Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Questions (45, 64)

Bríd Smith


45. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the steps he will take in the event that Israel annexes sections of the West Bank as announced recently by the Israeli Prime Minister; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37467/19]

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Niall Collins


64. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the announcement by the Israeli Prime Minister that he will annex large parts of the occupied West Bank if re-elected; the steps he believes should be taken at EU level in response to this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37461/19]

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Oral answers (15 contributions) (Question to Foreign)

What steps will the Tánaiste take in the event that Israel annexes sections of the West Bank, as recently announced by the Israeli Prime Minister? I listened to the Tánaiste's answer to Deputy Howlin earlier. I note that he acknowledged that the proposal has no legitimacy and such a policy would be illegal. I ask him to outline what steps he will take in the event that this annexation takes place, as appears inevitable.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 45 and 64 together.

I do not think anything is inevitable. We do not have the outcome of the election yet so I do not think we should make predictions. I made a statement on this matter in an earlier reply, as the Deputy acknowledged. I underline again that Ireland and the EU will closely monitor the actions of the next Israeli Government in the context of these recent announcements. Israelis are voting in an election today but it may be some weeks until a government is formed. I have already said that Ireland and the EU stand by the internationally agreed parameters for a negotiated peace agreement and continue to urge the Israeli Government to uphold its international legal obligations, including under the Fourth Geneva Convention on the treatment of a civilian population. Ireland will continue to convey its concerns on related developments on the ground in all relevant international fora as well as directly with the Israeli authorities. Ireland has consistently taken action at both EU and UN level to ensure that the international community retains a focus on the Israel-Palestine issue. Our position on settlement expansion, demolition of Palestinian homes and other buildings and forced removal of Palestinians from their homes is extremely clear and I have made it clear in this House many times.

All actions which compromise the viability of a future Palestinian state are extremely dangerous. Such unilateral actions further diminish the prospects of successful negotiations and an end to conflict, something which I firmly believe is in the best interests of Israelis as well as Palestinians. With the prospects for peace continuing to deteriorate, EU foreign ministers have discussed the peace process on numerous occasions over the last year, most recently at an informal meeting in Helsinki on 29 and 30 August. We will remain vigilant about how the situation develops. The situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory will remain high on my agenda. I am committed to doing everything I can to make a positive contribution to support credible efforts to resume negotiations to advance the Middle East peace process.

The Tánaiste said earlier that this announcement was unhelpful electoral rhetoric. I would argue that it is not an election ploy or an off-the-cuff remark. It has been the central policy and goal of the Israeli state since its foundation. It is the inevitable logic of the settler state. This week alone has not been unusual or strange. It has been just another episode in a litany of dispossessions, illegal settlements, routine abuse and the dehumanisation of the Palestinian people. In Beit Jala, a restaurant owned by a Christian Palestinian family was bulldozed by the Israeli military. Some 850 acres were confiscated and then immediately moved onto by illegal settlers. It is a conquest and an ongoing, tortuous genocide of the Palestinian people. I ask the Tánaiste and the Government to commit to action. For example, will the Government cease blocking Senator Frances Black's Bill on the Israeli illegal settlement goods? Will the Tánaiste call in the Israeli ambassador and indicate that, should these settlements and the annexation of the West Bank continue, he will be expelled? The Tánaiste refers to the ambassador as a nice man and somebody he gets on well with. He should call the ambassador in and tell him that he wants to continue to get on well but that we will not tolerate this illegal activity by the Israeli state. It is not new but continuous. It is not an election ploy but a strategic goal of the Israeli state.

I do not accept that it is the strategic goal of the Israeli state. Israeli policy with regard to the West Bank has changed at times. We have been very close to comprehensive peace agreements on a number of occasions where Israeli politics has sought a fair solution based on a two-state solution for both Israelis and Palestinians. The Deputy should not categorise this as a policy that has been the same for a long period. That is not the case. We will not support Senator Frances Black's Bill because we do not believe it is legal. My position on that is clear. We do not believe it is sound legislation. We do not believe it can be implemented or that it is legally sound. I regard my relationship with the Israeli Embassy as important because we want to try to influence politics in Israel and we care about the Middle East peace process, Israel's future and the future for Palestinians. We want a Palestinian state that is functioning and controlled by Palestinians in the future. We will continue to advocate for a two-state solution and fair peace process for both sides.

It is hard to have any confidence that we will see any progress, as I believe the Tánaiste will agree, if one looks at the pattern, with the deteriorating situation in Gaza, the cutting of humanitarian funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNWRA, the closing of the Palestinian mission in Washington, the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the nation-state Act and so on. These developments, along with the demolitions and the expansion of the illegal settlements, are a flagrant abuse of international law. It is hard to believe that anyone in authority, either in Israel or anyone who purports to speak with authority on its behalf, is genuine about achieving a peace process that will work and a two-state solution. Does the Tánaiste believe anybody in authority or anybody who speaks on behalf of Israel when he meets them? The Tánaiste recently met Vice President Pence. Did he raise this specific issue with the Vice President? What did the Vice President say?

I share the Deputy's concern and scepticism. Over the past two years, we have seen a significant deterioration in the relationship between Israeli and Palestinian political leaders. We have also seen a significant deterioration in the relationship between Palestinians and the US.

That is regrettable because instead of trying to make progress towards peace, in many ways we have been moving in the opposite direction. I have spoken out about that quite a lot and I have attracted some attention and at times, some criticism, as has Deputy Niall Collins. However, I will continue to speak out on this issue because Irish people feel strongly about it. There is a sense of injustice here. My view and that of the Government is that we should be a strong advocate for a fair outcome that is good for Israel and respects its legitimate concerns, particularly around security, while also demanding the fair treatment of the Palestinians in the context of any negotiation and a final settlement.

We will have a few supplementary questions.

I did not raise this issue with Vice President Pence because I had a specific focus at that meeting on Brexit. I would have liked to have raised it but I suspect that I will be meeting representatives from the US next week in New York and I will certainly be raising it there.

There is very little time left but we can have two short supplementary questions. Does Deputy Niall Collins have another supplementary question?

I wish to speak again. The Tánaiste just said that he regards the Bill introduced by Senator Frances Black as illegal. I assume he also regards the settlements as illegal. The Government has the opportunity to amend Senator's Black's Bill if it allows it to proceed but it seems intent on stopping the progress of any Bills from the Opposition. The Tánaiste and this Government would rather stand here, wring their hands and say nice words than do something about the illegal settlements, and the torture and systemic erosion of the rights of the Palestinian people. The Tánaiste cannot say that one side is equal to the other; he cannot claim that the concerns of the Israelis are equal to the rights of the Palestinians in the face of the absolute lack of fairness and equality and the murder and genocide being perpetrated by the Israelis in Palestine. It is interesting to note that the Tánaiste did not have time to raise this issue with Vice President Pence and I assume that the Taoiseach did not have time to raise it with President Trump when he visited County Clare recently. The Government never seems to have the time or the bottle to challenge the US regime or the Israeli ambassador on the utterly illegal genocide that is not only continuing but escalating, as can be seen by the whole world. The Tánaiste said that the Irish people are very concerned and, indeed, we are, but we are sick of the hand wringing by the Tánaiste and his Government. They must take some decisive action, as they have done in the past with other states when they believed that they had breached international law.

A brief response please because I am anxious to move on to the next question.

The Deputy seems to be of the view that protest solves everything. I have been engaged on this issue-----

I want action.

The Deputy should listen. I have been engaged on this issue in a serious way for two years now. In my first 12 months in office, I visited Palestine and Israel on three separate occasions. I have spoken to Mr. Jared Kushner and Mr. Jason Greenblatt about their approach to this issue on multiple occasions. I have met the previous and current Israeli ambassadors who understand the Irish position only too well. My interest here is in an outcome, not in playing politics with an issue or criticising others for certain approaches. My interest here is the Palestinian and the Israeli people, in terms of trying to move towards a peace process that can deliver a settlement that will save lives and allow a dispute that has been going on for decades to be resolved once and for all. We will continue with that approach.