Ceann Comhairle, Fianna Fáil welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the recognition of the State of Palestine on the basis of the 1967 borders by the Government of Ireland and will be supporting this motion. We believe this House must send out a strong message in one voice, on behalf of the Irish people that we stand with the people of Palestine and their right to self-determination.

We acknowledge that this motion largely reflects the motion passed in Seanad Éireann in October of this year. In a historic occasion on October 22nd, the Seanad put forward a motion supporting the recognition of the State of Palestine and it was carried unanimously. The motion stated:

“That Seanad Éireann calls on the Government to formally recognise the State of Palestine and do everything it can at an international level to help to secure a viable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The very fact that the Seanad motion was carried unanimously shows the strong democratic support there is in Ireland for the recognition of the State of Palestine. It also reflects the strong desire in Ireland for a sustainable and secure settlement of the conflict in the Middle East; of a desire for peace for both Israelis and Palestinians in their own states; of a desire for equality, fairness and justice in the settlement between the Israeli and Palestinian people.

My Party has been at the vanguard of supporting a Two-state solution in the Middle East for a number of decades. In Government, Fianna Fáil lead Ireland to become the first European Union Member State to declare that a solution to the conflict in the Middle East had to be based on a fully sovereign State of Palestine, independent of and co-existing with Israel. Fianna Fáil in Government launched that policy position in 1980. In that year we stated that the Palestinian people “had a right to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent State in Palestine”. As shown in the vote in Seanad Éireann, we are moving further and believe the time is right for the Government to fully recognise Palestine as a sovereign, independent state.

We have called on this Government to follow the lead of the French Republic’s Parliament, Sweden and the UK House of Commons and recognise the State of Palestine. Our rationale in this regard stems from a frustration in the lack of progress seen in advancing the Two-state solution in recent years. The recent war in Gaza and the unwillingness of the Israeli Government to engage in meaningful and constructive negotiations with the Palestinians has resulted in a mind shift in how best to approach the conflict in the Middle East across the world.

We acknowledge that recognition by itself cannot end the occupation; only Israel can do this. But if Ireland and other EU states recognise Palestine, it could represent an important step towards unlocking negotiations. Recognition of Palestine would be anti-occupation, not anti-Israel. Ireland already recognises the State of Israel, and recognising Palestine would help create a parity of status.

Twenty years after the Oslo Accords the prospects of achieving a two-state solution appear to be more remote than ever. That is a fact and one which should concern all members of this House. It appears to any objective observer that Israel has done everything it can to undermine the chances of achieving such an outcome. While we acknowledge that there have been many initiatives allowing for talks on peace, these have continuously failed resulting in Israel intensifying its illegal occupation of Palestine. It is a fact that the illegal settlements on the West Bank have trebled in size as it has seized more Palestinian land and planted Israeli settlers on it. It has erected a huge separation barrier and implemented what can only be called an apartheid regime on the West Bank that denies Palestinians the basic human rights their Israeli counterparts take for granted. These actions are not the actions of an Israel state preparing for a two-state solution. These are not the actions which will inspire and consolidate peace.

This summer we witnessed Israel’s third devastating assault in six years on the people of Gaza. Any hope the Gaza ceasefire might lead to meaningful peace negotiations was quickly dashed when, within one week of agreeing to it, Israel announced yet more settlements on the West Bank. This deeply provocative move fundamentally undermines any prospect of peace. As my colleague, Averil Power outlined in the Seanad, these actions represent a deeply cynical, long-term game aimed at destroying any prospect of a viable Palestinian state. Unfortunately, in our view, these actions have been facilitated by a largely passive international community including the EU which has stood by as Israel has wilfully violated international law and ignored countless UN resolutions. As things stand, Israel has no incentive to engage in meaningful negotiations. It has successfully used its military might time and again to ensure it holds all of the cards.

Without wider recognition of the Palestinian state, Palestinian representatives have also been in a weaker position at the negotiating table. Now is the time to redress this balance. By joining Sweden and other EU member states in recognising Palestine we would make it clear that statehood was a right of the Palestinian people, not an Israeli bargaining chip for it to play in further negotiations which are doomed to fail. Recognising the State of Palestine  would increase pressure on Israel to pursue a genuine peace process that had a real prospect of delivering peace and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Let me put on record Ceann Comhairle, that Fianna Fáil has always respected and indeed celebrated the establishment and progress of the State of Israel. We have never questioned the right of the Israeli people to exercise their own right to self-determination or to self-defence. Our support of this motion, or indeed our tabling of the motion in the Seanad should not in any way be seen as a slight against Israel or its people.

Like any other nation, Israel has a duty to abide by internationally accepted standards of human rights, proportionality and responsibility. The Palestinian authorities must also act in a responsible fashion in its interactions with Israel and condemn the recent “lone-wolf” attacks carried out in Jerusalem and take actions to prevent these attacks in the future.

Ireland has traditionally been vocal in its support for the Palestinian people and proactive in lobbying on their behalf internationally. We do this because we understand what it is like to be the nation without a voice. We understand the difficulties of bargaining with a stronger power. We understand conflict between peoples.

It is the lessons of our experience which should inform our efforts to secure full recognition for the Palestinian state and deliver a viable two-state solution to settle the conflict. We must outline our position now and not seek to hide behind the lack of consensus in the European Union on this matter. Sweden is not hiding behind a common EU position or accepting the Israeli line that recognition of Palestine is something in Israel’s gift in future negotiations, nor should we.

We should support this motion and take this step to help build a lasting and just peace in the region based on human rights and the respect for international law.

We should take this step to join the many others in the international community who want a lasting peace in the Middle East.

Now is the time to act. Now is the time to vote. Now is the time to support the recognition of the State of Palestine.