Charlie Flanagan says time running out for Israeli-Palestinian pact

Ireland committed to two-state solution and opposed to settlement expansion – Minister

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan lays a wreath during a ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.  Photograph: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan lays a wreath during a ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. Photograph: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters


The opportunity to re-start the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians could be lost for a generation if it is not grasped soon, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has said during a visit to the Middle East.

On the final day of a week-long tour of the region, which has included meetings with political protagonists on both sides of the conflict, Mr Flanagan accepted there was little appetite in Washington to push for a new round of peace talks, but said the European Union could play a key role.

“We haven’t gone beyond the point of no return,” Mr Flanagan said. “There is still hope that a form of engagement can take place. Time is running out.

“Obviously there won’t be an initiative this side of the Israeli elections [next month], but I would hope that some short time thereafter the opportunity which is there would be taken.”

Mr Flanagan said Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, whom he met on Tuesday, was “willing to engage” and that there was “an opportunity” for the next Israeli administration, equipped with a fresh mandate, to address the situation.

Mr Flanagan said he spoke by telephone during the week to EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and suggested to her that a “fresh initiative” to revive the stalled peace process should be considered.

“It’s very important for the European Union to assist in a way that it hasn’t in the past,” Mr Flanagan said in an interview with The Irish Times in Jerusalem.

Ireland’s ‘unique position’

Mr Flanagan said Ireland’s “unique position” in the EU, as a country with rich experience in ending conflict through political means, meant it could play a role in advancing the process.

The Irish visit has included meetings with Israel’s minister for foreign affairs Avigdor Lieberman, Israeli Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog and Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah.

Mr Flanagan also visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, as well as Bethlehem and Beit Jala, a West Bank town overlooked by two sprawling Israeli settlements. Mr Flanagan laid wreaths at Yad Vashem and at the tomb of Yasser Arafat.

Mr Flanagan said Ireland was committed to a two-state solution and that he had stressed to Mr Lieberman his opposition to continued settlement expansion. He also reiterated Ireland’s “steadfast support” for the Palestinian people, saying this was demonstrated by the funding of about €10 million a year given to the Palestinians. However, he said that this approach was also marked by balance.

“Ireland continues to support the Palestinian people in the matter of humanitarian aid over a range of issues . . . But if there is to be a solution here, there needs to be an element of balance. I come here with a balanced view, and I am anxious that my Ministry portray a view of balance.”

Mr Flanagan said that one of the reasons time was running out was the dire situation in Gaza, where reconstruction since last summer’s 50-day war has been extremely slow. He said there was a “deep sense of hopelessness” in the area, which he visited on Monday.

Referring to the internal political situation there, Mr Flanagan suggested there was a need for “a form of political leadership of a type that isn’t evident at the moment”.

“It’s absolutely essential that efforts be made to bring about a form of political dialogue, that the paramilitaries are not seen to be in charge in Gaza.

Hamas remains a real threat. President Abbas himself admits that he doesn’t have full authority in the region. Meanwhile, the threat continues, and that is a dissuading factor from progress being made on the matter of the blockade and a more free regime of movement of people and goods.”

Israeli fear

Mr Flanagan said Israeli communities were living under “real and enduring” fear of rocket attacks, and that anecdotal evidence suggested some supplies going into Gaza, including cement, had been “diverted towards other uses than those for which they were intended,” including tunnel-building.

Asked what incentives Israel had to take part in a renewed push for peace, Mr Flanagan remarked that this was the world’s most volatile region, with ongoing crises on several fronts. “This is an opportunity for Israel to participate fully in a process that will ultimately bring about a better life for people in the region, including Israelis.”

“It’s going to be very difficult and challenging. It was never going to be easy. But I do detect an opportunity which, if not taken in the very near future, could be an opportunity lost for a generation or more.”