Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories: Statements

I am sharing time with Deputy Costello who is taking the last three minutes. I welcome this opportunity. Let me start by recalling that the Middle East peace process is a key priority for Ireland including during our tenure on the Security Council. There have been a number of recent developments on the ground that make this discussion very timely. I wish to underline my serious concern, which I know many Deputies share, regarding the designation by Israel's Ministry of Defence of six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist entities on 22 October last. This includes organisations in receipt of support of Irish Aid and EU money. We were not informed in advance of these designations, nor have we received substantial evidence to support them. I made a statement on this matter on 27 October and raised the issue directly in my meetings in Israel during my recent visit to the region on 1-5 November.

We are working closely with our EU partners on the issue and EU officials have met with Israeli authorities to seek further clarification. Ireland took part in the discussion at the Security Council on 8 November on the designations as well as on the recent settlement announcements. In a joint statement afterwards we, alongside France, Estonia, Norway and Albania, underlined our serious concern at the designation and the potential political, legal and financial consequences. Terrorism is of course a very serious issue that needs an unambiguous response but it must be addressed on the basis of evidence to back up decisions also. However, these designations have the potential to impact not only six organisations but civil society more broadly and to undermine legitimate humanitarian and human rights work seriously in the Occupied Territories.

Ireland has consistently and strongly opposed illegal settlement activity.

We do so on the basis of international law and the resolutions of the UN Security Council, including Resolution 2334, which states settlements are illegal under international law and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of a two-state solution.

On 28 October Ireland released a joint statement with 11 other European countries urging the Israeli Government to reverse its decision on more than 3,000 additional settlement units in the West Bank and reiterated its strong opposition to Israel’s policy of settlement expansion. In May this House declared the extent and scope of settlement expansion in the West Bank and its intended permanency amounted to de facto annexation. It reflected our collective concern about the intent of Israeli actions and their impact on Palestinians. Ireland has addressed this issue at the Security Council and will do so again at its monthly meeting on the situation in the Middle East today.

My visit to Israel, Palestine and Jordan at the start of this month was an important opportunity to meet the new Israeli coalition Government, the Palestinian Authority leadership and civil society. During my visit to Israel, I had useful and constructive exchanges on a range of issues, including the situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, antisemitism, the response to Covid-19, and the situation in the wider Middle East region. I met President Isaac Herzog, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Lapid, and the Minister for Health, Mr. Horowitz. I restated Ireland’s commitment to constructive engagement on the Middle East peace process. I welcomed the outreach by members of the new Israeli Government to their Palestinian counterparts. We know from our own peace process the importance of building these relationships and rebuilding trust between all parties.

On Israel’s policies on Palestine, I was very clear in my engagement with the Israelis that settlement expansion needs to stop. I heard in detail, from the Palestinian Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, about the increased impact of settlements on communities and the contiguity of Palestinian territory in a future state. I visited communities in the West Bank, where I saw at first hand the impact of the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on local Palestinian populations. It is not just a matter of the settlement units themselves but also of the associated infrastructure projects in area C designed to meet the needs of ever-increasing settlements, which entrench division and inequality. These projects erode political trust in addition to degrading adjacent Palestinian agricultural land and affecting negatively the availability of already scarce water resources.

Separately, in my meetings with Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh and Deputy Prime Minister Abu Amr, I emphasised the need for democratic renewal in Palestine, particularly in light of the postponement of the May elections. I also underlined the importance of the Palestinian Authority assuming its responsibilities with regard to the rule of law, the freedom of expression and civil society engagement. These issues, and the Middle East peace process more generally, continue to be a significant priority for me as Minister for Foreign Affairs. I regularly discuss Ireland’s position on outreach with key officeholders in the EU and UN, including the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Tor Wennesland, whom I met in Jerusalem during my visit, and the EU Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Sven Koopmans.

Progress requires dialogue, and ultimately there can be no substitute for direct negotiations between the two parties. I remain committed to taking all appropriate actions to assist in resolving this conflict and ensuring equitable treatment for both peoples. I hope I will get cross-party support in those efforts. Ireland is most impactful when it remains credible, persuasive and consistent as an international actor in using its influence, whether it be in the EU or at the UN. We have a unique opportunity for the next 12 months as Ireland continues to be a member of the UN Security Council. I hope I will be able to use that position to generate new momentum and positivity in the context of the Middle East peace process next year.

It is timely that we gather today to discuss this issue, yesterday having been UN International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. It is important we recognise the sumud — the steadfastness — of the Palestinian people in the face of ongoing, grinding occupation. In our debate on the cross-party motion on de facto annexation earlier in the year, we spoke with a clear voice about the breaches of international law perpetrated by the Government of Israel. We also spoke about the settlement building, the land it takes and the de facto annexation it represents. Settlement building does not happen in a vacuum. It is closely linked to land confiscations, housing demolition, checkpoints, permits, the infringement of freedom of movement, the impact on children’s access to education, and harassment and violence by the military and police. These are the daily experiences of the Palestinian people living under occupation.

If we examine the treatment of the Palestinians in East Jerusalem in particular, we see more than de facto annexation alone. In the words of our motion, we agreed that “Israel has altered and purports to alter the character and status of Jerusalem”. What we are seeing is the Israeli Government deliberately inflicting on the Palestinian people policies and conditions of life calculated to destroy their presence in their community in East Jerusalem. This is also happening across the West Bank. We note land confiscations, the declaration of military zones, and house demolition, all amounting to a forced population transfer. Calling this behaviour out and naming it for what it is is an essential task for all of us in this House. We need to do more than that, however. We need to respond to this behaviour.

Given that yesterday was the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, I want to use the little bit of time I have remaining to talk about some of the international actions we should be taking. The Minister has spoken about our unique opportunity at the UN Security Council. We should be using that as much as we can. Within the EU, we saw Belgium take strong action in recent days on differentiation and the labelling of settlement goods. We could consider this in our country. We have worked on it before but we could ask whether we are doing enough. Equally, we could be supporting other member states that share our thinking on the conflict to do more.

We agreed on a motion on annexation in the House. It would be great if we could encourage other member states to do the same and, as the programme for Government states, consider an appropriate response to annexation at both national and international levels. Ultimately, however, the rule of international law means nothing without meaningful enforcement. We must ensure we protect and support the work of the International Criminal Court. It has begun its own investigations into war crimes in the region and must be allowed to continue to do this work fairly, impartially and without any single state or group of states seeking to interfere with it or undermine it. If we want to establish international law that is meaningful, it is essential this happens.

Last month the Israeli defence minister took the unprecedented action of designating six Palestinian human rights and civil society organisations as terrorist entities. These NGOs are among the most prominent human rights organisations in the occupied territories. They have a proven record of competence, credibility and professionalism. Consistently and courageously, they have vocally acted in defence of the Palestinian people and human rights. They brought Israeli repression, colonial expansion and apartheid policies under the spotlight for a global audience.

The groups Al-Haq and Addameer have been responsible for providing the International Criminal Court with information that is central to the investigation into possible war crimes committed by Israel within occupied Palestinian territory. Both receive financial assistance from the Irish taxpayer through Irish Aid. Both organisations also receive funding from the EU and other international organisations. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, previously outlined the depth of the oversight his Department maintains on organisations funded through Irish Aid.

There are strict controls governing the spending of funds coupled with independent evaluations and auditing.

I welcome the Minister's comments in the aftermath of the designation. He stated that Ireland would continue to support these organisations as the Israeli authorities have failed to provide any proof that supports the designation of the NGOs as terrorist entities. The French media outlet Mediapart published the evidence proffered by Israel and, along with all other objective observers of the evidence, concluded that the Israeli authorities have no real evidence against the NGOs. All of these groups - Al-Haq, Defense for Children International - Palestine, Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, the Union of Palestinian Women's Committees and Bisan Center for Research and Development - play a critical role in promoting international law, human rights and democratic values in the occupied Palestinian territory. The decision to designate the groups as terrorist entities is an attempt by the Israeli Government to incapacitate the NGOs in order to silence their work in bringing global attention to the human rights abuses, the colonial expansion of settlements and the apartheid policies of Israel which have carved the Palestinian territory up into a series of Bantustans. John Dugard, a South African legal scholar and former UN rapporteur, has stated, "Even the apartheid regime in South Africa never outlawed human rights defenders in the manner that Israel just did when it declared six Palestinian organisations to be 'terrorist organisations'." Israel means to smear, to persecute and to delegitimise these groups in front of a global audience to create an international chilling effect that would end the funding of these NGOs by countries such as Ireland and institutions such as the EU.

Earlier this month we learnt that an Israeli security company with close affiliations to the Israeli Government and security apparatuses had installed spyware onto the personal phones of staff members of Palestinian human rights organisations to monitor their communications and their locations. Ireland must make clear that we as a society and as a people who have worn the yoke of colonial oppression are prepared to stand in solidarity with any legitimate organisation committed to democratic and human rights principles. Although it has been over a month since the designation of the groups occurred, the EU has yet to state clearly that it rejects the Israeli designation, nor has it called on Israel to revoke its decision or in any way made clear that it will continue to fund the NGOs. It is critical that the Irish Government gives a commitment not only that the funding to these groups will continue but also that it will do everything possible to guarantee their safety. We must demand that Israel rescind immediately its designation and guarantee the safety and welfare of all the six organisations and the people who work for them.

This is an important opportunity for us to unite on all sides of this House to condemn what is an attack on what we recognise as democratic standards and the rule of law internationally. In any democracy the role of NGOs in holding the government to account is absolutely critical. All of the six civil society organisations and non-governmental organisations that have been designated as terrorist are internationally respected and endorsed. I have been at numerous international meetings of parliamentarians over recent weeks at which I have listened to testimonies on the importance of their work. You get to the point where you wonder what it will take for the European Union and the international community to stand up and defend these rights. We have the reports from B'Tselem and Human Rights Watch, and I understand there are other reports designating the regime from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan river as an apartheid regime. However, because the Government here does not confront it or deal with it as we did with the South African apartheid regime, it continues to act with impunity. I am therefore not the least bit surprised that it has taken this action because it is never held to account in the international community. It will pay no price for these actions.

What is the impact of this? These organisations' offices can be closed down, staff arrested and potentially jailed and equipment confiscated. These are internationally respected human rights defenders supported by this State and civil society organisations in this State, so this is an important opportunity to unite together in saying this House condemns the Israeli state and demands that it reverse this decision.

It is really hard to know where to start when addressing apartheid Israel and its long list of aggressive acts on Palestine. There has been and continues to be much abuse by Israel on the Palestinian people. Among those abuses, which the Minister probably saw at first hand when he was over there on his recent visit, are the illegal settlements that no one can stop, the blockade of Gaza that no one can stop, apartheid Israel's systematic violation of children's rights, the shooting dead of countless children and the illegal administrative detention process. Hisham Abu Hawash has been jailed without charge since October 2020. He has been on hunger strike for 104 days. Nidal Ballout is 27 years of age and has been on hunger strike for 31 days. He is also being held under administrative detention. It is important that the Irish Government and the EU intervene on behalf of these individuals.

I wish to ask a question specifically about the designation by apartheid Israel of the six Palestinian advocacy groups as terror groups. My understanding is that the six organisations have now been listed on the National Bureau for Counter Terror Financing of Israel. This shows that Israel is starting to act on the designation orders. Also, the Israeli military commander communicated to the organisations two days ago, on 28 November, that they must cease work during the appeal process. This means that the work and funding of the organisations are under direct and immediate threat. What is Ireland doing, along with the other EU states, to pressure Israel and the Defense Minister of Israel to rescind the designation?

Welcome back, a Cheann Comhairle. It is good to see you in good health.

It is very important we discuss this matter, even if the debate is very limited. There are very few issues that unite most if not all in this House, but this is one of them. I do not doubt the bona fides of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, on this issue but I wish in the few minutes I have to deal with three specific issues.

First, I add my voice to the issue that is now current and immediate, that is, Israel's designation of six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organisations. That is a clear and absolute assault on democratic norms of accountability and human rights monitoring. No democratic nation, no nation that presents itself to be fully democratic, can be allowed simply to extinguish human rights bodies from existing within its territory. The impact of this is immediate. There is an immediate concern for all the people who have worked, sometimes for decades, in advocating human rights and monitoring what is going on on the ground in Israel and in the occupied territories that they will be subject to arrest if they enter their own premises or access their own funding. The whole idea is to stop them functioning as human rights organisations. Even totalitarian regimes have not resorted to this.

The idea is that if you extinguish the eyes of the people of the world, somehow, what is going on in Israel and the occupied territories will not be noticed. It really is a brazen act that we need to respond to.

The second point I wish to make relates to the ongoing occupation and annexation of Palestinian land. We must make it clear to the state of Israel that it has abandoned the two-state solution. I listened to the Minister's words very carefully. It has abandoned the two-state solution. There can be no two-state solution if the viability of the state of Palestine is eroded through occupation and eviction. It seems to be the settled policy of successive governments of Israel to simply extinguish the possibility of what we have all hoped for, namely, the creation of two separate states, one for the people of Israel and one for the people of Palestine, both viable, with issues like control of the city of Jerusalem to be determined as the capital of both. The Minister's statement is most welcome, but it charts, still, a course that is being demonstrably undermined as we speak, day in, day out, by the official actions of the Government of Israel.

The final point I wish to make concerns what we must do now. We need to stop coming in here and having endless statements. We have to do something. I am taken by the actions of the Belgian Government, which has set out a formula for dealing with bilateral agreements with Israel. Further treaties between Belgium and Israel will contain a territorial clause stipulating that they must not apply to territories brought under Israeli control since 1967. On customs, trade and databases, we must apply in very strict terms our policy in relation to the illegality of the occupation of Palestinian territories not only in recent days, but over recent decades. I hope that the Minister might come to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence with a strategy setting out what specifically Ireland is going to do. Hopefully, Ireland will lead both in its position as a member of the UN Security Council and also as an influential and important member of the EU Council.

There are obviously dissenting voices in the EU Council in relation to Israel; we know that. However, the moral case to be presented is persuasive. It falls to countries like Ireland to make that moral case before the court of European public opinion and before the international public opinion of the UN, so that we can, before it is too late, stop the disintegration of the possibility of a long-term peaceful two-state solution.

I thank the Minister for his contribution. I strongly condemn the scenes of violence being inflicted on Palestinian people in their own territories. Settler violence is the inevitable outcome of occupation. There has never been a time in human history when the illegal occupation or annexation of one territory by another has been accepted. A state should not use violence as a means of enforcing its will. This week, once again, we watched that violence being inflicted on Palestinian people in their own territory. This week, once again, we lamented and expressed solidarity and support, but still, we are not going to take action to match those words.

I wish to speak once again about the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018. It is an issue that I know my party and Fine Gael disagree on. The Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill was agreed across this Chamber. The Minister's partners in government, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party, supported it. It was in Fianna Fáil's programme for government, as it was in the programme of government of the Green Party. People in the Chamber held up the Bill as the means by which Ireland would say that no more would we accept what we came to call annexation. The Bill is means of demonstrating that if we watch the scenes that are happening in occupied territories, we will not make ourselves complicit by saying that we strongly condemn them, but yet continue to do business as usual. For me, the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill is the means by which we can send out the strongest message that we will not be complicit in this violence and we will take a stand.

The Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill is one that I believe the Minister feels breaches EU law, despite the fact that numerous legal experts across the EU have held that this is not the case. To demonstrate real solidarity and take action showing leadership throughout the world, the Minister should bring the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill back to this Chamber, or at least outline to us the legal advice and opinion by which he has decided that the Bill breaches EU law, and publish that advice.

There is another issue I wish to raise. The derogation of the six NGOs has already been discussed. Two of those NGOs received funding from the Irish Government. They have now been labelled as terrorist organisations. I imagine that we strongly disagree with that. We should take action to demonstrate our disagreement. I am very conscious that those six organisations, including the two that received funding from the Irish Government, are now under considerable threat of violence, as they work in Israel and Palestine at the minute, at the hands of vigilante groups. The cost of running these NGOs is going to increase dramatically. The Minister has a strong track record of supporting NGOs and being compassionate. I think we should put our money where our mouth is and increase funding to those NGOs to which we have already given funding, to support the increase in funding they are going to need for security and the increase in the cost of doing business. We must demonstrate solidarity with them. That could be an action we could take to show that we do not accept the designation of these NGOs as terrorist organisations and that we will take appropriate action to demonstrate that.

First, I wish to welcome the fact that we are discussing the situation on Palestine the day after the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. I commend Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, which voted to fly the Palestinian flag yesterday, following a motion proposed by Councillors Hugh Lewis and Melisa Halpin. I believe Galway City Council also flew the flag, as Dublin City Council has done before. That speaks to the enormous solidarity that exists in this country, historically, for the plight of the Palestinian people. There is a recognition of the persecution the Palestinian people have suffered - the oppression, the denial of rights, the displacement from their land, the status as exiles of millions of Palestinians, the cruel injustice, the colonialism and the apartheid laws that are so similar to the Irish Penal Laws that were imposed on the Catholic population here. We understand the plight of Palestine in a way few others can fully empathise with because it mirrors so closely our own history under colonial rule. In that context and on the day after the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, we have to say, and I do not mind admitting, that the Irish Government is better than most governments, at least in terms of the statements it makes about the mistreatment of the Palestinian people. However, the problem is that nothing ever changes.

I got involved in politics because of Palestine. I spent a year living there in 1987, the year of the first intifada. I was shocked to my core to see the endemic racism in the treatment of Palestinians by the Israelis. Israeli farmers on the farm I worked in regularly used to say things like the only good Arab is a dead Arab. That is how bad it was; it was absolutely rampant. Young Palestinians who I worked with, and who travelled for hours from refugee camps in Hebron, brought me to their refugee camp as the first intifada began in 1987. They showed me the caves where their families lived for two years after they had been forced by Israeli terror gangs out of their homes in 1947 and 1948, the year of the Nakba, when they had to live in caves until the UN came along and built refugee camps. They, their parents and grandparents have lived in those refugee camps ever since. It just goes on and nothing changes.

Six peaceful NGOs have been designated as terrorist organisations because the Israelis can just get away with it and nobody does anything about it. A nation state law was introduced a while ago which gives only the Jewish people the right to self-determination, which is an international right that people have and Palestinians have.

A siege of Gaza has been going on for years with the most inhumane conditions imposed on men, women and children in defiance of international law, yet nothing is done. Nothing has been done. Day in and day out there is administrative detention of Palestinian people and for their youth there is internment without trial. It goes on and nothing is done.

It is 25 years since the Oslo Accords and from day one Israel was breaching that agreement with further annexation of Palestinian territory, which was the little bit of Palestinian territory that was left under that absolutely miserable and humiliating deal. They could not even respect that deal. They go on with ethnic cleansing and in Jerusalem seizing territory and annexing territory and the world does nothing. Before that they occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 and of course the horrible crime of the Nakba itself. Has anybody ever been to the Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut? They are absolutely shocking. Three and four generations of Palestinians are living in the most disgusting and appalling conditions. Nothing is done. Even though under international law they have the right to return, nothing is done. We continue to entertain the nonsense that the State of Israel that does this is a normal state, which we should talk of as if it behaves in any kind of normal way when it clearly does not.

I ask the question honestly of the Minister: when are we going to do something? When do those crimes, which have been ongoing for decades and generations day in day out and ever getting worse, finally prompt action by the European Union to end the favoured trade status that Israel has, or to impose some kind of sanctions? Instead, we just get words. There is no action and the suffering of the Palestinians continues. I ask honestly of the Minister if there is ever going to be action to stem the tide of injustice, brutality and oppression the Palestinian people have to suffer.

Given that yesterday was the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, it is important that we speak out against the occupation and colonisation of Palestine and the constant campaigns of dehumanisation that Palestinians face every day. The situation in the occupied Palestinian territory is incredibly concerning as we hear of increased levels of disposition, violence and insecurity. The designation of six Palestinian civil society organisations as terrorist by the Israeli defence minister is especially concerning.

Palestinian property has been confiscated and Palestinian families are forcibly displaced. This has been particularly difficult for families in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, especially given the large-scale demolition of health facilities that occurred there during the pandemic, so much so that only 22% of health facilities in Gaza now remain open. At the same time we have heard reports of Israel selling its surplus vaccinations overseas while, as of August, a mere 16% of eligible Palestinians have been vaccinated. This is absolutely disgraceful. Ireland needs to step up to stand against this inequality and this apartheid state.

I would like to take this opportunity to speak on the substantial impact of the pandemic on Palestinian women and girls. The pandemic has exacerbated domestic violence, sexual abuse and forced marriage in the region, with an appalling 70% rise in calls received reporting gender-based violence. There are currently 34 Palestinian women in Israeli prisons. We must condemn violence against women in the strongest way possible and we must be a voice for the voiceless. We need to ensure that our trade does not legitimise the continued breach of international law and violations of human rights by Israel. I call on this Government immediately to stop blocking the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill, introduced by Senator Frances Black and the Civil Engagement Group in 2018.

The Irish people share a strong and unique bond with the people of Palestine due to our shared history of struggle and oppression. We saw this when we voted unanimously to condemn Israel’s de facto annexation of Palestinian land in the occupied territories. We saw this when thousands attended rallies across the country in solidarity with Palestine and we have seen it in the calls from the Irish people to boycott Israeli goods and to expel the Israeli ambassador. By ignoring these calls, by not recognising the state of Palestine, despite the already passed motion, and by blocking the occupied territories Bill this Government is not representing us. They are not representing the Irish people. Palestinians are quite literally living in an open-air prison and we will continue to speak out until Palestine is free.

I ask the Minister to forgive me if I am focused in my two and a half minutes. There is a lot I would like to say about the occupied territories but I will confine myself to the six human rights organisations that have been designated as terrorist organisations. From my calculations it has been six weeks since then and other than expressing concern we have done little else. While I have never doubted the Minister's bona fides, we have done little else in six weeks. The latest step has been the military commander clarifying to the organisations that if they wish to appeal then they must stop immediately functioning as human rights organisations. It is time that we did something more than concern.

Of course, this did not happen overnight. It has happened because the Israeli Government got away with a succession of acts that they never should have been allowed to get away with. If we look at the culmination of the year in relation to the proceedings before the International Criminal Court, there was a number of different issues during that year. We will start with February 2021 and where a pretrial chamber ruled on the jurisdiction, which obviously did not please the Israeli Government. I make a distinction always between the Israeli Government and the Jewish people. Then, in October 2021 we learned that the new prosecutor and his office confirmed that it was taking up the fight again and the investigation would be mobilised. Then we got the designation and this extra step from the military commander. Prior to that, phones were infiltrated and a surveillance operation was mounted.

We can go back. We could take any number of years but in the interest of brevity I will just mention that in 2016 the Israeli Parliament adopted the NGO disclosure law to force Israeli NGOs to disclose funding sources, which had a chilling effect on donations. In 2017 Israel enacted an amendment to the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law barring those human rights workers who advocate for Palestinians from entering. In 2018 the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs called on the EU to cease donating to or funding human rights organisations. I could go on but I will not because my time is limited.

There is any amount of concern and condemnation expressed by different groups but I would like to zone in on the Israeli organisations. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has called the decision to designate the six organisations "a stain upon Israel". It said: "The outlawing of human rights groups and persecution of humanitarian activists are quintessential characteristics of military regimes, in which democracy in its deepest sense is a dead letter." A joint statement against the designation has been issued by 21 human rights groups calling the designation "a draconian measure".

I am over my time now. As I am always giving out about speaking time I will stop on time. I put it to the Minister that it is time to take action as opposed to continuing to express concern.

I thank all of the Deputies for participating in this debate and for the tone of the debate. I also wish to recognise that yesterday was the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. They would have got a very strong signal from Ireland with Irish people's continuing concern for their struggle.

I will address a number of the issues that have been raised. I have been very vocal on the issue of the six Palestinian NGOs, at home nationally and at EU level. I have raised the issue very directly with the Israeli Government. While I was in Ramallah with senior officials we met with Al-Haq and with Addameer, the two NGOs of the six organisations, which Ireland financially supports. It is modest financial support but it is support nonetheless. We will continue to talk with both of those NGOs about how we can continue to support their work, which is obviously not easy in the context of the current conditions in which they are being asked to operate. I have also been very vocal in the international media on this issue. I have called out the antidemocratic nature of what has happened. NGOs and civil society are there to represent minorities that often have real vulnerabilities with regard to where they live, how they operate and the conditions under which they operate. Any democracy needs to facilitate a role for civil society and NGOs, often asking hard questions of governments. That is exactly what they are supposed to be doing: creating an uncomfortable space at times, asking hard questions and testing the legality of government policy. From my experience, that is what Al-Haq and Addameer have been doing. Addameer is supporting prisoners and Al-Haq is taking legal cases and is involved in international advocacy.

It is something I will continue to raise with Israel and at UN and EU level. It is something that they need to think again about and it reflects very poorly on the new Israeli Government in the context of this decision.

People keep calling on me to take action. I am not quite sure what they mean by that. I do not believe that by bringing forward the occupied territories) Bill that we will necessarily increase pressure on the Israeli Government, but we could certainly undermine Ireland’s influence both at UN and EU level in what we are trying to do, particularly during our term on the UN Security Council.

Even if we wanted to do that, it is not any coincidence that when a party moves from opposition to Government and actually listens to what the Attorney General has to say on these issues, that its position changes somewhat. We cannot bring the occupied territories Bill forward on the advice of two consecutive Attorneys General because it is effectively about trade policy, which is not a national competence.

I take the point and I do not want to get in to a tit-for-tat argument. The contributions this evening have been about asking me to focus on what we can do beyond simply condemnation and words. I take that on board in the context of settlements, settlement expansion, forced evictions, demolitions and settler violence that goes at times without consequence by way of impunity and lack of policing. I have met and seen the communities myself across the West Bank who have been impacted by all of that. I have been five times to the West Bank in less than five years, as Minister for Foreign Affairs.

This will continue to be a priority and a focus for us. We are all about trying to find a way to take action to change the direction of the Middle East peace process, which has been going in the wrong direction for too many years. We want, however, to use our influence to do that internationally. Ireland acting alone will not change the course of history in the Middle East but Ireland acting with other partners within the EU and in the UN can do that, acting as a small but, I hope, persuasive partner and voice in an international political environment that can change the direction of travel that we have unfortunately seen in recent years.

This is a new Israeli Government. We should try to build a relationship with it and this is what I intend to do. The current Palestinian Authority leadership also needs both Irish solidarity, financial support and political support internationally to re-establish legitimacy, to find a way of holding elections and, of course, to advance reconciliation, which is of great importance for a future Palestinian state. We will work on all of those issues, both with the Israeli Government and indeed with Palestinian authorities in an effort, as many people have asked for, to take action to try to bring about a peace process again that can deliver a dividend I believe we are all after.