I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to present to the House the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 on behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party. I commend Senator Frances Black on initiating the Bill and bringing it through Seanad Éireann.
If passed, Ireland and her Parliament will be sending a strong message, that it condemns the occupation of territories which are deemed illegal under international law. This Bill, at its most basic, is about upholding international law. It applies to illegal occupations anywhere in the world and not just to Israel and Palestine. However, I am conscious that it is this occupation that has been the main focus of discussions on the Bill. I want to state clearly from the outset that, if passed, this Bill will not ban trade in Israeli goods. It will only ban those goods produced in settlements built illegally beyond Israel's borders.
The Bill does not propose a boycott of Israel, and Fianna Fáil does not support such a boycott. We recognise 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 forged between our countries. While in Israel I had the opportunity to meet Isaac Herzog, who 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 to find a way forward that will help bring about lasting peace in the region. To those opposing this Bill, I state very clearly that our door will always be open to dialogue and constructive engagement.
Fianna Fáil has a long-held interest in the peace process in the Middle East. It was under a Fianna Fáil-led government in 1980 that Ireland became the first European member state to propose the two-state solution, based on a fully sovereign state of Palestine, independent of and co-existing with Israel. The objectives 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 it 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 acted at times 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 the 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 systematic expansion of settlements on Palestinian territories which are deemed illegal under international law and which represent 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 the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, UNRRA, closed the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington and moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. These moves have only served to alienate Palestinians and to discredit any peace initiative that is supposed to be forthcoming from the US Administration.
I visited the region with my colleague, Deputy Kelleher, and saw at first hand the reality of the settlement project and the conditions the Palestinians have to endure. We were 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 is divided by walls and fences. Certain roads are restricted for use of Israelis only. There is a clear disparity in living standards. Conditions in the West Bank and Gaza are now well below an acceptable standard of living, and reports indicate that Gaza will very soon be considered uninhabitable. We met the NGOs, Al-Haq and Breaking the Silence. We listened, learned, and came to the conclusion that criticism of the settlements alone has proved a futile exercise. Repeated condemnation of Israeli actions by the EU and many in the international community has failed to deter Israel from continuing its settlements project. Even UN resolution No. 2334 in December of 2014, which states, "[Israel's establishment] of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, ha[d] no legal validity and constitute[d] a flagrant violation under international law", has had little or no impact. The situation has in fact 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 has no impact on the actions of the Israeli authorities. It is clear to me that we have to change tack and take time to take a different course of action. If change is to come, we must make the settlement project a less desirable policy for Israel. This Bill is an example of a different but moderate approach and one that I hope can be a vehicle for some change in some small way. To those who have tried to dissuade us from supporting the Bill and say that it is not the time for such a Bill, I say if this is not the time to act, when will that time come? It is evident, given the expansion of the settlements, that unless action is taken, the two-state solution and the sovereign state of Palestine, independent of and co-existing with Israel, will very soon not be feasible. This Bill should not be seen as a radical departure. It is the right thing to do.