Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Ceisteanna (31)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

31. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he is pressing his EU counterparts for further actions in support of Palestinian rights in the context of the upcoming 70th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, the ongoing Palestinian protest on the right to return as allowed for by UN resolution and the ongoing aggression by Israel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21103/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (9 contributions) (Ceist ar Foreign)

The murder of 58 unarmed Palestinian protesters yesterday by Israel was cold-blooded premeditated murder. It was not an overreaction or an ad hoc response. It was premeditated. In the face of premeditated executions by Israel, does the Minister not think it is incumbent on this country and the European Union to impose sanctions which would actually impact on Israel to stop this slaughter?

I wish to begin by expressing my profound shock at the scale of casualties inflicted by Israeli forces on Palestinian demonstrators yesterday. Even if some demonstrators yesterday were using violence, there is no indication of anything which could possibly have justified this scale of shootings by Israeli troops, and many specific attested shootings were clearly indefensible. This has to stop. I call on Israel specifically to rein in its forces, and on all those who have influence with Israel to use that influence to this effect.

This morning I summoned the Israeli ambassador to Iveagh House and made these points to him in the strongest terms. These dreadful events tragically underline my view that the Israel-Palestine peace process and the situation in Gaza cannot just be left to fester until a better day comes. They must be addressed urgently, or we will only see more days like this.

As to the Deputy’s question about action at EU level, EU and international attention on the Israel-Palestine issue has naturally prioritised efforts to resume political negotiations, as the only way to bring the occupation to an end.

Ireland has worked also to maintain a focus on the justice and human rights issues affecting Palestinians on the ground, and to promote practical efforts to assist them. This relates notably to Israeli settlements and related land seizures, movement restrictions, evictions, deportations and suppression of protests. These are closing - literally - the political and physical space where a peace agreement might be built.

The EU has taken a number of actions in regard to settlements and their products, which we have discussed here. We are continuing to look at other possible actions, although it has to be said it has become difficult to achieve agreement at EU level on any such measures at present.

Accordingly, we have also explored actions with like-minded partners. Last year Ireland joined the West Bank Protection Consortium, a group of countries which seek to act together on land issues particularly. I am also working with some partners on specific project ideas to help ease the blockade of Gaza.

Ireland also funds a number of Israeli, Palestinian and international NGOs active in combatting unjust occupation policies and taking legal cases.

Beyond the politics, people in Gaza have contacted me and asked that we would immediately provide medical and blood supplies. They have actually run out of blood in the hospitals in Gaza because they are overwhelmed with injured people and those who have been shot. That is a practical matter.

Who has been on to the Deputy?

People have been phoning me from Gaza, telling me the hospitals are overwhelmed. The Minister should use our contacts there to see if there is anything we can do to get blood and medical supplies there.

Beyond that, how many atrocities does Israel have to commit before the European Union stops giving it favoured trade status, for example? Why is that allowed? There are supposed to be human rights clauses attached to the Euromed agreement, yet we watch as Israel slaughters in cold blood again. This is not the first time but the latest in a series of atrocities, on top of an 11-year siege and systematic theft of Palestinian land designated for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. There are also systematic moves to annex East Jerusalem. It goes on and on and yet we do nothing. There are no sanctions or expulsions. The Minister expels Russian diplomats over an allegation but nothing about Israeli atrocities. The double standards are shocking.

The Deputy should at least know that there is not a unified approach across the European Union in terms of how to put pressure on Israel to change its approach in certain areas. We have a clear statement from all the EU member states which is clear on settlements, the need for a two-state solution and concerns about living conditions in Gaza. Beyond that, it is difficult to get consensus. One can call for consensus all one wants. However, I live in the real world in terms of trying to get things moving and agreed, as well as trying to find ways of Ireland making a constructive and real contribution towards moving towards a new peace settlement.

The events of yesterday and recent weeks make that far more difficult - I agree with Deputy Boyd Barrett on that. If there are practical things that we can do, we will do them. We are already doing many practical things in Gaza. We will be spending a great deal of money there this year on energy projects, especially solar projects, and water purification projects. We want to do more.

A final supplementary question from Deputy Boyd Barrett.

In light of all the atrocities Israel has carried out, if we simply hand-wring, express regret and concern then the atrocities will continue. It is effective complicity, especially when we also give Israel favoured trade status. Israel does not give a damn about words, and the Tánaiste knows that. The Tánaiste said he talked to Benjamin Netanyahu three times and that he will talk to him again. Mr. Netanyahu does not give a damn. However, the Israelis are worried about the boycott movement. If there were sanctions it would actually worry them and it would make them pause to consider what they are doing.

I do not know whether Deputy Boyd Barrett has ever met the Israeli Prime Minister. I respectfully suggest that the Deputy has no clue what I am talking to Mr. Netanyahu about.

Anyway, we have an obligation as politicians to find ways of protecting Palestinians and to recognise the legitimate security concerns of Israelis too. Most important, we have an obligation to find a way of moving towards a peace agreement. That is the only medium and long-term solution that can allow two peoples to live side-by-side in states of their own that are safe and secure. We are a long way from that today.

Let us suppose we take Deputy Boyd Barrett's course of action, which is essentially to focus solely on protest to make a point. It would absolutely be seen as solidarity with Palestinians today, but where would we be next month and in six months' time in terms of our ability to be able to deliver projects to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and so on? I am trying to look at ways in which the Government and the State can actually help people there and help the politics of trying to move both sides towards a peace agreement. Unfortunately, that has been made far more difficult by events in recent weeks.