Developments in Palestine: Engagement with Ambassador of Palestine

I have received apologies from Deputy Brian Leddin and Senator Wilson. I welcome not only the members in the committee room but also those joining us by Zoom. In the first part of our meeting, we are very pleased to meet H.E. Dr. Jilan Abdalmajid, ambassador and head of mission of Palestine to Ireland, for an update on current developments in Palestine. She is very welcome to our meeting. We will hear an opening statement from her before proceeding to questions and answers with members of the committee.

Before proceeding to the business of the meeting, I remind members that mobile phones should be switched off completely or put on aeroplane mode for the duration of the meeting because they are likely to cause interference with the recording equipment in our rooms, even when in silent mode.

I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against any person or body outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the presentation they make to the committee. This means they have an absolute defence against any defamation action taken based on what they say at the meeting. However, it is expected that nobody will abuse this privilege. It is my duty as Chair to ensure it is in no way abused or adversely managed. Therefore, if statements are potentially defamatory in respect of an identifiable person or entity, witnesses will be directed by me to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that these directions be complied with. However, I do not expect that non-compliance will be a feature of our meeting either today or any other day.

I call on Dr. Jilan Abdalmajid to make her opening statement.

H.E. Dr. Jilan Abdalmajid

I would like to express my profound appreciation to the Chairman, Senators and Deputies for inviting me to appear before this committee and Parliament, which reflects the meaning of democracy and presents freedom of speech. It is my hope that we will witness this soon in the state of Palestine. It is a pleasure to be with the members to share my reflections on the Palestinian struggle against injustice. I will be talking about the longest belligerent occupation in modern history, but not in a way to count how many Palestinians were killed, although this means a lot to us, or how many were jailed or detained just because they resisted occupation, a right that is protected by international law. Neither will I address the suffering of our children, their basic right to education and their right to play and grow in a safe environment without the anxiety that one night they might be burned alive in their sleep or attacked by soldiers or settlers; the apartheid wall that was built in 2004 and that extends more than 9% beyond the green line into the West Bank and creates a fait accompli, forcing thousands of Palestinians to suffer; and the 13 years of inhumane blockade and the repeated military assault against Gaza. I could go on and on with many more examples. This is life for us.

Oppression by the Israeli occupation has been reflected in every single aspect of our daily lives for the past 53 years. It is 72 years since the partition plan that brought historic Palestine and its indigenous people into a new reality of accepting the compromise of existing on only 22% of their land, as adopted by the United Nations in 1967. Now the Palestinians are struggling to keep even this reduced area. The Trump plan for the Middle East showed a fragmented and much reduced Palestine. That plan was rejected not only by the Palestinians but also by the international community.

The topic I have chosen to highlight is currently subject to international attention. I will focus on annexation, which brings to the fore the issue of enacting international law to address the war crimes committed by way of settlement and settler implantation. How does annexation affect the Palestinians? What impacts does it have on their lives? What would be the consequences if Israel went ahead with the de jure annexation? What would be the Palestinians alternative to combat this?

To focus on annexation, I have to outline the history. The British mandate over historical Palestine, from 1918 until 1948, encouraged Jewish immigration. Britain kept the promise made in 1917 by its foreign secretary, Mr. Arthur James Balfour, in the declaration that bears his name, "to favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people". In 1947, Britain handed the Palestine problem to the United Nations, which voted for the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states.

Since its creation in 1948, Israel planned a long-term strategy of land acquisition of historical Palestine and of ensuring that the majority of Israel's population there would remain Jewish. The latest and most obvious example of this could be found in the overtly racist and sectarian Jewish nation state law.

With no defined border, Israel worked on bringing in as many Jewish immigrants as possible and keeping as little of the Palestinian population as possible in historical Palestine. This is widely documented and is clearly laid out in historian Ilan Pappé's The Biggest Prison on Earth. To maintain its population's majority, Israel embraced several strategies and tactics and adopted several laws. Among other regulations, orders or measures, Israel adopted the law of return, the absentee law, the national law and many other governmental decrees to legalise its policies to evict, expel and possess Palestinian land. While destroying and erasing more than 500 villages and towns during the Nakba, more than 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced.

For many years, Israel, the occupying power, has used various policies to evict more Palestinians. Demolition, expulsion, acquisition, dispossession and displacement in the past decade enabled Israel to expand beyond its 1967 borders to create a de facto situation in flagrant violation of international law.

Many settlements have been built. The pact increased in the past decade. There are now more than 600,000 settlers living in 250 settlements and outposts in occupied Palestinian territories that have been built on lands expropriated from the Palestinians. Settlements cover almost 10% of the West Bank but have a direct control over 40% of the West Bank. Each settlement diverts natural resources such as water away from Palestinians, causing untold hardship for the farmers and citizens who rely on water for survival and end up having to buy it back at a premium from an Israeli company. Each settlement has infrastructure that Palestinians are not allowed to use, such as roads, leisure facilities, and parks. The settlements profit from and exploit our resources, with some of Israel’s largest industrial parks placed in occupied territories to bypass their own environmental laws and to exploit cheap Palestinian labour. This colonisation project more than doubled during the four-year tenure of outgoing US President Donald Trump.

Settlements are illegal according to international law. The United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2334 in 2016 which, "Reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law".

Trade with Israeli settlements is also illegal. The EU issued a guideline in 2014 outlining that settlement-made products must be labelled correctly. The UN also created a database of companies operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, but economic sanctions have yet to be applied, meaning that the settlement enterprise continues with impunity, grinding Palestinians underfoot as it does so.

As occupation persists without holding Israel accountable, the occupying power will continue to oppress the Palestinian people and move from one strategy to another to keep its colonisation project alive and flourishing. This would not be possible without major support. Israel’s recent announcement of a de jure annexation plan follows the announcement of US President Donald Trump’s peace plan for the Middle East in January 2020, which proposed that areas of the occupied West Bank be annexed by Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, before the third round of elections in March this year, said that he is planning effectively to annex 30% of the West Bank, and doubled down on this, stating later on that, "We’re here to stay, forever."

In practice, Israeli laws already apply to settlers, though not to Palestinians, who are subject only to Israeli military orders and Palestinian laws. Such a discrimination is clear and obvious. The de facto annexation of Palestinian territory has been going on for decades. Dozens of UN experts have voiced concerns that the proposed annexation plan would create a 21st century apartheid. Annexation, which is an extension of occupation, recently brought the whole world into agreement in respect of international law. "Annexation" is the term applied when a state unilaterally proclaims its sovereignty over another territory. Israel annexed and applied its laws over East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights in 1967. In 1981, Israel adopted the law that declared Jerusalem as complete, unified and the capital of Israel. These unilateral moves were rejected by the UN, but as of yet, Israel has not faced any consequences for these acts.

Annexation can have serious implications. For example, the residency and citizenship status of Palestinians in the proposed annexed territory is not yet clear. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said publicly that Palestinian residents in the areas to be annexed would not be given Israeli citizenship. Annexation would also likely result in the mass expropriation of privately owned Palestinian land and other private property. The annexation of Israeli settlements will most likely include the expropriation of agricultural lands owned by Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The annexation of large parts of the West Bank would also further limit Palestinians’ freedom of movement. Many of the existing restrictions are directly linked to the settlements, including restrictions aimed at protecting the settlements, settlers and maintaining buffer zones. The ongoing blockade of Gaza entrenches the fragmentation of the Palestinian territories and remains a major factor in facilitating the annexation of parts of the West Bank. Gaza is a part of the occupied Palestinian territories and the state of Palestine. No state in Gaza and no settlements without Gaza.

The situation in Gaza has become hell on earth. My parents still live there and can give a first-hand account of the cruelty of the blockade, particularly on low-income families who are highly affected and suffer daily from lack of food, water, medication and hope. It becomes unbearable to live. A UN report stated that Gaza will not be liveable by 2020. We are almost at the end of 2020 and almost 2 million resilient Palestinian are living in dire conditions and always expecting a crushing attack from the occupying powers. Gaza is bombarded regularly by the Israeli military and those living near the border routinely have their crops sprayed with insecticide or sewage flooding their farmlands. Fishermen are shot at daily and weekly as they try to make a meagre living in a punitively reduced maritime border. The problem in Gaza is political. People fight to breathe freely, and Gaza calls on the world to end the siege.

The status quo has, for most Israelis, become relatively peaceful and bearable. Many see little incentive for adopting a risky and uncertain two-state solution. For the Palestinians, the only thing that really matter for them is to keep up and maintain their roots deep in their land and resist the occupation for their freedom and to stay standing and defending their rights to self-determination. We remain steadfast on our home and we will bring peace from the Holy Land and the cradle of civilisation to the whole world. We remain deeply rooted to our land and our heritage. We also remain committed to a just peace that fulfils our aspirations of freedom and independence in a sovereign state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Europe has international responsibilities, not only because of its commitments to the human rights but also because Europe is the largest trade partner for Israel. Consequences for human rights violations can be introduced through European foreign policy by effectively using Europe's considerable leverage. Recognition of the state of Palestine is essential. We call on the Irish Government to enact the motion passed in 2014 to recognise the state of Palestine.

The role of Ireland in the United Nations Security Council is vital for promoting peace and human rights issues. It would be highly recommended that Senators and Deputies consider writing to the UN representative of Ireland to continue promoting peace. Great work can be achieved on this issue during Ireland's tenure. Let us work together to protect the rule of law and protect the rights of Palestinians. The time is now.

I thank the ambassador for what was a most stark and disturbing presentation to the committee. I thank her for coming. Committee members will be apprised of the fact that there were a series of maps accompanying the ambassador's presentation which were on the screen and have been made available for members. I call members to submit questions to the ambassador for the remainder of our meeting.

I welcome the ambassador. I think she only took up the position in January so I congratulate her. I think it is her first time in the committee in her formal capacity. If anyone was under any illusion as to what is happening in Palestine, the ambassador's presentation and the five maps she showed us illustrate starkly the reality on the ground, what is happening and what has happened over the past hundred years or so in terms of the breaking up of the possibility of a viable Palestinian state.

There has been much debate over the past number of months when there was an announcement made that large sections of the West Bank would be taken in and annexation would happen. There was a lot of focus on that and a lot of rhetoric. The plans have been temporarily shelved but have not gone away. The reality on the ground, on which I ask the ambassador to elaborate a bit more, is that we see the approval of more illegal settlements. We see 5,000 being approved over the past month or two; in the past couple of weeks, we see another 1,200 being approved in the north of Bethlehem. We know annexation is happening. I questioned our Minister for Foreign Affairs on this last week, and he uses the term "creeping annexation". I ask the ambassador to comment on that.

This year alone we have seen more Palestinian homes being demolished than at any point since 2016. I ask the ambassador to comment on that. Much of the demolition taking place is not confined to homes being demolished, which is appalling; it is also other critical infrastructure being demolished by illegal Israeli actions. Much of that infrastructure is paid for by the EU and Irish taxpayers. Belgium issued a bill to the Israeli authorities for infrastructure that was destroyed by the Israelis. I questioned our Minister on the issue last week. He did not respond directly but, as a way of putting pressure on the Israelis, the Irish should follow suit and serve a bill.

If one looks at the commentary from the international community, there has been a lot of condemnation of the actions of Israel, not just in the recent past. If one looks at the UN, for example, as of 2013, Israel has been condemned by 45 separate resolutions by the UN Human Rights Council, taking up more than 45.9% of all country-specific resolutions by the council. Our own foreign Minister recently condemned some of the actions carried out by Israel. Some of those statements are welcome but it has gone beyond the point of condemnation. Condemnation is not having any real effect on the illegal actions by Israel. What practical measures should the international community take to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine and bring Israel to abide by international law?

I will ask the ambassador about the continued expansion of the illegal settlements. The UN and the EU have produced different documents on produce in those areas. There was a lot of debate in this Parliament around the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories Bill) 2018 and we know, unfortunately, what happened that Bill and why it happened. The Palestinian people were sold out by this Parliament and politicians. Some parties who had championed the Bill quickly and easily sold out the Palestinian people for the sake of getting into power. That is a shameful indictment on those parties. Does the ambassador think the occupied territories Bill is needed at this point more than any other? Will she comment on that?

I have already spoken about the words of condemnation that go into a vacuum, words related to Israel, its actions, the imprisonment of children, the illegal detention of many Palestinian citizens and the assault on freedom of speech. We see the ongoing assaults on the press and the media trying to cover the brutality being perpetrated by Israel. The Dáil in 2014 passed a motion to officially recognise the state of Palestine. That, unfortunately, has not happened. It is a damning indictment of this Parliament and the Governments that have spanned that period.

Sunday last, 29 November, was the UN day of solidarity with the Palestinian people and it would have been fitting and telling for this Government, rather than express solidarity with the Palestinian people, to take actions to send a message to Israel that Ireland should officially recognise the state of Palestine. Does the ambassador agree that should happen? It should have happened years ago but particularly now as we see the illegal actions of Israel being ratcheted up greatly.

The final question is an important one because in January Ireland takes its seat at the UN Security Council. It is a massive achievement for Ireland to get such a seat and, in our lengthy campaign to do so, we championed our position on human rights. We rightly positioned ourselves as a champion of front-line defenders of human rights across the world. In her opening statement, the ambassador described the Palestinian issue as the longest belligerent occupation in modern history. If Ireland, after winning our seat on the UN Security Council, does not use its position to speak out against the ongoing abuses and illegal actions by the Israeli Government on the Palestinian people, it will be a damning indictment. What does the ambassador think Ireland should be doing with its position on the UN Security Council?

I am going to Deputy Clarke now but I remind members that if we are going to have a meaningful engagement with the ambassador, members should confine their remarks to questions. Otherwise, I fail to see the benefit this meeting will get because we will be listening to ourselves.

I thank the ambassador for her time this morning and for the time she took to engage with members of the committee in online meetings during the Covid-19 restrictions. It is much appreciated. I am unsure if the ambassador is aware that this week also saw the first cross-party meeting of the Friends of Palestine group within the Oireachtas. I was not a Member of the last Oireachtas but I am told there has been an increase in membership of the group from previous years, which is a welcome step and is good to see.

Given the recent election in the United States, how does the ambassador see that impacting on the Palestinian issues? It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. The graph that has been provided certainly does that and more.

On the motion that was passed in the Dáil six years ago in 2014, how does the ambassador see that fitting into the overall ambitions of Palestine to address the creeping annexation; the destruction of crops, homes and infrastructure; the bypassing of environmental laws; the displacement of people; the human rights violations; and what has rapidly become more of an apartheid system there?

In her role as ambassador of Palestine, what would she like to see Ireland undertake as a next step? What would she like to see the international community then take as a next step? We have talked about this issue internationally for so long but there is only a certain length of time that talking can continue before it becomes sound bites and sound bites will not be helpful to anybody.

I first saw that map in 2001 when I was in college. The Palestinian society showed it and I remember being totally taken aback by the contents of it and the reduction over the years. I was going to ask the same question as Deputy Clarke on what role the ambassador sees the US Government playing in the future. I also wanted to suggest that the committee write to our representative on the UN Security Council.

The ambassador's parents live in Palestine. Could she elaborate on how they are living and how it affects their community? I thank her for coming and for meeting with us on Zoom before.

H.E. Dr. Jilan Abdalmajid

I thank members for their questions. I thank all the Deputies and Senators, across parties and Independents, who have shown an interest to join the Friends of Palestine parliamentary group. As Deputy Clarke said, the numbers have increased and this is a great achievement for the Thirty-third Dáil. It reflects how the people of Ireland, as always, show support to the Palestinian cause. I thank Ireland and the Irish people for the continuous support, not only politically but financially, to the Palestinian people.

I will go to Deputy Brady's last questions about the occupied territories Bill. These questions related to how we think the international community could take a concrete measure to stop activities in settlements and annexation. I will phrase it like this. If Israel does not bear any sanction, it is free to go ahead with any annexation and it has no incentive to stop the settlement expansion. Israel should see how this affects its economy and financial support. Without feeling this or seeing the effect of it, Israel will not take any action. That is why, when we talk about the occupied territories Bill, sanctions or taking concrete measures, again it is the occupation that we are talking about. For me and many Palestinians, we see that now is the time to take these actions.

I would go to the issue of recognition again. Recognising the state of Palestine would empower our position. I know the Dáil voted in favour of this and called on the Government in 2014 to recognise the state of Palestine but it still has not been enacted. We called on not only Ireland but on many European countries to recognise the state of Palestine. This is one of the big issues for the Palestinians. It will empower our position in any future negotiation with Israel to recognise the state of Palestine on 1967 borders and to recognise the issue of east Jerusalem as an occupied territory. This will make the borders a matter that the whole world and Israel should abide by under international law. Otherwise, things will move on with annexation and settlement expansion and no one can stop Israel.

I mention the creeping annexation. Since 1967, Israel built and expanded settlements to implement annexation on a daily basis. The people themselves who deal with this are mainly living in the West Bank and on a daily basis they are under threat from any kind of attack on their land while farming. One will always find that settlers suddenly attack one's land while one is farming. The settlers have the right to besiege the land and to force one to leave, along with the Israeli army. The Israeli occupation used this policy since 1967. If one goes to the last map, one can see it is not only the US plan. This is what has happened after 50 years of occupation, settlements and annexation. This is how the Palestinian territories look. They are enclaves with no connections between them. How will they look in a few years? It is time for the international community to realise that recognising the state of Palestine on 1967 borders is something that will encourage the Palestinians to go ahead with negotiations in a strong position.

I will return to the questions about the United States election. The Palestinian people are always positive. Otherwise, we would end up in another world if we did not force ourselves to be resilient. With all of the oppression the Palestinians have suffered for all these years we have stayed steadfast and continued to believe that we have a right. We are there and we will remain there. From there, we will defend our right to self-determination and independence. We look at the United States election in a positive way.

During the Trump era, the situation for Palestinians deteriorated. Everyone knows how the US stopped its support for the UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, and closed our mission in Washington. Given the situation that Trump's Middle East peace plan put the Palestinians in, we strongly reject it and will not accept it. Many people around the world support us and, under international law, no one agrees with it. We must stand and defend the rule of law. Doing so is important for the international community.

I hope that we have reached a point where the plan will stop and not be continued under the new US Presidency. We hope that things will be a little better. We should not raise our expectations, but we are positive and seeking better relations with the United States, at least such that we will be able to bring back our mission to the US. This would have a positive effect, as it would allow our voice to reach most US citizens. We have seen a considerable change in the views of young people in the Democratic Party towards the cause of Palestine and the rights of Palestinians. We must work hard with them and the whole of the US citizenry, and our presence there will help us to do that and to bring the cause of Palestine to a different position with the new US Presidency.

Questions were asked about demolitions and the recent expansion in Israeli settlements of 5,000 units and, even more recently, more than 1,200 further settlement units. Those 1,200 units will cause damage to Palestinian unity in the West Bank because they will be in an area that splits Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. It lies between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. If they go ahead, it will be a disaster for Palestinian communities in the West Bank.

As to what the international community can do, it should be considering sanctions to stop Israel from doing this. Palestinians respect and acknowledge all of the statements condemning and rejecting what is happening, but statements will do nothing on the ground. That is why we have said that sanctions should be taken. In recent months, the Belgian Parliament and the Dutch Parliament adopted two motions to the effect that, if Israel went ahead with annexation, sanctions should be introduced. I hope that the Irish Parliament does something like that. Israel should be alerted that the international community can opt for something proper and concrete.

I was asked about my parents and family. They live in Gaza.

The issue of Covid-19 is dominant now and the situation is worsening every day.

The blockade of Gaza has left its people with a certain sense of despair. We have hundreds of young graduates without work. What do we expect from those young generations? They have graduated from university and are looking to the future, but there are no opportunities to work. Even before Covid, unemployment in Gaza reached frightening percentages. It is almost over 35%. The blockade affects the Gazan people in a difficult way. We talk about problems with water and electricity. Sometimes, there are only four hours of electricity per day. That can increase to eight hours per day. We talk about children going to school constantly fearing that there will be an Israeli attack. I was in Gaza in 2005. I remember the morning before I left to return to Cyprus. Early in the morning, the air was broken by the sound of attacks against Gaza. It was almost 6.30 a.m. Most of the young children were going to school. Imagine them walking to school and feeling threatened or fearing that something will happen. Imagine the mothers waiting for them fearing they might not come home safely or that their schools would be attacked. Israel often attacks schools, houses and private residences. The people of Gaza are always under threat of Israeli attack.

The water issue is severe. Ireland has supported a solar plant project in Gaza in co-operation with the French Government. There are many projects, but as long as there are blockades, not all materials can enter Gaza easily. This will cause issues for any project. Even when projects are built, Israel might come along and demolish them or attack and destroy them. Many of the structures in the West Bank that were demolished were funded by the EU, including some by the Irish Government. What kind of action will the EU take? We are discussing taxpayers' money. How do Irish politicians reflect what is happening to their people? They are paying for the Palestinians but the Israelis are coming along and demolishing. There is no punishment, sanction or action. Since 1967, many establishments that were supported by the European taxpayer have been demolished. No one has held Israel accountable for these actions.

Ireland will be a member of the United Nations Security Council from the beginning of 2021. Ireland has always supported peace and human rights issues. I hope that during its membership of the Security Council, it will work on several issues concerning human rights and children's rights. Ireland is part of the EU, but it could promote these issues within the UN and to other members of the Security Council. The committee's members might believe that Ireland is just one voice, but it is a voice that represents millions of people around the world in protecting human rights, children's rights and the right to self-determination.

Raising the voice of human rights issues and freedom in the United Nations Security Council would bring the issue of self-determination for the Palestinian people into reality and the issue of recognition of Palestine as a permanent member of the United Nations into effect. We will continue working on getting full membership of the United Nations.

Our President invited the United Nations Secretary General to an international peace conference. I hope Ireland will work on this and get the countries on the United Nations Security Council to support this. This would bring the issue of Palestine and Israel into a new era of respect for the rights and the self-determination of the Palestinians, as well as an end to the occupation of the Palestinian occupied territories.

I congratulate the ambassador and congratulate her on her appointment.

When I was president of the Teachers Union of Ireland, I presided over a period when we banned any academic co-operation with Israel. I have been quite outspoken on some of the actions of Israel and the way it uses indiscriminate bombing, etc.

I do not take sides on this particular issue. I do, however, have to bring the other side of the argument. We hear the Palestinian side clearly and fairly frequently. However, it is no secret that terrorists operate from Palestinian territories and fire rockets into Israel. For the parents in Palestine who go to bed at night and wonder if they will get up in the morning, there are equally parents in Israel who go to bed at night and wonder if they will get up the following morning.

If we learned nothing in this country, we have learned that conflict is not a way to solve problems. We have learned that, at some stage, somebody has to realise that the bombings, the shootings and the brutality has to stop and that people have to sit down to talk. It never ceases to amaze me that during conflicts, politicians are prepared to see their citizens go through the most horrendous suffering in order to prove a point.

The annexation is Israel's way of making Palestine suffer. I understand, however, that the Israelis are prepared to negotiate on annexation. I do not know because I do not live there and I am rather slow to make any judgments. We heard from Deputy Brady that there were 45 condemnations from the United Nations. They mean absolutely nothing, however. We have all this talk. It is great to stand up in Parliament and condemn what is going on anywhere. It means absolutely nothing, however, to the people of Palestine or the people of Israel. My experience of the world is that most people just want to live, get on with their day's work, go home to enjoy their families and leisure time. Sometimes politicians need to take that on board.

The only citizen of Palestine who was allowed receive treatment in Israel for Covid-19 was Saeb Erekat, may he rest in peace. Why was that? Was that an Israeli or Palestinian choice?

On the withholding of €800 million of revenues by Israel, the Israeli side of the argument is that it did not want to hold money but it wanted to retain moneys it felt were being fed to terrorist families. That needs to be addressed. As I said yesterday in the Seanad, governments fund terrorists and make sure money gets to terrorists. These rockets do not cost small money. They cost a lot of money. Somewhere along the line, people are funding this. Why was whatever of that €800 million Israel was prepared to hand over not taken up immediately to alleviate some of the suffering in Palestine? How much was Israel expecting to hold back? Should the international community at this stage make a judgment on any moneys being withheld from Palestine which belong to Palestine?

This conflict has been going on since I was a boy. I have watched the suffering of the people of Palestine. We have all seen the massive destruction of areas through bombings. We have also seen the other side with the destruction of individual houses and rockets being indiscriminately landed on areas. Clearly 45 resolutions from the United Nations mean nothing. Clearly, the condemnation of one country after the other of the actions of one side or the other means absolutely nothing. Who or what country does Palestine trust to sit down and negotiate a peace for it? Somewhere everybody has to leave down the weapons and start talking. We learned that in this country but we paid a high price. Up to 3,500 thousand people died while different sides tried to prove a point to one another. To whom do we turn to solve the problem? The United Nations is clearly of no value.

I welcome the ambassador. I am a Green Party Member. Deputy Leddin who is a member of this committee is unavoidably absent. I thank the committee for facilitating me to attend.

My deepest sympathy on the loss of Dr. Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian peace negotiator for many years. I am delighted that the Palestinians are not a people without hope. They cannot ever take one's hope away. As Alexander Pope said, hope springs eternal. Is the ambassador's view optimistic for the future? The Palestinians' resilience is to be commended. For a breakthrough to happen, however, we may need some fortune, luck or a happy confluence of events.

We come to the table with some experience in Ireland. There was a happy confluence of events in our peace process. With no disrespect to John Major who pushed it on, there was a Labour Party-led Government in the UK, along with a US Administration and some vocal US Senators and Congressmen. With no disrespect to previous taoisigh, including Albert Reynolds who did great work, a Bertie Ahern Government made movements. There were also movements in the North of Ireland at the time with the arrival of David Ervine's Progressive Unionist Party, the Women's Coalition and Adams being prepared to talk to Hume. Many things magically came together to bring peace. How can we help the Palestinians make their own luck?

What would Ms Abdalmajid's view be if Bertie Ahern, for instance, was to take a hands-on approach as someone who is respected, leaving aside domestic differences? Would she welcome someone like that intervening? I have more hope than expectation for their suffering, to be quite candid. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to remain silent, as Edmund Burke said.

Apart from resilience, in terms of the roadmap where does Ms Abdalmajid see the logjam being broken? Does she feel Ireland is in a pivotal position within the UN to be a catalyst for a breakthrough?

My next question is unrelated. The committee has concerns about human rights and well-being. I ask Ms Abdalmajid to update us on how Covid is ravaging the Palestinian people. What are her expectations around that? Who will she be looking to for help with the vaccine in respect of same? Can Ireland be a voice for her people in respect of the roll-out of the vaccine?

Before I call on the ambassador, I will go against my own strictures and call on Deputy Brady.

There was a lot of talk about sanctions. Ms Abdalmajid stated that sanctions are needed. We see how quick the international community is to move in other conflict zones and areas of controversy, and rightly so. Why does Ms Abdalmajid think the international and European communities are very slow to contemplate imposing sanctions on Israel?

H.E. Dr. Jilan Abdalmajid

A ban on trade with illegal Israeli settlements is something we think should be activated and adopted or implemented by the international community. We are not talking about a major issue under international law. It is a matter of respect and the implementation of international law.

Senator Craughwell spoke about condemnation. It shows that the international community is awake and highlights the inhuman actions of the Israelis against the Palestinians. The world should condemn that. It would mean that the world knows what is going on in Palestine. When it comes to the concrete measures that should be taken, this is what we are working for.

In comparing the issue in Gaza or the Palestinians, the main problem is the occupation. One cannot compare anything else to the occupation. When people talk about resistance, it is a right that is very well respected by international law. I refuse to talk about this resistance against the occupation as terrorism. Terrorism is not something that lies with the Palestinians. We have the right to defend ourselves, to exist, to self-determination and our existence on this land. This land belongs to my parents, to me and to our future children. One cannot say that something is terrorism when people are defending their people and land.

There are actions which are not acceptable and that no one would agree with. There is no comparison with what is going on in the Israeli army or military and what is happening in Gaza and with the Palestinian people in the West Bank. I refuse to make the comparison and to call them terrorists. There are actions which are not acceptable, but there is a bigger issue of the occupation, oppression and abuse and violation of international law in respect of the Palestinian people.

I want to say something about Dr. Saeb Erekat. I want to clarify that he was monitored by his United States doctors because he had a transplant in the United States. He should have been under observation on a machine which was only available in Israeli hospitals. I am not defending that. Since we broke co-ordination with the Israelis when they withheld our money, co-ordination with them was done through an international organisation. This is daily life.

We took this position because Israel withheld our money. We did not reject the money. Israel withheld the money and claimed it was given in a manner that I cannot talk about. When we talk about our detainees, we are talking about our people. Without their resistance and belief that the Palestinians have rights which they should defend, I would not sit here today.

There are just over 5,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails. Those people believe in Palestine and in the defence of our right to independence, existence and self-determination. They defend these rights. When Israel decides that money is for families, that is related to human rights. How can families be left to live like this? The Israelis decided to withhold the money. For the past seven months we have not taken our salaries. We have part of our salaries. Imagine if, for seven months, an entire population had no money while trying to survive the Covid-19 pandemic. It is unjust to say something like that.

However, I will go back to the issue of Covid-19 and how we tackle the pandemic. It is difficult. Cases are rising every day. We started with a small number of cases, but there are more than 2,000 cases today. The percentage who recover is more than 70%, but the situation is not good. Yesterday, our President urged the Palestinian people to abide by the health restrictions, respect social distancing, use hand sanitiser and respect the regulations put in place by the Government to combat Covid-19.

The Covid situation in Palestine is critical. Like everywhere in the world, it affects our daily lives and economy. We co-operated and co-ordinate with the EU and other countries on vaccines. Like many other countries, nothing is clear but we have started to talk to different countries about providing us with a vaccine.

On who would mediate between the Palestinians and Israelis, negotiation is important for the Palestinian-Israeli cause. We are still committed to the peace process and negotiations. The Government and leadership always say that they are ready to engage in negotiations with the Israelis, but not under the sole auspices of the US.

We need the international community - the EU, Russia and the Quartet - because it should be grounded by the international community. We have to abide by this.

Members talk about the United Nations resolutions, of which there are hundreds. It is a real and just cause. These resolutions, if implemented, would mean a free Palestine now. With regard to Resolutions 242 and 337, and, more recently, Resolution 2334 regarding the settlements, these are from the Security Council and should be implemented. Why does the international community not implement these? Between Israel and Palestinians there is an unequal and unjust situation. Can members tell me why these are not implemented? Whenever such a measure is adopted in another part of the world, it is implemented. This is the discrimination in treatment between what applies to Palestine and what applies to other countries of the world.

I am reluctant to intervene but I have to remind the ambassador that we are under time pressure. I received a message before the meeting that we are due in the Convention Centre for a vote on the Finance Bill. I ask the ambassador to leave us with her concluding remarks. We have a second part to the meeting, and we have gone well over time. If Deputy Brady or Senator Craughwell feel that some of the issues they raised did not receive an adequate reply, we would be happy to receive a written submission, which would be tendered to the members. I thank the ambassador for coming in. She might leave us with a final message.

H.E. Dr. Jilan Abdalmajid

Let us work together to protect the rule of law and to protect Palestinian rights of self-determination. Let us work together to recognise the State of Palestine because this will bring the issue and the cause of Palestine and Israel to a just solution. This is the time.

I thank the ambassador for her kind words in respect of the Irish Government and the ongoing assistance and aid programmes within the Palestinian territories.

On behalf of the committee, I want to formally offer our personal condolences to the ambassador on the loss of Saeb Erekat, who was the subject matter of mention at an earlier meeting.

I remind members and the ambassador that we will be having a similar meeting next week with the Israeli ambassador.

On my own behalf and on behalf of members, I point out we have had a really important exchange. In the context of our work programme for next year, assuming Covid restrictions will facilitate or allow it, I suggest we might give consideration to a visit to the region, which will give us an opportunity to engage with some of the ambassador’s colleagues. I thank her for coming in. We will, no doubt, be in further contact with her and we ask her to feel free to send any of her reports directly to members of the committee. Thank you.