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Micheál Martin: Calling Israel an apartheid state 'doesn't add a whole lot' to peace process

The Tánaiste visited the occupied West Bank today.

LAST UPDATE | 6 Sep 2023

MICHEÁL MARTIN HAS said that using the term ‘apartheid’ to describe Israel’s treatment of Palestinians does not help resolve the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

After visiting the occupied West Bank today, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs acknowledged that Palestinians experience discrimination and that their human rights are being undermined by Israel.

But he played down the use of the term ‘apartheid’ – commonly used in relation to the system of institutionalised segregation against non-white people in South Africa in place until the 1990s – to describe the situation in Israel and occupied Palestinian territory.

“It’s a term that doesn’t add a whole lot in terms of the endeavour to unravel this [conflict] and to create a proper process,” Martin said.

“There is no doubt that there is fundamental discrimination against Palestinians; there is no doubt that there is undermining of human rights.

“But we need to keep channels open, we need to keep engagement going to bring about an improvement to the situation. That’s the desired pathway forward.”

The Tánaiste made his comments after a series of engagements in the occupied West Bank, which included a meeting with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

Martin told Abbas that Ireland wants the European Union to begin a structured dialogue with the Palestinian Authority, the regime headed by Abbas which exercises partial civilian control over the occupied West Bank.

Abbas was said to be “complimentary” about Ireland’s position on the Palestinian cause, which includes advocacy of the two-state solution that would see Israel and Palestine exist as two separate, independent states located west of the Jordan River.

“There is an association agreement between the European Union and Israel,” Martin said after the meeting today.

“Quite a number of [EU] member states believe that that should be paralleled with a structured dialogue process between the Palestinian Authority and the European Union, which would mean regular meetings, [and] regular engagement, and that is a first step.”

However, Martin said he also made it clear to Abbas that Ireland believed the Palestinian Authority should hold democratic elections, something that has not happened since 2006 and which he suggested would be needed to obtain support from more EU states.

Abbas reportedly responded by saying that he could not hold a general election without Jewish people living in East Jerusalem being allowed to vote as well.  

“I do believe there is a strong imperative for elections to take place,” the Tánaiste said.

“I spoke about our own peace process, which took confidence-building measures on all sides, and how it takes time and persistence, how it also involves taking risks.

“I said to President Abbas that there are times when you have to take risks as well in the pursuit of peace.”

image00235 Micheál Martin meets Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied West Bank

End to violence

Earlier, Martin called on the militant group Hamas – which controls the Gaza Strip, an area of occupied Palestinian territory separate from the West Bank – to end its campaign of violence.

He suggested that the cessation of violent activity by the group will be necessary if there is to be a solution to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.

One of the group’s stated long-term goals is to create an Islamic state in area that is currently governed by Israel and Palestinian groups.

However, Martin also invoked the Irish peace process and compared the activities of Hamas to paramilitaries who were active in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

“I think Hamas has to cease violence, has to stop violence,” he said.

“As I outlined yesterday during my discussions at the Foreign Relations Council, one of the clear pre-conditions of the Irish peace process was that everybody laid down their arms and everyone ceased violent activity.

“And there’s also the strong sense of Iranian influence on that situation as well, which is problematic.

“But I think fundamentally that we would call on Hamas to one hundred per cent go political and stop the use of violence.”

His comments come after talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last night, during which the Tánaiste held “frank” discussions over “illegal settlements [and] the irregular expansion” by Israel into the West Bank.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis now live in the West Bank alongside around 2.6 million Palestinians, following the ongoing construction of homes for settlers in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The trend has been described as illegal under international law, and the United Nations humanitarian agency OCHA warned last month of a dramatic rise in attacks by settlers on Palestinian people and their property in the West Bank this year.

Before his meeting with Abbas, Martin visited areas in the West Bank which have received Irish aid and funding, which has contributed to the construction of over 100 schools in Palestine.

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