Thursday, 24 June 2021

Questions (91)

John Brady


91. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the measures that constitute an appropriate response at both a national and an EU level to assist in bringing an end to Israel’s illegal settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem; the actions Ireland will take as a member of the UN Security Council to facilitate the fulfilment of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34135/21]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Foreign)

In light of the passing of what can be described only as the historic motion that declares that Israel's settlement expansion in East Jerusalem and the West Bank amounts to de facto annexation, which is illegal under international law, what measures do the Minister and the Government now intend to take at a national and EU level, and on the UN Security Council?

Ireland’s position on the illegality of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory informs our engagement with the state of Israel across a range of bilateral issues and will continue to do so. Ireland distinguishes between the territory of the state of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967 in line with international law and the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

Ireland will continue to use our seat on the UN Security Council to draw attention to the issue of settlements, demolitions, evictions and settler violence. When I addressed the Security Council on 16 May, I raised illegal Israeli settlements and their impact on the viability of a future two-state solution. Later today, Ireland will join a meeting of the Security Council with the UN special co-ordinator on the Middle East, which will focus on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2334.

At an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers on 27 May, I called on EU colleagues to address the issues of settlement expansion in a more robust way. I raised these issues again at the Foreign Affairs Council on 21 June. The EU and the international community more broadly has an obligation to act and seek to address these root causes of violence and tension.

Ireland consistently conveys our views on settlements to the Israeli authorities directly. I have met with the Israeli ambassador and conveyed in the strongest terms my concerns on settlement announcements and associated infrastructure development. Department officials work closely with the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, and UN agencies on the ground, on these issues.

Ireland’s ambassador in Tel Aviv raises this issue regularly with the Israeli Government. Ireland's representative office in Ramallah has made a number of visits, along with EU representatives, to sensitive sites of concern in the West Bank. Ireland’s position is informed by international law, respect for human rights and the negative political impact of settlement activities on the prospects for a future negotiated peace agreement.

I welcome the Minister's response. We need to do more, however. We have now declared that Israel has breached international law and continues to do so at an accelerated pace. This week, sanctions were reimposed on Russia for its illegal actions - as the international community has declared - on annexing Crimea. We now need to push for similar sanctions on Israel for its grave violations of international law and continued policies of apartheid. We should now be pushing for a downgrading of economic, cultural, military and diplomatic relations with a country that has and continues to breach international law.

I need to hear the Minister state this is what we are pushing for when we say we are highlighting these issues. It is all well and good highlighting them but the perceived impunity with which Israel believes it can continue to operate needs to be challenged. It can done only by imposing similar sanctions as we have on other countries that have broken international law.

I do not agree with the Deputy on this issue. The question of boycotts and sanctions has been discussed on many occasions in the Oireachtas. The Government does not support boycotts on Israel. Such sanctions would be ineffective and, more importantly, counterproductive.

Although we differ on issues to do with the occupation, we do not regard ourselves as hostile to Israel. If we are to achieve what the Government wants to continue to advocate and work towards, which is a peace settlement that results in two states living side by side, with security issues and sovereignty issues addressed, then we need to maintain a relationship, particularly now that there is a new Government in Israel. We need to work to build consensus within the EU and within the international community in terms of how the international community works with the new Israeli Government and the Palestinian authority. There is work to be done there as well.

We must work to ensure we isolate and reduce the influence of Hamas and other terrorist groups in order that we can ensure good international politics and the right kinds of interventions result in both sides, through legitimate political leadership on the Israeli and Palestinian sides, working towards a negotiated peaceful solution with the support of the international community. That is the objective we are after here. Isolating, boycotting and targeting Israel at this stage would be counterproductive towards achieving those aims, and would potentially undermine Ireland's capacity to influence others to build the kind of consensus I believe is needed.

That said, we will of course continue to raise these issues. Ireland is probably the most vocal country in the European Union on this issue. We have asked the commission to produce a toolbox to ensure we can use the leverage we have to the greatest extent possible to move relationships in the right direction. Talk around boycotts and sanctions at this stage, however, isolates Ireland rather than puts us in the middle of an influential discussion to bring about change. We have an opportunity now with the new Israeli Government to make progress and we should focus on doing that.

The Minister will have additional minutes following supplementary questions. I ask people to please keep to their times.

What is counterproductive is continuing with the same failed policy that allows Israel to continue its legal settlement expansion policies. What we now have is a new Israeli Prime Minister, who is committed to the illegal colonial settlements and their expansions.

In recent weeks, we have seen continued abuses, human rights violations and attempts to remove Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and elsewhere in the occupied territories. We see the continued bombardment of Gaza despite a so-called ceasefire. The policies that have been attempted up to this point are failing. Israel is a rogue state and a continual breacher of international law. It needs to be treated accordingly and we must act, at national, EU and international level, in that regard. This House has passed a historic resolution but there must be consequences arising out of that action.

Does the Minister agree that now is the time, at national level, to move to recognise the state of Palestine? It is something we, as a State, can do. If he is hell-bent against moving to impose sanctions, a position with which I totally disagree, then we must move on recognising the Palestinian state. We also must move forward the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018. What are the Minister's intentions on those two specific issues? Will he recognise the state of Palestine and will he progress the 2018 Bill or, at the very least, ask that its provisions be looked at on an EU level?

It is clear that I am not shy to call out Israeli policy when it is not consistent with international law. I have repeatedly referred to the illegality of settlements, settlement expansion, demolitions and forced evictions. I have been highly critical, both nationally and internationally, of those policies because I believe they are counterproductive to achieving the outcome of a peaceful resolution to a conflict that has gone on for far too long. Do I believe that taking the approach the Deputy is advocating, which is to try to isolate Israel through boycotts and sanctions, is the right mechanism to achieve a resolution? No, I do not, because, in doing that, we would isolate Ireland rather than isolating Israel.

We need to build an international consensus and Ireland has been at the centre of trying to do that. We will continue to do so at an EU level. We will continue to ask the European Commission to bring forward a toolbox that enables us to use the EU's leverage, which is far more powerful than Ireland's leverage alone. That is what we will focus on. It is what, in my view, foreign policy is about. The debates in this Chamber are, of course, important and Ireland needs to lead by example and try to give global leadership in forums such as the EU and UN in an effort to bring about real change to protect Palestinians and international law. We must work in partnership with Israel where we can to achieve those ends. That is what we will continue to do.