Gilmore expresses concern over possible expansion of Israeli settlement


TÁNAISTE AND Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore has expressed concern over the possibility of Israeli settlement expansion between Jerusalem and the large West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.

After seeing the area northeast of Jerusalem first hand, Mr Gilmore warned that Israeli construction at the site, named E1, would deal a blow to peace efforts.

“If E1 proceeds this will sever the northern part of the West Bank from the southern part. It will have a huge impact and further complicate the possibility of a future Palestinian state and harm peace prospects,” he said.

Plans exist to build some 15,000 new homes in E1. Israel has already built a new police station in the area, but residential construction has been put on hold, partly due to international criticism.

Mr Gilmore was speaking on the final day of his 3-day Middle East trip during which he met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and visited the Gaza strip.

He stressed in talks last night with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu the importance of halting settlement construction and easing the blockade on Gaza.

The talks lasted 90 minutes and focused on peace efforts and Iran’s nuclear drive.

Mr Gilmore urged both Mr Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to stay engaged and continue low-level peace talks, and urged Israel to come up with a package of goodwill gestures. The future of the contacts ,which have been taking place in Jordan this month ,will be decided at an Arab League meeting this weekend. Despite pessimism from both sides, Mr Gilmore said the only way to achieve peace is by negotiating.

“I understand the reluctance of both sides. The situation is difficult but you have to put that in the context of the prolonged nature of the conflict. There is a new and developing context in the region and changes in neighbouring countries, but there is no escaping the reality that the conflict will only be solved by sitting down and talking, and there is an opportunity to do that now.” Mr Netanyahu told Mr Gilmore that Israel wants the talks to continue. “We’re prepared to continue these talks, we hope the Palestinian Authority decides to resume the talks and back away from terror and glorification of killers.” Israeli leaders praised the European Union for adopting tougher sanctions against Iran although Mr Netanyahu said more was needed, without elaborating. Mr Gilmore said time must be given for the sanctions to work, and he stressed the importance of finding a peaceful solution to the Iranian nuclear issue. Foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman told Mr Gilmore that the sanctions are already beginning to bite.

Despite differences of opinion, Mr Gilmore said Irish-Israeli bilateral relations were strong. “I’m aware that Ireland has been characterised in the Israeli press as the most anti-Israel member of the EU but I don’t think this is accurate. There is a great deal of goodwill in Ireland for Israel. Ireland’s support for Palestinian self-determination shouldn’t be interpreted as hostility to the state of Israel. ”