East, I regret to have to say that there have been few positive developments in the region in recent months and I should have to be frank and say that prospects for progress in the near term are not overly encouraging. Nonetheless, the European Union continues to attach great importance to this issue, and as Presidency we shall play an active role in international peace efforts and in particular as a member of the international Quartet of the EU, Russia, the US and UN.
The Irish Foreign Minister, in his capacity as President of the Council, visited Israel and Egypt from 14 to 18 January. He met the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Israel and paid a courtesy call on the President. In his meetings Minister Cowen pointed out that the status quo was not sustainable and that progress must be made on the implementation of the Road map. He suggested that if the initial steps, envisaged in Phase One of the Road map. are proving too great, then perhaps smaller steps might be taken as a means of building confidence. The Israeli side showed some interest in these ideas. Similar suggestions had been made to the Palestinian Foreign Minister, Dr. Nabeel Shaath, during his visit to Dublin on 9 January. These ideas also attracted support from the President and Foreign Minister of Egypt and with the Secretary General of the Arab League. Palestinian Prime Minister Qurei visited Dublin on Monday and his discussions with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister included further discussion of these ideas.
The meetings were conducted in a cordial atmosphere and the discussions were wide ranging and frank. Prime Minister Qurei briefed his Irish interlocutors on the preparations which are being made for a meeting with the Prime Minister of Israel. He said that he is willing to meet Prime Minister Sharon at any mutually convenient time. He also announced a number of positive measures which the Palestinian Government is taking or will shortly take. These include the continued return of Palestinian police to the streets, firm action to end incitement and an unequivocal statement reaffirming the stated Palestinian position on Israel's right to exist in peace and security. Prime Minister Qurei also outlined the work of the Palestinian Elections Commission which is preparing for elections in the Palestinian Territory in the coming months. He also urged that the Quartet have the Israeli Government stop the building of the wall because continuing construction would lead to the undermining of the Road map. and the two State solution, in addition to the human catastrophe for the Palestinian people's way of life.
There can be no doubt that the construction by Israel of a separation barrier which extends deep into the Palestinian Territories is a major obstacle to progress in the peace process. This has been the subject of statements by the European Union and others who have urged Israel to consider the long term consequences of this construction. I need hardly say that the Wall figured prominently in the discussions which the President of the Council had in Israel two weeks ago and that the Israeli attitude was regrettably uncompromising.
On 21 October last year, the Member States of the European Union and the Acceding States co-sponsored a Resolution in the General Assembly of the United Nations which called on Israel to stop and reverse construction of the wall and asked the Secretary General of the United Nations to report on Israeli compliance. When, at the end of November, the Secretary General reported that there was no evidence of Israeli compliance, the General Assembly adopted a Resolution asking the International Court of Justice to render an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of the construction of a wall in occupied Palestinian Territory. This Resolution was adopted on 8 December last. On that occasion the European Union abstained on the vote. The decision to abstain was taken after intense consultations and was based on the conviction of many Member States that transferring the matter of the Wall to a legal forum would do nothing to advance the political process necessary for peace. Abstention did not in any way suggest that the European Union's position that the Wall was in contravention of international law had changed.
On receiving the Resolution of the General Assembly, the Court invited Member States of the United Nations to submit statements or information to the Court which might be of assistance in its deliberations. Some Member States of the European Union felt that it would be desirable for a common position to be submitted to the Court. Other states had a strong preference for individual national submissions to the Court. After considerable discussion, including at the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 26 January, it was agreed that there would be a Presidency submission on behalf of the EU and that individual Member States might make national submissions based on established European Union positions. The Presidency letter had annexed the texts of Presidency statements to the UN General Assembly on 20 October and 8 December. This was transmitted to the Registrar of the International Court of Justice in The Hague by the Irish Ambassador on 30 January. The written submissions of all interested parties, including the Israelis and Palestinians, have now been received by the Court. It is expected that oral submissions will commence on 23 February and that the Court will deliver its advisory opinion to the General Assembly sometime between late May and late July.
Amid the gloom 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 people 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 recently in Brussels to brief the European Union's High Representative, Dr. Solana. 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 Road map. 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.
Finally, Mr. President, I should like to assure the House that the search for a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, based on the well established positions of the European Union, is a priority for this Presidency and that we shall make every attempt to take the Road map. forward and to convince the parties to the conflict to make the necessary efforts to achieve a comprehensive and lasting peace for the benefit of all the peoples and States of the region.