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Opinion: The government should reject the bill to boycott Israeli goods produced in the West Bank

‘The clear line between supporting Palestinians and becoming anti-Israeli is a thin one and unfortunately, one that is being crossed all too often,’ writes Israeli Ambassador, Ophir Kariv.

Ophir Kariv

Earlier this week we published an opinion piece by the Fianna Fail spokesperson on foreign affairs, Niall Collins TD, who argued in favour of proposed legislation the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territory) Bill.

If it is passed, the bill will prohibit trade with settlements illegally established on territories considered occupied under international law. Effectively that means that Ireland will boycott goods produced in the Israeli settlements in the West Bank area of Palestine, which has been under occupation since 1967. 

The new Israeli ambassador to Ireland Ophir Kariv has responded to Collins’ article and to the proposed legislation. 

IN DECEMBER WE saw that a Private Members Bill initiated by Senator Frances Black – the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territory) Bill – passed through Seanad Éireann and is now scheduled to be brought before the Dáil in January.

What could be perceived as a just and well-intentioned Bill, is, in fact, threatening to make Ireland the most extreme anti-Israel, although not pro Palestinian, country, outside Iran and the Middle East.

As a foreign Ambassador, I wholly respect the Irish parliamentary process. However, as the Ambassador of the State of Israel, which is specifically (and solely) targeted by this Bill, it is my duty to sound alarm bells on the deficiencies of the Bill and explain what it really means.

Ireland and the Irish people have always been very much engaged with the Israeli-Palestinian issue. This is manifested in the high priority, which it is given by the Irish government and the many resources the Tánaiste has invested in trying to help the peace process move forward.

Some try to draw parallels between the Israeli Palestinian conflict and the Northern Ireland peace process. This comparison is very problematic, since the two conflicts differ significantly from each other, each having its own unique characteristics.

However, one attribute these two conflicts do share is the high level of complexity. History, national narratives, traumas, collective identities, a deep and lasting attachment to land and security concerns – all of these factors make conflict resolution highly complicated, with innate sensitivities and difficulties.

While these complexities do bring great challenges, they can also offer opportunities for those with sharper perceptions and a more sincere approach that goes beyond the zero-sum game paradigm.

Supporting Palestinians by assisting in capacity and institution building in fields such as democracy, economy, trade, innovation and others, does not mean one is anti-Israeli. On the contrary – one may find Israel a willing partner in many such endeavours, as shown for example by the list of infrastructure projects for Gaza, which Israel has identified and presented to potential international partners. 

However, the clear line between supporting Palestinians and becoming anti-Israeli is a thin one and unfortunately one that is being crossed all too often.

Sadly, such is the case of the Control of Economic Activity Bill, which takes an extremist approach to a complex situation and is specifically designed to target Israeli civilians while not helping a single Palestinian.

Anyone who has studied the history of the Jewish people, read the bible or is acquainted with the past of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), knows that these areas are the cradle of the Jewish people. This is where our roots are and this is where Jewish presence has been preserved since ancient times.

For over two thousand years, exiled Jews yearned to return to this land and when they did, they re-established communities across the land of Israel. A number of these communities, which some refer to today as settlements, are located in areas of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).

Of course, one cannot ignore the presence today of about two million Palestinians in this same area, who have their own national aspirations. Israel recognizes that and consecutive Israeli governments have been working for a solution based on mutual recognition and direct negotiations.

This is an ongoing process. In the Oslo Accords, it was agreed that the issues of borders and the future of the settlements would be part of negotiations on a final status agreement.

In essence, the sponsors of the bill ignore all of those facts and complexities and suggest that Jews have no rights whatsoever in their own birthplace. Furthermore, the bill says that anyone who thinks otherwise and dares act differently i.e – trading in Jewish goods or services from those areas, might find himself facing a prison sentence or a large fine.

While there is a legitimate and intensive political discussion taking place, not least in Israel itself, concerning various aspects of the settlements issue, ignoring Israeli historical and national connection to that part of the land simply serves to alienate the vast majority of Israelis, regardless of their political views.

It is morally flawed, historically void and politically destructive – for the peace process and for the prospects of Ireland playing any role in promoting this process – as well as for the fabric of Irish-Israeli relations.

I would respectfully encourage those who are truly seeking a genuine and secure peace, to focus on supporting constructive initiatives, which build real cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians, rather than on destructive legislation, which will make Ireland the most extreme anti-Israel country in the western world and entrench it deeply on the wrong side of history.

Ophir Kariv is the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland. 

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Ophir Kariv

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