Martin urges Israel to stop construction in UN address


MINISTER FOR Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin last night urged Israel “to desist from all settlement construction in the West Bank” in his address to the United Nations General Assembly.

Israel’s 10-month, partial settlement freeze expired at midnight on Sunday. By yesterday, bulldozers reportedly began work in dozens of settlements across the West Bank.

In delivering Ireland’s annual UN statement, Mr Martin said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “more than most requires the sustained engagement of the international community”.

A comprehensive agreement recognising two states “would contribute more to improving global security than any other single peace-building effort”.

He said the present Israeli-Palestinian talks, which resumed this month, may represent “the final opportunity to achieve a just settlement based on two states living side by side in peace and security”.

“There could be no greater single confidence-building measure and practical demonstration of commitment to peace (on the part of Israel) than a decision to desist from all settlement construction in the West Bank.”

The Minister also deplored “the appalling humanitarian plight of the people of Gaza” which he witnessed directly last February.

“Eighty per cent of [Gaza’s inhabitants] live below the poverty line . . . living conditions are quite simply unacceptable.”

Mr Martin said the lack of progress in negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme was “a source of great concern”, as was the human rights situation in Iran.

“Recent cases of human rights abuses are profoundly disturbing and Iran must be held fully accountable for these,” he added.

Efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament “have been . . . a major foreign policy priority for successive Irish governments”, Mr Martin said, reminding the assembly that “Ireland was the first country to sign and ratify the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty”.

He highlighted Ireland’s role in moving forward the 15-year-old resolution on a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East at the NPT Review Conference last May, and the entry into force of the Convention on Cluster Munitions which was reached in Dublin in 2008.

Mr Martin spoke of Ireland’s “long and distinguished tradition of service in UN peacekeeping operations”, and said this year marks the 50th anniversary of the first deployment of Irish troops as “blue helmets”.

“The Northern Ireland peace process is an example of what can be achieved with patience, imagination and strong international support,” Mr Martin said. The devolution of policing and justice powers in the North was “a hugely significant step”.

Mr Martin started his UN address by emphasising the need to maintain the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.

Speaking earlier to The Irish Times, Mr Martin said he thought the event he co-chaired with US secretary of state Hillary Clinton on September 21st could signify “the beginning of a new type of relationship with the US, where we as two countries work on specific projects across the word, as two equal partners, in this context of development and hunger”.

In discussions with the US financial community, Mr Martin said he was most struck by “a sense that this is a see-saw type of recession”.

“It’s up and down. In other words, there is no clear certainty, lack of clarity. As one financial person said to me, there is no textbook for this type of recession.”

In their meetings with Mr Martin, Irish-American groups emphasised the difficulties faced by undocumented Irish in the US.

“What we take from that going home is the need to communicate to young people in Ireland,” said Mr Martin.

“Do not come to America without your papers in order. We must at all costs avoid a new generation of illegals . . .You can’t think you can stay beyond your legal limit. The consequences are terribly traumatic, and it’s a life sentence.”