Ceann Comhairle I am pleased to bring forward this Bill in the Dáil today on behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party. Firstly, I want to take this opportunity to commend Senator Frances Black for initiating this Bill and bringing it through the Seanad. If passed, Ireland and our parliament will be sending a strong message that we condemn the occupation of territories which are deemed illegal under international law.
This Bill at its most basic is about upholding international law. The Bill applies to illegal occupations anywhere in the world and not just Israel and Palestine, but I am conscious that it is this occupation that has been the main focus of discussions on this Bill. I want to state clearly and from the outset that if passed this Bill would not ban trade in Israeli goods, it would only ban those produced in settlements built illegally beyond Israel’s borders.
This Bill does not propose the boycott of Israel and as a Party we do not support the boycott of Israel; Fianna Fáil recognises and fully support Israel’s right to self-determination and to self-defence; we denounce violence against the state of Israel and its citizens, and we wholly and unreservedly condemn the persecution of the Jewish people and the evil that was the Holocaust.
Furthermore, my Party very much values the strong links that have been forged between our countries. Whilst in Israel I had the opportunity to meet with Isaac Herzog who now chairs the Jewish Agency. Ireland recently commemorated the centenary of the birth of his late father Chaim Herzog who was born in Belfast, raised in Dublin and later became the sixth President of the State of Israel. We want the strong ties between our two countries to endure and we want to continue to work together and to find a way forward that will help bring about lasting peace in the region. To those who oppose this Bill I want to state very clearly that our door will always be open for dialogue and constructive engagement.
As many of you will be aware Fianna Fáil has a long held interest in the Middle East peace process. It was under a Fianna Fáil led Government in 1980 that Ireland became the first European Union member state to propose the two state solution; a solution based on a fully sovereign State of Palestine, independent of and co-existing with Israel. The objectives which we had then remain largely the same today. We continue to advocate for a two-state solution, an end to this protracted conflict and the full realisation of human rights for both Israelis and Palestinians.
The decision by Fianna Fáil to support this Bill was not taken lightly or without due consideration. I recognise that this is a difficult and multifaceted conflict. Grievous wrongs have been committed by both sides and it is fair to say that both Israeli and Palestinian authorities have at times acted in a manner that is clearly and deliberately counterproductive to peace.
However, as a Party we are growing increasingly concerned about the actions of Israel and its continued and blatant disregard for international law. We are deeply frustrated about the imbalance in power; the lack of progress in achieving a two-state solution, the non-existent peace process, the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza and the West Bank, home demolitions and land confiscation, unjustified restrictions on movement and the sustained and systematic expansion of settlements on Palestinian territory which are deemed illegal under international law and are physical obstacles to peace.
More recently the passing of the Nation State law in the Knesset which states that only Jews have the right of self-determination in Israel and downgrades the status of the Arabic language has only served to make the prospect of peace more remote. Coupled with this Israel has been emboldened by the US administration which has ceased funding to UNRWA; closed the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington and moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Moves which in my opinion have only served to alienate Palestinians and discredit any peace initiative that is supposed to be forthcoming from the US administration.
Having visited the region myself I saw first-hand the reality of the settlement project and the conditions that Palestinians have to endure; I was struck by the fact that the two-state solution will very soon be unachievable because of the manner in which the settlements are interwoven throughout what is internationally recognised as Palestinian land. Land divided by walls and fences; certain roads restricted to Israelis only and a clear disparity in living standards. Conditions in the West Bank and Gaza are now below an acceptable standard of living and reports indicate that Gaza will very soon be considered uninhabitable. I met with NGOs Al Haq and Breaking the Silence, I listened and I learned; and I came to the conclusion that criticism of the settlements alone has proved a futile exercise.
Repeated condemnation of Israel’s actions from the EU and many in the international community has failed to deter Israel from continuing its settlement project. Even the UN resolution 2334 in December 2014 which stated ‘Israel’s establishment of settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, had no legal validity, constituting a flagrant violation under international law’ has had little to no impact. The situation has in fact only worsened since then.
No condemnation has been strong enough to change Israel’s approach and it would appear that the Israeli authorities have become accustomed to tuning out criticism. It is therefore clear to me that it is time to change tack and time to take a different course of action.
If change is to come then we must make the settlement project a less desirable policy for Israel. This Bill is an example of a different but I believe moderate approach and one that I hope will be a vehicle for change in some small way.
To those who have tried to dissuade me from supporting this Bill and say that it is not the time for a Bill such as this. I say to you – if this is not the time to act, then when is? It is evident by the expansion of settlements that unless action is taken the two-state solution and a sovereign state of Palestine, independent of and co-existing with Israel will very soon simply not be feasible.
This Bill should not be seen as a radical departure; it should merely be seen as the right thing to do.
Go raibh maith agaibh.