Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Ceisteanna (7, 8, 9, 10, 11)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

7. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the Cabinet committee at which Israel and Palestine is discussed. [48835/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Mary Lou McDonald

Ceist:

8. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach the Cabinet committee that addresses matters relating to Israel and Palestine. [49995/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

9. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the Cabinet committee at which Israel and Palestine is discussed. [50144/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Michael Moynihan

Ceist:

10. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach the number of times the Cabinet committee on Brexit, Foreign and European Affairs has met to date in 2019. [51531/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

11. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach the Cabinet committee that addresses matters relating to Palestine and Israel. [51613/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (10 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 11, inclusive, together.

Cabinet committees are established to provide focused political oversight of relevant initiatives and developments in policy areas, including in particular where there is a need for co-ordinated action across Departments and agencies. Following a Government decision on 25 July 2019 on the establishment of Cabinet committees, Cabinet committee structures were reorganised. The six Cabinet committees cover the areas of economy; social policy and public services; infrastructure; Brexit, foreign and European affairs; environment; and security.

The Cabinet committee on Brexit, foreign and European affairs was established to ensure a co-ordinated approach in the areas of Brexit, foreign and European affairs, including Global Ireland 2025. The committee met for the first time on 10 September 2019 and met again yesterday, 9 December.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has lead responsibility for matters of foreign policy generally, including relations with Israel and Palestine. The Tánaiste briefs the Cabinet on developments in the Middle East and, when appropriate, it is discussed at Cabinet and was so discussed this morning.

Is this question about Israel?

It is about Israel and Palestine.

That was not marked on my paper; I thought it was coming later.

The situation in Palestine has got dramatically worse throughout the year. Before the last Israeli general election, Prime Minister Netanyahu followed a strategy of becoming more extreme and anti-Arab by the day. Much of this was, frankly, racist. He was calling on Israeli Jews to be scared of their Arab fellow citizens.

However, he went much further and announced his intention to annex large parts of the West Bank, in particular current settlements and areas around them, should he win the election. This is essentially a plan to prevent any independent Palestinian state from emerging and to consign millions of people to permanent statelessness.

This country and Fianna Fáil have been consistent in supporting a two-state solution with parity of esteem and equality. As I say, the situation has become progressively worse and, quite frankly, it confirms the view of myself and my party, and the rest of the Opposition in this House, that we are correct to say that the time has come to take assertive action against creeping annexation.

The Government has said it opposes the legislation about the settlements that is before the Oireachtas because it is against EU regulations. However, there is no regulation stopping the Government from pushing for changes of policy and demanding action at European level.

I have had discussions with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on this matter. The Tánaiste has been unsuccessful in persuading Mr. Netanyahu to moderate his approach and was wildly over-optimistic more than a year and a half ago about the prospects of a peace initiative emanating from the Israeli Government. It is time for this Government to start proposing concrete actions in line with the seriousness of the threat of annexation.

On a separate matter, I have asked, at various times, for details of the likely economic impact of the withdrawal agreement on Northern Ireland. Last week, the UK Labour Party released a leaked document from the UK Treasury which predicted that the impact of new east-west checks on Northern Ireland would be severe. There has been more than enough time to review the issue. Can the Taoiseach tell us if he accepts that the agreement will have a negative impact on Northern Ireland?

I apologise that there are two separate questions covered in that one contribution.

As the Taoiseach will be aware, today, we mark Human Rights Day, the anniversary of the day on which the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 71 years ago. Last week, my colleague, Deputy McDonald, raised with the Taoiseach the routine detention and prosecution of Palestinian children as young as 12 in the Israeli military court system. We know that child detainees have been blindfolded and deprived of sleep, had their hands and feet restrained and have been intimidated and assaulted at the hands of the Israeli military. In his reply, the Taoiseach stated he has not had any engagement with the Israeli Government or Israeli politicians. Was this continued violation of human rights raised by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on behalf of the Government when he met the Israeli Prime Minister last week?

It also appears that the Tánaiste did not raise Ireland's opposition to Israel's illegal settlements in occupied Palestine, which are inconsistent with international law. It appears, from media reports, that the Tánaiste instead reassured the Israeli Prime Minister that the Government will not support the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill that would make trade with illegal settlements a criminal offence in Ireland.

Deputy Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach last week if the Government would call on the EU to take action against settlements by imposing meaningful sanctions. The rationale offered up for not doing so was that such a call could not secure the required unanimity to be enforced, yet the Taoiseach has a mechanism for Ireland to impose its own sanctions against Israel's continued flouting of international law through the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill and he has set his face against it.

Water pollution is not the leading cause of child mortality in Gaza, as the Tánaiste stated last week. The continued barbarism of occupation and the ghettoisation of Gaza is what is killing Palestinian children and their families.

The State increase in investment for Palestine, announced last week, is welcome but the Taoiseach knows as well as I do that it falls far short of what is needed both in monetary and political terms. Will the Taoiseach reconsider his opposition to the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill and, by so doing, join with others in this Dáil to uphold the rule of binding international law?

One of the proudest things that this country ever did on the foreign policy stage was to implement a boycott against apartheid South Africa, prompted by the heroic actions of Dunnes Stores workers. That was done unilaterally. Nelson Mandela and many other leading fighters against apartheid made the point at the time that Ireland had made a unique contribution to bringing down the apartheid regime. Why does the Taoiseach hide behind the coat-tails of the EU and say that we can do nothing because we do not have qualified majority voting, when we took unilateral action against apartheid South Africa?

Israel flouts international law through its treatment of and detention of children. Its criminal siege of Gaza has reduced Gaza to being a place that officially is uninhabitable by human beings. There has been flagrant and brazen annexation of Palestinian territory in contravention of international law. The right to self-determination for Palestinians has been officially cancelled by the Israeli Government. Only people who are Jewish in the land that is Israel or Palestine, whatever one wants to call it, have the right to self-determination. Human and international rights are just gone.

This just goes on and on. Ethnic cleansing is a day-to-day reality for Palestinians. Why will the Taoiseach not take a leaf from the book of the Dunnes Stores strikers and what this country did in response to apartheid South Africa and support sanctions, including Senator Black's Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill? The Taoiseach should support, not block, that Bill and take a lead in calling for and imposing sanctions on the apartheid, racist, repressive and illegal activities of the Israeli state in respect of the Palestinian people.

Last week, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, stated that we, presumably the Irish Government, would be open to new thinking on the Israel-Palestine peace process. To be specific, in an interview he gave to the Israeli public broadcaster, KAN, he stated:

We will continue to advocate, yes, for new thinking because I think the solution now is probably not the same as what a solution looked like 20 years ago. A lot has happened in that time.

Every Member in this House knows a lot has happened in the past 20 years, most especially the illegal annexation of more Palestinian land by a succession of Israeli governments, led by Benjamin Netanyahu. For clarity, can the Taoiseach tell us the Government's new thinking in respect of the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute? As a House, we need to be crystal clear that it is no lessening of our total opposition to the illegal annexation of Palestinian land that has gone on unchecked.

The Tánaiste met with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Foreign Minister, Israel Katz, on Monday, 2 December, during a working visit to Israel and Palestine. During the visit, the Tánaiste also met with a number of Palestinian political leaders including President Abbas and Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, and a number of UN officials also. The Tánaiste used these meetings to discuss how Ireland can support efforts towards a durable two-state solution to the conflict and to convey Ireland's concerns about the impact of the occupation, including in respect of settlement activity and the blockade of Gaza.

Yesterday, 9 December, the Tánaiste briefed Ministers at the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels on his visit to Israel and Palestine. He highlighted two specific issues which merit further discussion at EU level - annexation and the need for free elections in Palestine. The Tánaiste is concerned by appalling evidence of creeping annexation in the West Bank. Ireland and the EU's position on Israeli settlements could not be clearer. They are illegal under international law and fundamentally undermine the prospects for a two-state solution.

Israel's violation of human rights and mistreatment of Palestinians was also raised in these meetings.

The Tánaiste also raised the potential for elections in Palestine, which may take place in 2020, and which have not happened for more than a decade. EU members states must encourage Israel to facilitate voting for Palestinians in east Jerusalem also.

Ministers will return to the Middle East peace process in more detail at the January Foreign Affairs Council.

Regarding new thinking, this does not mean any departure from the two-state solution.

Regarding the labelling of products coming from the occupied territories, a French court challenging the rules on the labelling of settlement products was referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union. Ireland, as an interested member state, lodged observations on the case to endorse EU guidelines on the labelling of settlement goods issued in 2015 and appeared at the oral hearing in early April. The court's judgment was issued on 12 November and found that foodstuffs originating in the occupied territories must bear the indication of the territory of origin and when these products originate from a settlement, that must also be made clear on the label. Therefore, a boycott by citizens is possible and indeed by business.

Regarding the Control of Economic Activities (Occupied Territories) Bill, the Tánaiste has set out the Government's position in the Seanad and the Dáil. The Government's opposition to settlements is unequivocal. However, the proposals contained in this Bill go beyond what is in the Government's power to do. Trade is a matter of sole EU competence and that is clear in the treaties. Passage of the Bill would expose the State to legal action and to substantial and recurring damages and no Government could endorse that.

On settlements, we must choose policies which will be effective, are consistent with our position in the EU Single Market and customs union and will not be struck down as illegal, giving comfort to settlers rather than Palestinians. Informal soundings in Brussels indicate that the European Commission agrees that the Bill contravenes EU law as trade is a sole EU competence in the treaties and would take a legal challenge if the Bill was enacted.

On the issue of settlements more widely, all settlement activity is illegal under international law and contrary to Israel's obligations under the fourth Geneva convention on the treatment of civilian population under military occupation. It is also damaging the viability of a future Palestinian state. The Tánaiste spoke with the US ambassador about this matter when he met him on 20 November, shortly after Secretary of State Pompeo's comments. The views of the international community on settlements are extremely clear on this point and are comprehensively expressed in UN Security Council Resolution 2334 but also in many other UN Security Council resolutions.

As there are just over five minutes remaining, I propose to the House that we roll over Questions Nos. 12 to 18, inclusive, to tomorrow as we will not have time to take them. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I thank the Acting Chairman. Very wise.