Thursday, 26 November 2020

Questions (3)

John Brady


3. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Government will be seeking compensation from the state of Israel for the destruction of infrastructure paid for by the Irish taxpayer by Israeli forces. [38305/20]

View answer

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Foreign)

Has the Irish Government sought compensation from Israel for its ongoing, systematic destruction of Palestinian homes and other infrastructure such as schools? I know other European countries have asked for compensation from Israel? Has the Government considered this? Has it carried out an assessment of how much Palestinian infrastructure that was provided by Irish taxpayers' money has been destroyed by the Israeli strategy of demolition?

We have discussed this matter of demolitions and settlements before at Question Time. The demolition by Israeli authorities of private property is of grave concern. Demolition and confiscation of humanitarian assets, including education infrastructure, is contrary to Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention. The only conclusion we can draw from the systematic nature of these policies, especially in areas where illegal Israeli settlements have already been constructed, is that they are aimed at forcing Palestinians off their land.

Ireland regularly conveys its views on these actions to the Israeli authorities, both directly and through the EU. I have also raised the issue on my visits to the region on numerous occasions. I issued a statement on recent demolitions on 6 November in which I underlined that destruction of private property such as this is clearly prohibited under international humanitarian law. Ireland, the EU and the wider humanitarian community are supporting impacted communities.

My primary concern is the hardship and injustice that demolitions and confiscations cause for Palestinian families. It is of additional concern when those structures confiscated or demolished are donor-funded. It is important that the question of recompense for humanitarian relief funded by our taxpayers should be pursued. Ireland pursues this matter issue consistently through the West Bank Protection Consortium, which plays a leading role in supporting threatened communities from forcible transfer, co-ordinating the provision of essential services to them, including material and humanitarian assistance and legal aid. It is the practice of the consortium to raise the issue of compensation directly with the Israeli authorities and to date, the consortium has sought compensation of over €625,000 in respect of confiscated or demolished assets. In other words, we believe that we can be more impactful and effective if we work with other countries in a consortium like this, which involves some other EU countries as well, and we help to fund activities such as legal action taken on the back of these cases of demolition and confiscation.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I appreciate what he said. I also appreciate some of his recent statements on the illegal demolition of Palestinian homes in the West Bank. He indicated that he has raised these matters with Israel and also through the EU, but his intervention is having absolutely zero impact. Belgium made a decision to seek compensation and it has been refused. If nothing else, it is important to draw attention to this aspect. It is another strategy to pursue.

A recent statement by the Israeli foreign minister indicates that whatever we are saying is having no effect. He stated that donor states should use their taxpayers' money for the funding of legal constructions and projects in territories that are controlled by Israel, thereby ensuring that they are planned and executed in accordance with the law and in co-ordination with the relevant Israeli authorities. What we are saying is having no impact . It is time to take action and stop the illegal actions by Israel.

We are taking action. I understand the frustration in this House about the Israel-Palestine matter in general. I am glad it is raised every time I take questions. However, I assure the Deputy that we are using all the tools we think can be most persuasive in bringing about change in that relationship. We potentially have an opportunity, with a change of US President, to be able to refocus on the Middle East peace process and the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians. I want Ireland to be in the middle of the discussion using the context we have raised and the relationships we have to try to ensure we can assist in a process of moving forward a peace dialogue that ensures equality of esteem for both sides. That is so we can work constructively towards the creation of a two-state solution, with two states living side by side in peace. It is why I am vocal, publicly and in this House, on these matters on a regular basis. I am happy to engage with other parties on that.

The Minister mentions the new US Government and US President, who will take office in January. Nevertheless we are seeing a ratcheting up of illegal settlements and just this week we have seen tenders approved for 1,200 illegal settlements in north Bethlehem. This week, ten families have been ejected from their homes to allow for military manoeuvres in the West Bank. It is a systematic attempt to destroy any prospects of a two-state solution.

We can consider planning, particularly in area C of the occupied territories, where only 2% of planning permission applications are granted by Israel. At the same time we have seen the systematic destruction of homes, schools and other humanitarian infrastructure. It has gone well beyond the point of issuing statements of condemnation or speaking quietly in the ear of the Israeli ambassador. Now is the time to take action.

This Sunday marks the UN day of solidarity with the Palestinian people. We need to express solidarity but Palestinians need to see definitive action. Ireland can take the lead by having a strategy of confronting the illegal actions of the Israeli state. We can start by issuing a compensation bill for the demolition of settlements.

I have given great lenience, like Santa Claus. I must act in fairness to the other Deputies asking questions.

I understand the Deputy's perspective on this. As the Minister for Foreign Affairs, my job is to use my judgment to consider how we can create a position where Ireland can be as influential as possible in the bigger picture. That is how to work with other governments around the world to create an environment where Israeli and Palestinian negotiators can sit around a table negotiating a permanent solution to a conflict that has been going on for decades. That is the issue. Of course, there is also the question of how we ensure we are both consistent and credible in our constructive criticism of the actions taken primarily by Israeli authorities. If there are other violent actions involving Palestinians, we must also be consistent on that. I have been very consistent in calling out breaches of international and humanitarian law. I will continue to do that while trying to ensure we can maximise Ireland's influence on the bigger picture as well.