On Friday the 16th April the Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr. Micheál Martin T.D. made a speech to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions on the Middle East Peace Process. This follows his trip to Gaza in February which was discussed here and which was characterised as a humanitarian trip to highlight the crisis created by the blockade of Gaza which he also referred to.
In his speech to the ICTU the Minister acknowledged the work undertaken by the Trade Union movement and other civil society groups in Ireland in highlighting the situation within the Middle East. He also drew attention to the importance of having an informed debate on this topic.
Interestingly the Minister also stressed the importance of a resolution based upon a two-state solution and ‘the central importance of achieving progress towards a comprehensive settlement, based on a two-State solution.’ In doing so he lay emphasis upon the apparent acceptance of such a solution by Prime Minister Netanyahu in June 2009 where he stated that:
In my vision of peace, there are two free peoples living side by side in this small land, with good neighborly relations and mutual respect, each with its flag, anthem and government, with neither one threatening its neighbors security and existence.
The Minister further emphasised the Irish Government’s support for the US efforts led by Senator George Mitchell, who was heavily involved in the Northern Ireland peace process as well, in reaching a settlement. The strongest language in the speech was left to the issue current blockade of Gaza, where the Minister stated that,
Most of all, we need to end the completely unjust, unacceptable and counter-productive blockade of Gaza.
The Minister had previously condemned the building of 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem, joining other EU countries in doing so. In that statement the Minister called into question Israel’s commitment in achieving any progress within the talks.
The Minister also referenced the relationship between the EU and the countries of the Middle East, particularly Israel, and asserted that it was the Government’s position that such relations should be based upon the EU-Israel Association Agreement. This aim of this Agreement is to strengthen EU-Israeli ties and to eventually integrate Israel into EU policies. The EU’s language with regard to the Middle East conflict tends to be quite tame, a recent Declaration by HR Catherine Ashton stated that, ‘[t]he EU calls upon all parties to avoid any provocation and move towards lasting peace.’
Interestingly the Minister did not make any mention of the use of Irish passports in the assassination of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhhouh which we blogged about here. Indeed the Department of Foreign Affairs appears to have gone silent on the matter. This may be contrasted with the UK which expelled a Israeli diplomat in late March in response to state sponsored identity theft. This perhaps better reflects the Government’s largely guarded tone when discussing issues related to the Middle East.
Today, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin T.D. visited Gaza. The trip was announced yesterday by the Department of Foreign Affairs. In the press release the Minister stated that
My purpose in visiting Gaza is humanitarian, in order to assess for myself the conditions obtaining for Gaza’s population in light of the completely unacceptable blockade imposed on the Strip for some two-and-a-half years now.
I have repeatedly expressed my serious concerns over the situation in Gaza and called for an end to the unjust blockade imposed against its population
The Director of Operations of UNRAW (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) is Irish born John Ging. John Ging was born in Portlaoise and is a former Irish Army officer who has served in Rwanda and Kosovo. He has also obtained a law degree from NUI, Galway and is a qualified barrister. He has been Director since 2006 and has been very vocal in bringing attention to the many problems in Gaza.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has been involved in Gaza for many years through Irish Aid . Since 2006 there has been a Representative Office in Ramallah. The attention that the visit of Minister Martin will bring to Gaza is important as it keeps front and centre the plight of the ordinary residents whose conditions have worsened since the introduction of the Isreali blockade following last winter’s war.