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Varadkar: 'The Israeli government has a tendency to disengage with countries that recognise the state of Palestine'

The Taoiseach said Ireland plans to intensify and increase aid work in the Palestinian territories.

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said recognising the state of Palestine could “undermine the important humanitarian work” Ireland does in the region.

The Irish government currently does not recognise the state of Palestine, despite Dáil Éireann voting unanimously to recognise it in 2014.

Solidarity-PBP TD Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach this week why Ireland would not recognise Palestine, and whether Ireland would boycott any companies that have any involvement in the West Bank settlements.

He told the Dáil that it is “simply unconscionable how countries in Europe that claim to uphold human rights can stand by while Israel flagrantly acts in defiance of international law and flouts the human rights of Palestinian people in the occupied territories”.

In his reply, Varadkar said “the government’s position on Palestine is clear”, stating:

We support the establishment of a Palestinian state. No such state exists at present. The Palestinian territories are occupied by Israel. We have taken a decision not to recognise a state that does not yet exist. It is very much our view that Jerusalem and the state of Jerusalem should be settled as part of a final stated agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

In the meantime, the Taoiseach said the Irish embassy will remain in Tel Aviv.

He pointed out that countries that have formally recognised Palestine as a State could cause difficulties with Israel.

“We have to bear in mind that when a country recognises Palestine, Israel interprets that in the same way as the Palestinians have interpreted the US government’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” said Varadkar.

Late last year, US President Donald Trump took the decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Ireland, along with another 127  countries supported a UN motion rejecting the US decision, angering the president who threatened to cut off funding to nations that opposed his decision.

Varadkar said other countries who have recognised the state of Palestine have found themselves cut off from Israel, which he argued would have a detrimental impact on the aid work Ireland is trying to do in the region.

I understand this has happened in the case of Sweden. The Israeli government has a tendency to disengage with countries that recognise the state of Palestine. That could undermine the important humanitarian work we do in that region. We have plans to intensify and increase the humanitarian work we do in the Palestinian territories. We have to consider that this work could be undermined.

Speaking to the Seanad last week, Tánaiste Simon Coveney told Senators that it was a “critical moment in the peace process”.

Speaking specifically about the recent Bill to prohibit the import and sales of goods from the territories, Coveney said he recognised that it would “send an important signal to the Palestinian people” – but he argued that the memory of such a signal may fade over time and Ireland’s reputation would be of a country willing to go it alone, rather than a country determined to influence, persuade and bring others with Ireland.

The Bill, which was tabled in the Seanad by Independent Senator Frances Black and aimed to prohibit Ireland from trading with Israeli settlements in the Israeli-occupied territories, was adjourned last week until July.

The Bill seeks to “prohibit the import and sales of goods, services and natural resources originating in illegal settlements in occupied territories”.

The background to the Bill 

The Bill does not mention Israel or Palestine by name but is aimed at stopping Irish trade with the Israeli settlers and settlements which are seen by many in the international community as illegal.

Senator Frances Black said that her Bill is not a boycott of Israel or a ban on Israeli products.

“We must be accurate on this. We are making the same distinction the EU makes between goods from Israel and goods from illegal settlements beyond its borders,” said Black.

In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict both sides claim the West Bank as legitimately belonging to them. Both argue they have claim to the region citing reasons such as family heritage, international law, Biblical history and politics.

Jewish settlements have been set up in the West Bank since it came under Israeli occupation in 1967 following the Six-Day War. The settlements have created difficulties and conflict with the Palestinians, who are excluded from certain Israeli-only roads and forced to go through a number of security checkpoints.

This video by Vox provides a good explainer about the settlements in the region.

Vox / YouTube

Senator Black said that last month alone, Israel sanctioned the construction of over 1,000 new settlement homes.

“It is clear that mere condemnation simply has not worked. As long as we support the settlement economically and they remain profitable, they will continue to grow,” she said.

Opposition parties including Labour and Sinn Féin as well as independent senators voiced their support for such a move to prohibit trade – however whether or not the Bill passes in the summer will ultimately depend on whether Fianna Fáil decides to support it.

Irish ambassador summoned

The Bill, which was adjourned following discussions with the Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, resulted in the Irish ambassador to Israel being summoned by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Israeli Embassy in Ireland has slammed the Bill, saying that it “only offers an incentive to those who wish to boycott Israel and stands in stark contrast to the guiding principles of free trade and justice”.

Introducing the Bill, Black said Ireland has a chance to “stand against this kind of injustice”.

“A ban on settlement goods is not a radical ask. It is a dissociation from clear breaches of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses. It is a modest and tangible step we can take”.

Simon Coveney said he would use the next few months to use Ireland’s influence with Europe and the US to try to make progress in Israel.

Read: Irish ambassador to Israel summoned by Netanyahu over Seanad bill>

Read: Coveney to meet Benjamin Netanyahu for first time since objection to Jerusalem as Israeli capital>

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