Dáil debates

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Palestine: Motion [Private Members]


10:25 pm

Photo of Brian WalshBrian Walsh (Galway West, Independent)
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I understand Deputy Adams is sharing time with Deputies Colreavy, Stanley, Ellis and Ferris and also four Deputies from the Technical Group. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Gerry AdamsGerry Adams (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I move:

That Dáil Éireann---

notes that:

— in 2011, the Irish Government upgraded the status, titles, and functional privileges of the Palestinian Mission to Ireland to close to that of an embassy;

— in November 2012, Ireland voted in favour of the United Nations General Assembly motion granting "non-member observer state" status to Palestine;

— the long-standing commitment Irish Governments have given to the development of a viable, sovereign Palestinian state, and their support for the achievement of a sovereign State of Palestine existing in peace with its neighbours including the State of Israel;

— as of 8 December 2014, 135 countries have formally recognised the State of Palestine, including eight EU member states - the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Malta, Cyprus and Sweden;

— Seanad Éireann, on 22 October 2014, unanimously accepted a motion calling on the Government "to formally recognise the State of Palestine and do everything it can at the international level to help secure a viable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict"; and

— on 30 October 2014, Sweden became the first EU member state to formally recognise the State of Palestine while a member state of the EU;

recognises that:

— finding a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and between Arabs and Israelis in a broader context, is a key element of Irish foreign policy;

— the right of Palestinians to self-determination and to have their own state as well as the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure borders are unquestionable; and

— continued Israeli settlement construction and extension activities in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem, as well as the continued expropriation of Palestinian land and demolition of Palestinian property by Israel is illegal and severely threatens the establishment of a viable Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders;

concludes that:

— the international law criteria for recognition of a Palestinian state have been fulfilled; and

— the achievement of a fully independent sovereign State of Palestine is an essential element to the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict; and calls on the Government to:

— officially recognise the State of Palestine, on the basis of the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital, as established in UN resolutions, as a further positive contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict;

— do all it can to assist in the development of the democratic and state institutions of the Palestinian State; and

— do everything it can, at the international level, to help secure an inclusive and viable peace process, and two-state solution, in order to bring about the positive conditions to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I welcome the Government's decision not to oppose the motion. That means both Houses of the Oireachtas will support the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, the recognition of the Palestinian state and sovereignty for the Palestinian people. This is a substantial and positive development which means that Ireland is now a significant part of the consensus for peace and progress in the Middle East. I have long argued that as a colonised people with a history of resistance and a peace process we could play a leadership role in the search for peace in the region.

This is the correct stand for Ireland. It is the moral stand. The motion is about advancing the position, which is very straightforward. It recognises the right of Palestinians to self-determination and, in the words of the motion, "to have their own state as well as the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure borders". It calls on the Government to "officially recognise the State of Palestine, on the basis of the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital, as established in UN resolutions, as a further positive contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

It calls on the Government to do all it can to assist in the development of the democratic and state institutions of the Palestinian state and to do everything it can at international level to help secure an inclusive and viable peace process and two-state solution in order to bring about the positive conditions to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The motion is about hope. In a region where there is precious little hope and tensions are increasing daily there is an onus on the international community to provide meaningful leadership.

I travelled to the region last week. It was my fourth visit in eight years. Five years ago I spent two days in Gaza, as well as visiting Ramallah and Jerusalem. I saw for myself the devastating impact of the Israeli war of 2008 and 2009 on the people and infrastructure of Gaza. This time the Israeli Government refused me leave to visit and gave no explanation. The Israeli assault during the summer was even more shocking than that of five years ago. Some 2,200 Palestinians were killed, including 500 children, while over 90 entire families were wiped out. The physical damage to the infrastructure of Gaza was enormous. Thousands of families whose homes were destroyed now face a cold winter.

In Ramallah and Jerusalem I met President Abbas and others in the Palestinian Authority, with NGOs and representatives of Palestinian organisations. In Jerusalem I met Israeli activists and NGOs. Many Israeli citizens understand the deeply corrosive effect of the occupation of Palestinian land, the apartheid system which Israel has created and the brutality and dehumanising impact of the actions of the Israeli Defence Forces, IDF.

Over 5 million Palestinian refugees are scattered in camps in the occupied West Bank, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and Jordan. Children, parents and grandparents have known nothing but refugee camps, some of which came into existence in 1948. Last week I spoke to Yehuda Shaul, a former sergeant and commander in the Israeli army. He is a co-director of Breaking the Silence, an organisation made up of former Israeli soldiers who speak out against the actions of the IDF. Both he and his colleagues are deeply concerned about the moral price Israel and its citizens are paying to maintain the occupation, as well as the terrible impact on Palestinians. These former soldiers are Israeli patriots who believe speaking out against injustice is necessary to defend Israel, as well as to advance the rights of Palestinians. He dismisses Israeli Government claims that its military operations are defensive and to oppose terrorism. He believes this is only a small part of the strategy. The reality on the ground is that Israeli actions have led to the de facto annexation of large sections of the West Bank. He also believes claims by successive Israeli Governments that the occupation is temporary and will end with a peace deal are not true. He believes the current Israeli policy of occupation, separation and settlements is not designed as a temporary measure but is intended to be permanent. In his view, "It's all about maintaining Israeli military control over Palestinians."

During my visit last week the separation wall was a constant oppressive presence. It is a scar on the land and the conscience of Israel and the international community. It stretches for 700 km; it is multi-layered, often with a 60 m wide exclusion zone and a concrete wall 8 m high. It snakes up and down hills, alongside motorways, down the middle of streets and through Palestinian communities. It prevents Palestinian farmers from getting to their farmland and captures within its boundary Palestinian land that is then annexed by the Israeli Government. It is all about control. The wall and the hundreds of IDF military checkpoints and road blocks drive a wedge between Israelis and Palestinians but also between Palestinians. For Palestinians to move around even within the West Bank, there is a monitoring system involving Israeli Government permits and permissions which significantly limit their freedom of movement and severely inhibit economic growth. In addition, the Israeli settlements which are illegal under international law also act as barriers to movement. Palestinians are forbidden to enter these territories. On a daily basis the Israeli authorities decide what goods are transferred from city to city and village to village. They decide what businesses can open, who can pass through the checkpoints and gets to school. Houses, motor vehicles, electronic goods and farm animals can all be taken at the discretion of a soldier. Sometimes they even confiscate people for use during training exercises to practise making arrests.

The fabric of life for Palestinians is rooted in fear; it is arbitrary and constantly changing at the whim of the Israeli authorities. This is no way for families, children and millions of Palestinian citizens to live, nor is it acceptable that the Palestinian Authority has sole jurisdiction over only 17% of the West Bank. That is the equivalent of the Irish Government being told by a foreign government that it has jurisdiction over just two thirds of Leinster. Almost two thirds of the occupied West Bank - known as Area C - is under total Israeli control. The separation wall and the sterile roads and streets - the term used by the Israeli authorities - from which Palestinians are banned are symptomatic of an institutionalised structured system of economic, cultural and social apartheid that brings shame to Israel and the international community because of its failure to take a stand against it.

Yehuda Shaul said:

Occupation takes place every day; it is an offensive act every day. [It is] a national security concept dependent on absolute control - a status quothat is not a frozen reality and is being entrenched every day ... The International community is failing Israelis and Palestinians. There is a lot of talk but no action. Nowhere in history did people wake up one morning and give up their privileges ... the international community has to raise the price for Israel of the current status quo... No one will live in dignity or freedom here. Neither the Palestinians nor Israelis until there is a sovereign Palestinian state. This is the right patriotic position.
As the Irish people suffered centuries of colonisation and occupation, we understand all of these matters. We understand also the role of struggle in the achievement of freedom and independence. Consequently, Irish people identify with the circumstances confronting the Palestinian people, but that does not mean that we are anti-Israel. On the contrary, our desire is to see two sovereign states established. The first step on this path must be a recognition that Palestine is a sovereign state. There are many others, including Alon Liel and Nan Baruch, whom I met and who are former professional diplomats who have written to all Members. They support the campaign to secure official government recognition by EU member states and others and have lobbied us to bring this about. They ask why the right of the Palestinian people, their sovereignty and statehood, should be dependent on Israel which is a state with an embassy in Dublin and other cities throughout the world. The Palestinians are represented here by a mission. That is wrong and I have raised the matter regularly with the Taoiseach.

We must stand with the Palestinian and Israeli citizens who want peace and are taking risks for it. The passing of the motion would be an important contribution. On the back of it being accepted, the Government should take a leadership role in pushing for greater action by the international community. It should also follow the logic of the motion and upgrade the Palestinian mission to a full embassy.

10:35 pm

Photo of Michael ColreavyMichael Colreavy (Sligo-North Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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I was just beginning to feel good about the Government accepting the motion when I began to hear rumours that Ireland had been classified in a UN report as a country that facilitated torture by the CIA. If these reports are confirmed, it will bring great shame on the people of this nation.

In particular, it will bring great shame on the Governments which permitted the facilitation of this torture. I am not saying these reports are true, but if they are true we will have done so much damage to the credibility of this nation. I would like the Minister of State to check into this as a matter of some urgency.

This nation has always prided itself on being a defender of human rights and anti-imperialism worldwide. We have a proud history of sending peacekeeping troops into some very hostile territories and they have served with distinction. The men and women of our Defence Forces have served in areas such as the Congo and Lebanon. We have also played a role at the UN table throughout the history of the State. Notable occasions when the State made its voice heard include during the Algerian war of independence, when Ireland rightly condemned French atrocities on the international stage.

Today we have been given and have taken the opportunity to make our stamp as legislators on the world stage. We may come from towns and villages like Manorhamilton, Tralee and Youghal, but this moment allows us to send a message to the world that Ireland stands with the people of Palestine. The oppression of the Palestinian people for decades has been a dark stain on world leaders, particularly the many Western countries that have allowed it to occur. It is past time for the House to make this gesture and right this wrong.

When a vote was taken at the UN Human Rights Council on condemning war crimes committed during Israel's most recent onslaught on Gaza, the Irish Government abstained. We had a long debate earlier on whether the Government was in touch with the Irish people. The abstention on this vote was miles from where the vast majority of Irish people stand on this issue. The Government was not feeling the pulse of the Irish nation when this abstention was agreed. It was a terrible blight on the good name and reputation Ireland has in the international community. On 30 October Sweden voted to recognise the state of Palestine and became the 135th country to do so. The UN has 193 member countries, so by not recognising Palestine Ireland is indeed in the minority.

We should not fool ourselves into believing a vote in the Chamber will be a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. It will not. A serious peace process must be embarked upon to bring a true and lasting settlement to the region. However, recognising the state of Palestine will aid in this process. The Palestinians should be viewed as equal partners in negotiations. It is also important to note that pre-1967 borders, which the PLO and the Palestinian national assembly recognise, are already mapped out. Ireland has had its own history of occupation and suffering. This institution was founded following a physical struggle for independence and self-determination from Britain. The walls of this institution bear the portraits of those who fought for that independence. If we have learned anything from our own history, it is that the oppressed need justice and liberation no matter where in the world they are. By accepting this motion we will send a clear message to the world that Ireland and the Irish people stand on the side of the oppressed.

10:45 pm

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important motion. I also welcome the signals from the Government that it will accept it. It will be truly historic if the House unanimously passes this motion, not just to support the ideal of a Palestinian state but to recognise the existing state of Palestine.

The people of Palestine have suffered many injustices, including war crimes by Israel and the denial of the most basic human rights of water, land and dignity. We all stood by and watched in shock the recent bombardment of Gaza, the damage caused to its infrastructure and the killing of more than 2,000 innocent civilians. The Palestinians have had obscenity heaped on top of obscenity over the years and a solution must be put in place.

Since the 1948 UN resolution which denied the Palestinians their state and the right to exist as a people, they have suffered humiliation, poverty and terror the hands of Israel. Much of the so-called civilised world has stood by while Israel did what it wished. The construction and expansion of the illegal settlements on the West Bank and East Jerusalem is nothing less than a land grab. The demolition of Palestinian property and the destruction of its infrastructure, which has driven Palestinians into poverty and fear, must end. Ordinary citizens throughout the world, including here in Ireland, have been horrified by the actions of Israel and are angry about a lack of action or, it seems, concern by much of the international community and powerful nations.

In 2012 the State upgraded the status of Palestine, and has given it some diplomatic status and a mission here. On foot of tonight's motion, if passed, we urge that this be moved to full diplomatic status immediately. In 2012 Ireland voted in favour of a UN motion to give Palestine non-member observer status, which can now change to full membership.

Successive Irish Governments have long supported the concept of a sovereign Palestinian state, based on the two nations solution. The next logical step is to give full recognition to the state of Palestine. Eight EU member states recognise the state of Palestine, and Sweden is the latest to join them. I hope we will do so tomorrow. A total of 135 countries in the United Nations have already given full recognition to Palestine. Israel, in its arrogance, buoyed up by the fact it has been allowed to act with impunity, has acted in such an outrageous manner that it has exposed itself before the world as a state guilty of nothing short of war crimes, bombing hospitals, schools and even UN centres. In the face of public outcry throughout the world, it ploughed on during the recent conflict. It continues to deny observer status to visiting parliamentarians and observers and those concerned about what has been happening.

Recently, the Seanad passed a motion to recognise the state of Palestine, which was a very progressive move. We can do the same. At present we are clearly out of step by not giving full recognition to the state of Palestine. The fact that 135 countries do so shows we are out of step with international opinion. Unfortunately, earlier this year the Government abstained on a UN Human Rights Council decision condemning the war crimes committed by Israel during the recent bombardment of Gaza. Supposedly, Ireland was waiting for EU consensus. When my constituency colleague, the Minister, Deputy Charlie Flanagan, was questioned about this, he stated that he wanted to try to obtain EU consensus. We should not wait for EU consensus. We should be able to stand on our own two feet as an independent State. We have our own foreign policy; we should lead by example and stand shoulder to shoulder with countries such as Sweden. We should not wait for the say-so or the nod from the EU or anybody else to do so. We also failed to support a motion brought before a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency calling on Israel to sign up to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, despite the fact that we were its architects.

I welcome the signals from the Government that it will support the motion. It is historic. We must move to the next step quickly, and actively lobby for a two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 borders. We must do all we can to develop full self-determination for the Palestinian people, work with them in doing this internationally, and give them every aid we can at international level.

10:55 pm

Photo of Dessie EllisDessie Ellis (Dublin North West, Sinn Fein)
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It is a great honour to speak on this important motion. As an Irish republican I am always mindful that we as a nation once stood before the world and demanded the recognition that had up until then been denied to us. The 1916 Proclamation called for our exaltation among the nations. In the Declaration of Independence we claimed for ourselves the recognition of the world that we were an independent and sovereign nation. We sought and in more and more cases were granted the support and recognition of the world for our people, our place and our sovereignty.

That is what the Palestinians want and is what the motion is about. The news that the Government will not stand in its way is exciting. We are returning the favour of that recognition granted by our earliest allies and supporting the right of a small nation to be free.

Some would paint support for the cause of the Palestinian people to have a homeland as an attack on the people of Israel, but it is not black and white. The absence of a Palestinian state is in reality only in the interest of warmongers and zealots. The President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, once described the efforts of his people as not a campaign aimed at isolating Israel or delegitimising it, but one that sought simply to gain legitimacy for the cause of the people of Palestine. We only aim to delegitimise the settlement activities and the occupation, the apartheid and the logic of ruthless force. We believe that all the countries of the world stand with us in this regard.

The state of Palestine is legitimate. The cause of the Palestinian people and the Israeli people to live in their homeland as equals, free from violence and bigotry, is legitimate. However, as President Abbas rightly states, the actions of the Israeli state in oppressing his people and state is not legitimate. The settlements which are still being built illegally on Palestinian land while an apartheid wall carves up the West Bank are not legitimate. Suggesting this is a conflict of equals is absurd and it is not legitimate to claim the shelling of children playing football on a beach is justified for defence.

Supporting the motion will not change all these things, but it is an important sign to the people of the Middle East that there is hope that Palestine will one day soon be free and the conflict will end because the rest of the world might soon stop making excuses for slaughter and oppression. Tomorrow by passing the motion, we will join the majority of UN members by supporting the state of Palestine and recognising its right as a nation. It would be an almost imperceptible change for Ireland, but would mean a great deal for the Palestinian people and weaken further all those who wish to see the status quo continue and nothing to change in the Middle East.

It is also a very important step in reclaiming our dignity on the issue. Up to now the Government had seemed increasingly unwilling to be a voice for peace and justice in Palestine and Gaza in particular. Ireland recently abstained from a UN vote to condemn the war crimes committed in the shelling of Gaza during the summer. We shamed ourselves that day, refusing to stand on our feet and making excuses by referring the decision to the EU as a whole.

We then failed to support the call for Israel to sign up to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty that Ireland had championed. This was pure weakness. We utterly failed to be the strong voice for justice. We like to believe we are on the international stage. This week we are turning the tide on that shameful episode. We should see it as a new dawn for our State as an ally of all those who are oppressed and denied peace and freedom - otherwise we will have learned nothing from our own struggles and the generosity of those who stood with us. We must take this step and must work to promote the state of Palestine across the world and especially in those countries that continue to fail to stand up to the injustices of Israel's brutal apartheid and demand a free and sovereign Palestinian state.

Photo of Martin FerrisMartin Ferris (Kerry North-West Limerick, Sinn Fein)
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Before I came to the Chamber I was watching CNN and other news stations. Deputy Colreavy referred to the rendition flights through Shannon Airport. It was heartening to see elected American representatives, including Senator John McCain, publicly confirming that torture took place and that people were taken away from various countries in the Middle East and elsewhere and obviously flown through Shannon Airport before some of them were taken to Guantanamo Bay. Again nobody on the Government side spoke out here. The usual people spoke out - the people who are concerned about the rights and entitlements of people, and about injustice and wrongs throughout the world. The Government just sat on its arse and did nothing about it.

Last year, Deputy Keating and I travelled to Jordan along with other European parliamentarians. We had the occasion to visit a 1948 refugee camp, a 1967 refugee camp and a current refugee camp on the Syrian border. We witnessed the plight of Palestinian refugees. They have been abused by many states. They cannot even avail of third level education because they are refugees in Jordan. It was enlightening for me to see what some human beings do to other human beings. There were tens of thousands of people living in the biggest concentration camps in the world.

There are many things on which to fight the Government and yet the Irish people in the cause of international solidarity came out in their thousands over the summer, on the last occasion that the Israelis assaulted Gaza. For the record, 2,200 Palestinian people were killed in Gaza and 64 Israeli soldiers were killed. Those are the figures currently available. The Irish people, who came out at that time, came out in solidarity with the Palestinian people over injustices perpetrated by big powers. I was really struck by the decency of the Irish people. They hate injustice and repression whether it is at home or abroad. There were demonstrations in solidarity with Gaza all over the country and we know from Sinn Féin’s strong links with the Palestinian people how much they appreciate our solidarity and moral support.

Moral support means supporting someone psychologically or with solidarity but the Irish people also stepped up when it came to material support to the people of Gaza to help relieve the immeasurable suffering of the people there and to help them rebuild after the devastation of Israeli bombardment and destruction by ground troops.

Any government which would call itself progressive has a role in leading its people. However, in solidarity with the people of Palestine as with all kinds of other issues, it was the Irish people who gave leadership, not the Government. The Irish people were ahead of the Government in their solidarity with the Palestinian people and finally the Government is listening. It is very encouraging that it is prepared to accept the motion before the House.

Instead of standing up against Israeli violations of international law and human rights abuses during the Gaza invasion, the Government along with many other governments stood back. Instead of taking an independent and morally correct position, the Government remained silent in the face of the suffering of the people of Gaza. For too long the Government hid behind the EU pretence that Ireland is too small to have an impact as if it had no independent foreign policy. The Irish people were embarrassed and ashamed, in the middle of the last onslaught on Gaza, when the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, on behalf of the State, abstained on the United Nations Human Rights Council vote to condemn Israeli war crimes against the Palestinians in Gaza.

Yesterday's newspapers reported that 28 people in an extended family were killed in a bombing of a house. Eighteen of them were children. The Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, did not even have the decency to support that as a war crime.

This State should have been leading the way within the EU. Seven EU member states already recognise Palestine, although they did so before they ever joined the European Union. Sweden became the first EU member state to recognise Palestine when it joined 134 other members of the United Nations to do so.

By the Government's words today, Ireland is now part of that majority of full members of the United Nations that recognises the Palestinian state. The step to recognition is not a giant one and it is one the people support.  As we have already upgraded the mission of Palestine, it is nearly an embassy already. In November 2012 Ireland supported the motion at the United Nations to upgrade Palestine’s status as a non-member observer state. It is welcome that the Government has taken the next step to reflect the views of the people and openly and proudly declared its support for the achievement of a sovereign state of Palestine. This is our chance to do so and support the Palestinians' right to self-determination. Israel has no right to be building illegal settlements on the West Bank and in east Jerusalem. It has no right of veto over the Palestinian right to self-determination, yet Palestine has been blockaded and occupied.

I commend every Deputy who is supporting the motion and especially commend my colleagues in Sinn Féin Party for taking the initiative.

11:05 pm

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Deputies Maureen O'Sullivan, Thomas Pringle, Finian McGrath and Richard Boyd Barrett are sharing time.

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
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First, I acknowledge Sinn Féin's role in having this issue debated tonight. The motion is opportune because, as of now, we have 135 countries that have formally recognised the state of Palestine. I accept the right of the people of Palestine to a state, as well as the right of the people of Israel to a state, but each of them has to recognise the other's rights.

From my own visits to the area, I must ask whether this debate is taking place too late. I say this because of the increasing encroachment of settlements in Jerusalem and on the West Bank especially. Can there be a state of Palestine? Will there be sufficient land left for the people of Palestine to have a viable state? We can see this most graphically on maps of the area. We can see the shrinkage of areas for the Palestinian people. How can a state be created out of pieces of land here and there? They are areas which, as the crow flies, would take five minutes to traverse, but between walls and settlements, it can take from an hour and a half to two hours to get from one place to another. As for trying to navigate between the guidelines and rules for areas A, B and C, Palestinian people spend hours every day queuing. I stood at these checkpoints in Bethlehem and Jerusalem and felt for the Palestinian people who were unable to move freely within their country. That was an excessive burden of humiliation and indignity for them to carry. I also felt for the young Israeli soldiers. They were only teenagers in volatile circumstances, heavily armed and doing military service. As we know, it is a recipe for disaster.

The settlements are the biggest stumbling block to a just and lasting peace and they continue. Settlement building continues. We are in the throes of discussing homelessness in this country and right now Palestinian people are being forcibly evicted from their land. The settlements are illegal under international humanitarian law. There are massive environmental issues and no accountability for settler violence.

The Palestinian Authority has to step up to the mark for its people. There is massive funding from the European Union and I would like to see some of it going to the wonderful Palestinian cultural, artistic, disability and youth groups I met that do fantastic work in the arts, music, theatre, dance and education. These groups use drama and art to empower young people to promote non-violent resistance and peace.

I also acknowledge the Israeli groups, including Breaking the Silence, the Refuseniks, the Rabbis for Justice, and other Israelis who agree with what we are debating. I have met Palestinians who are not sure a two-state solution is the practical answer or that it is not a one-state solution with power sharing. It is important to support the motion which is an expression of support for the Palestinian people, especially in the hope it will bring an end to settlements.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal South West, Independent)
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I thank Sinn Féin for sharing some of its time with the Technical Group in debating this joint motion. I recognise that the Government appears to be accepting it, which is important and progressive.

Over the summer I had the honour of hosting the Palestinian ambassador when he visited County Donegal. I was joined by my colleagues, Micheál Cholm Mac Giolla Easbuig and the cathaoirleach of Donegal County Council, Mr. John Campbell. We participated in a public meeting and it was heartening to see the support from the ordinary people of County Donegal for the Palestinian cause at a difficult time for them when their people were being slaughtered by the Israelis in Gaza.

The motion reflects the mood of all Irish people in seeking to recognise Palestine as a state. It is an important step for us to take as a nation, particularly when we abstained in a vote at the United Nations during the crisis over the summer. We stated it had something to do with the European Union, but that abstention did damage to us as a nation. It undermined the independence of our foreign policy during the years and the progressive steps we had taken towards supporting the Palestinian people in their struggle.

Like other Deputies, I have received the email from a group of Israelis with a petition asking that we support the recognition of Palestine. It may be useful to read it. They state

We the undersigned citizens of Israel who wish for it to be a safe and thriving country are worried by the continued political stalemate, the occupation and settlement activities that lead to further confrontations with Palestinians and quash any chance for compromise. It is clear that the prospects for Israel's security and existence depend on the existence of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Israel should recognise a state of Palestine and Palestine should recognise a state of Israel, based on the 4 June 1967 borders. Your initiative for recognition of the state of Palestine will advance the prospects for peace and will encourage Israelis and Palestinians alike to bring an end to their conflict.
The petition is signed by 900 prominent Israelis, including former high ranking soldiers. It is in stark contrast to the email received from the Israeli ambassador this evening to all Members wherein he states "Pressure from outside, on one side or the other of the parties, will achieve nothing and can only further entrench hardened attitudes." The only hardened attitudes that will be entrenched will be those of the Israelis. When one considers that 900 Israeli citizens sent this petition to us, it is important to support them, as well as the Palestinian people. We must try to bring some sense to the Israeli Government and have a real and lasting peace based on the 1967 borders. While, ultimately, a single state solution is the best, perhaps by recognising each other's 1967 borders we might achieve a single state at some stage in the future.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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As Deputy Finian McGrath is not present, I call Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I thank Sinn Féin Members for sharing their time with us and raising this issue. I commend the Government for not opposing the motion. It is absolutely vital to recognise the legitimacy of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and statehood. It is a sign of the advancement of the Palestinian struggle that recognition is growing across the world.

I would not have become involved in politics were it not for this very issue. As an 18 year old, I travelled to Palestine and happened to walk into the middle of the first Palestinian intifada, although not deliberately - just as I arrived it was happening around me and I was shocked at what was happening. There has since been an extraordinary advance in the awareness of the terrible crime committed against the Palestinians and the need for them to find justice, freedom and self-determination.

One of the great ironies in this whole tragedy is that of the two greatest crimes committed against people in the past 100 years, one has been committed against the Palestinian people since 1948, while the other was committed against the Jewish people up to 1944 and 1945. The great irony is that a people who suffered so horribly in the Holocaust and who claim to represent that tradition are now responsible for the terrible oppression of the Palestinian people.

I would not vote against the motion, but it is always important to inject a critical note into any discussion such as this. I do not believe a two-state solution can work because it is predicated on the divisions between Arabs and Jews. It is predicated on the belief there could be something legitimate as a Jewish state, but I do not accept this. I do not believe there should be racially or religiously pure states. The partition of Palestine in 1948 was the source of the conflict.

The United Nations approved a partition and it legitimised the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians; it could not have happened without the partition of Palestine and as long as we fail to challenge the notion that there must be an ethnically or religiously pure state called "Israel" and something else which is an Arab state, there will never be peace in this region. It will always be at the expense of one or the other. The only concept we would accept anywhere else in the world is the idea that all human beings are equal under law, regardless of race, religion or creed. Accepting in any way that there should be a state giving priority to one religious group over another is a recipe for the oppression of one group over another. It will incite and encourage sectarianism, ethnic cleansing and violent conflict. We should know that from our own history.

It is a difficult issue. On the one hand, recognising the right of Palestine to statehood is vital in establishing the legitimacy of that people's struggle against the brutal oppression they face at the hands of Israel. In truth, when we consider what is left of the Palestinian territories, there is no viability in a two-state solution and there is no moral legitimacy in accepting the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. All Palestinians dispossessed in 1948 deserve the right to return and to be equal citizens, whether they are Jew, Arab, Christian, secular or atheist. That is regardless of whether that one state is called Israel or Palestine. That is the only viable solution.

11:15 pm

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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The Ministers of State, Deputies Dara Murphy, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and Gerald Nash, will be sharing time. They have 15 minutes, ten minutes and five minutes, respectively.

Photo of Dara MurphyDara Murphy (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak this evening and recognise the motion as a positive contribution to a discussion here in the Dáil. The terms of the motion are carefully worded, and there is a great deal in it that reflects consistent Irish Government policies, under different parties, and that will command support across the House. This is supported by the initial comments from the Opposition. For that reason, and in that spirit, the Government has not sought to oppose or amend the motion before us.

It has been the objective of this Government since it took office to work to bring about the achievement - in reality and not just in theory or in symbolism - of a fully sovereign state of Palestine. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and his predecessor, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, have consistently stated here and elsewhere that we looked forward to being able to recognise that state and to do so as early as possible. We have stated very clearly that it is long overdue for the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory to end and for Palestinians to enjoy the same rights of freedom and self-determination as others, and as we enjoy ourselves. All of the Government's actions and policies on the Middle East have been designed to achieve that end. As the motion sets out, Ireland has already taken a number of deliberate steps to advance the Palestinian cause along the path towards statehood. The previous Government in January 2011 upgraded the status and titles used by the Palestinian mission in Ireland to a point just short of the full diplomatic status of an embassy. In October 2011, Ireland voted with a majority in agreeing to admit Palestine as a member of UNESCO and a critical stage was reached in November 2012 when Ireland voted in favour of seating Palestine as a "non-member observer state" at the UN General Assembly in New York. We have thus made clear our openness to the full achievement of a Palestinian state and our willingness to take steps to help this come about. We have therefore been clear all along about where we wanted to go and the only issue has been about timing and about how we can best achieve our objective.

Broadly, there have been three main strands to our engagement. We have encouraged a reappraisal of the European Union's approach and how it can best contribute to creating the conditions for a resumption of purposeful negotiations aimed at the achievement of a two-state solution, as well as wider engagement with other key players. We have sought to help build Palestinian institutions capable of assuming the responsibilities of government and we have facilitated humanitarian support as well.

It has been the general position in Europe - held by successive Irish Governments and by the great majority of EU partners, including Sweden until now - that the establishment of a Palestinian state and recognition of it should come about as a result of a comprehensive peace agreement between the two sides in the conflict. The primary reason for this is that in practical terms a Palestinian state cannot exist without the ending of the Israeli occupation. Sweden's change of mind in October in deciding to take a different view and immediately recognising Palestine has revived interest in the question of recognition. I will return to that central question shortly but, first, I will address some other points arising from the motion before us this evening.

Successive Irish Governments have seen the promotion of a just and equitable peace in the Middle East as a key element of Irish foreign policy to be pursued both in our bilateral relations and in particular through our influence on the Middle East policy of the European Union. Ireland led the adoption by the EU of the central objective of a two-state solution to the conflict to bring about a fully sovereign state of Palestine coexisting alongside Israel. This remains the only vision of the future which can satisfy the aspirations, and ensure the security and prosperity, of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. I acknowledge that a number of Deputies had a different view on that this evening.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a major priority in Ireland's international diplomacy. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has actively used all appropriate opportunities, bilaterally and in the context of the United Nations General Assembly and the recent Cairo conference on reconstruction in Gaza, to seek to advance consideration of the issue. He has led efforts to ensure it is given due attention on the EU agenda and he has sought to frame a rethinking of the Union's approach on how best to create the conditions for progress and incentivise the parties to engage in meaningful negotiations.

As one of the member states with the strongest commitment to the Palestinian cause, it is sometimes frustrating for us that it can be so difficult to persuade the EU as a whole to move in the direction we might want. It is precisely our influence within the EU that gives us weight on this issue, and that was the principal reason for the abstention in the vote at the UN which has been referred to this evening. Retaining and maximising that influence is an important objective for us that we must consider carefully. Some have argued that we should recognise Palestine tomorrow but it would do the Palestinian people and their cause no service if, in doing so, we were to marginalise or weaken our own voice in the EU on this issue. We can only push the envelope if we are inside it. That judgment - when to lead by example and when to seek to build support - is one that we must make for ourselves, and the Government must do so.

The motion also calls on the Government to assist in developing the institutions of the future Palestinian state. This is a critical task, which goes beyond just readying Palestine for statehood, and one we have been engaged with for many years. This issue and the other element of our engagement on the humanitarian side will be addressed by my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, who is speaking next and is particularly concerned with these areas.

We are all conscious of the worsening of the Israel-Palestine issue. Direct negotiations have ended and an early resumption is hard to envisage. The relentless construction of settlements continues to eat away both the physical and political space where a state of Palestine can be constructed. The recent dreadful conflict in Gaza and the worsening position now in east Jerusalem reminds us of the violent possibilities just under the surface and the regional background to the problem has greatly darkened.

Against this background, there is much soul-searching going on in the international community about what can we do to break the stalemate in the Middle East. Ireland has concentrated on pressing within the EU for a serious reappraisal of overall Middle East strategy and, in particular, for stronger action against the policies on the ground which are making a two-state solution harder to achieve, principally those related to settlements. This is a difficult discussion and one on which member states by no means agree but we are working to push it forward. This frustration has led some, including now the Government of Sweden, to see recognition as a possible way of breaking the stalemate and I think this is the sense in which this evening's motion has been constructed.

Recognition has potential symbolic value but it will not increase at all the degree of control which Palestinians have or do not have over their own lives. It is not a magic bullet. If international recognition of Palestine was going to break the stalemate, then it would have happened long ago. As the motion notes and as Members have said, more than 130 countries around the world have recognised Palestine, many of them for many years, without this bringing nearer an end to the conflict. It is important that we remain focused on our efforts to centre attention on negative Israeli policies on the ground.

We want to do whatever will help and that means we also need to think about any negative aspects to what we might be contemplating. Recognition, like many policies, may answer some questions but open others. There is an obvious problem in that the Palestinian Authority, which is the body that has changed its name to the State of Palestine, was set up under the Oslo Accords in co-operation with Israel and it controls only a part of what should be the Palestinian state - less than half of the West Bank and none of Gaza at present. It is an issue that the Fatah-Hamas split has prevented presidential or legislative elections from being held in Palestine for many years since they were due. It could be an issue if Hamas, a designated terrorist movement which does not yet accept the existence of Israel, again becomes the government of a state of Palestine, which we recognise and whose representatives would have diplomatic status here.

None of these issues, however, need preclude a decision by Ireland to recognise but they deserve careful consideration by ourselves and in concert with partners. We also recognise the powerful longing of Palestinians for their own state and the value of symbols and gestures. These have a weight of their own to be considered.

The support of the Seanad in October and I expect of the Dáil tomorrow are important considerations. As in most countries, however, recognition of foreign states is, ultimately, a decision for the Government to take. The key question for us and for the EU is whether recognition will help or hinder the search for a comprehensive peace. Until now, the general view has been that it would not help. That view may now be changing but, at present, it remains the view of the great majority of EU member states.

For Ireland there is a separate consideration, which I have already mentioned. Will recognition at this moment, in advance of other partners, increase our influence on the issue in the EU, that is, our ability to achieve our goal, or will it leave us marginalised and less influential? Sweden, which long held the same position as most other partners, has recently taken the opposite view. However, even other Nordic states, with which Sweden forms a close knit group, have not yet followed its lead on recognition. There is now, however, a period of reflection going on in the EU on this issue, prompted by Sweden's decision and by frustration at overall events. Ireland is playing an active part in that reflection. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has made it clear that the Government has an open mind on the role which early recognition of Palestine might play in that regard. He has stated that against the backdrop of a worsening situation on the ground, he is open to any option which he believes would move things forward.

Speaking on behalf of the Government, I acknowledge that the terms of the motion before us are for the most part consistent with the Government's view of the situation. We have always looked forward to recognising Palestine as early as possible and that moment is now clearly a lot closer than it was even in 2011. We will take very careful note of the opinions clearly expressed in both the Dáil and the Seanad but we will also continue to take part in the EU discussion on recognition which we were instrumental in opening only last month. We will seek to create the conditions for a resumption of meaningful negotiations on a two-state solution and we will pursue our efforts with our partners to support economic development and build the necessary institutional capacity on the Palestinian side. The Government will decide on national recognition by Ireland at the point where we believe it will make a positive contribution to the objectives clearly expressed in this motion.

11:25 pm

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin North Central, Labour)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an rún atá os ár gcomhair um thráthnóna. For more than two decades, successive Irish Governments have provided financial support to build the institutions of a Palestinian state, to promote peace building and to meet the immediate needs of the Palestinian people. The motion before the House calls on the Government to do all it can to assist in the development of the democratic and state institutions of the Palestinian state. I believe we are already doing this.

Ireland, like other EU members states, is committed to supporting the Palestinian Authority as part of our overall programme of support for the Palestinian people. This support, which enables Palestinians to build institutions and provide essential public services, is critical to laying the foundations for a future State. We now provide more than €10 million annually in support to Palestinians to help them deliver on their development priorities, to support the promotion of human rights and to meet immediate humanitarian needs.

Ireland is one of five partners working directly with the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education to support it in delivering its education development strategic plan. This year we have provided €1.5 million in funding, bringing our total support to €7.5 million, but Ireland also provides technical support to the education sector.

There is clear evidence that our contribution is helping the ministry to provide better quality education services to more Palestinian children. I am aware from our contacts with officials across a number of Palestinian ministries that our work with others in improving education is seen as making a real difference to Palestinian institutions and is held up as an example. Other EU partners have engaged in parallel work with other ministries, such as finance, and the EU has for a number of years operated a significant police training mission, known as EUPOL COPPS, assisting the Palestinian police in developing and improving professional and human rights standards. Seconded Irish staff have played a valuable role in that continuing mission.

In our work to build up the capacities of the Palestinian institutions and prepare them to assume the responsibilities of a sovereign state, we know that merely reaching that goal of statehood is not enough. After decades of occupation, we want Palestinians to achieve a state that can be a model for a troubled region and can deliver real improvements in the lives of its citizens.

A Palestine based on the rule of law and respect for human rights is the best guarantor of the longevity of any peace agreement, and the future security and prosperity of Palestinians and Israelis alike.

While we work to strengthen the institutions on which a Palestinian state will be built, we must ensure that the Palestinian Authority can meet the immediate needs of the people living in the West Bank and Gaza. Their capacity to deliver essential public services such as health and education is not only essential for the immediate welfare of the Palestinian people but also critical to the creation of a Palestinian state. In the current difficult context, delivery of public services is simply impossible without significant external support. Since 2008, working through a European Commission mechanism known as Mécanisme Palestino-Européen de Gestion de l'Aide Socio-Economique, PEGASE, we have provided €12 million to the Palestinian Authority to deliver public services. Our support has been focused on services in the areas of health, education and social protection. I know, however, that strong institutions alone will not guarantee the viability of a Palestinian state. We are funding a number of Palestinian and Israeli organisations that are working to address human rights issues. They focus on addressing freedom of movement, absence of rule of law, rights of prisoners and detainees, women's rights, and democratic development. These organisations play an important role not only in reporting human rights abuses but in holding their own authorities to account, a key element of all democracies.

Regrettably, while we work to ensure that Palestinian institutions are ready for statehood, we continue to have to address the immediate humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people. The humanitarian situation continues to be precarious, as the key drivers of vulnerability remain in place. The protracted crisis is compounded by recurrent escalations in hostilities, such as the appalling tragedy in Gaza this year, which increase humanitarian needs.

The conflict in Gaza this year had devastating humanitarian consequences. At present, approximately 100,000 people remain displaced and are in need of food, water, health services and shelter solutions. According to the United Nations Works and Relief Agency, UNRWA, some 20,000 people are still living in schools in Gaza. It is estimated that 18,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged, leaving approximately 108,000 people homeless. Damage to public infrastructure was extensive, and despite repairs to the water and sanitation network in Gaza, significant constraints still impair the delivery of these services. Electricity outages for 12 hours a day continue in most areas across Gaza. Critical infrastructure was severely damaged or destroyed: 50% of all medical facilities sustained severe damage, 22 schools were completely destroyed and 118 damaged, and more than 70 hospitals and clinics were damaged.

This latest conflict has compounded an already serious humanitarian situation with widespread poverty, an extremely fragile economy and aid dependency. Approximately two thirds of the population of Gaza were receiving food assistance prior to the crisis and after seven weeks of conflict, most Palestinians in Gaza can no longer meet their most basic needs. Earning a livelihood is simply impossible. We provide €4 million annually to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA; this year we responded to the crisis in Gaza by providing an additional €1 million to UNRWA. This support is helping to provide urgently needed food, shelter and medical aid to thousands of families, many of whom had to flee their homes. Over the next two years we will provide a further €2 million to the Palestinian Authority and UN partners for long-term recovery assistance in Gaza.

Ultimately, of course, we see the end of the occupation as the essential step in addressing the problems of Palestine, including Gaza. My colleague, the Minister of State at the Departments of the Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs and Trade with special responsibility for European affairs and data protection, Deputy Dara Murphy, has set out the ways in which the Government is working to achieve that end. Within that context, the Government will continue to reflect, both nationally and along with our EU colleagues, on the role that the specific step of recognition of Palestine could play. We have made clear that the Government has an open mind about any action, including early recognition of Palestine, which can positively contribute to the goal we all share of an end to the conflict and a secure future for Palestinians and Israelis. This Government will continue to do all we can to ensure that a future Palestinian state will be built on strong institutions capable of meeting the needs of the people of that state.

11:35 pm

Photo of Gerald NashGerald Nash (Louth, Labour)
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I agree with the proposers of this motion - and, I think, with all balanced and informed opinion - that the status quois untenable and dangerous. We are also agreed that what is needed is an early resumption of negotiations, with clear parameters and with a specific timetable. I believe in a free, sovereign, independent and democratic Palestine living peacefully side by side with Israel. Much like our own peace settlement, we can already describe what the essential outlines of that settlement will be: it will allow for a democratic and sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace and security alongside Israel on the basis of the 1967 lines, with special provision for the status of Jerusalem in both states. There will ultimately be agreement on issues to do with borders, security, water rights, the status of Jerusalem and freedom of access to religious sites and outstanding legalities concerning Palestinian refugees, including resolving the problem of the right to return. Ireland and the European Union are committed to a two-state solution, which of course involves recognition of Palestine alongside Israel.

I should be clear, if any clarity is needed, that our ongoing commitment to a secure and peaceful state of Israel is not in any doubt. All our actions and policies should be designed to advance the goal of peace and to secure a comprehensive peace agreement. I repeat my belief that there cannot be a comprehensive peace without the two-state solution. So long as there is no real prospect of political talks resuming any time soon, there will be continuing loss of faith in political action as a way forward. The relentless announcements of settlement expansion continue, entailing continued evictions of Palestinians to expropriate land and resources for settlers. The result has been a rise in demonstrations, in the use of lethal force by Israeli authorities against demonstrators, and in random and deadly attacks on Israelis.

There is much soul-searching going on in the international community about what we can do to break the stalemate in the Middle East. Where there is no agreement at EU level, there is scope for member states to take national initiatives. Sweden's decision to recognise Palestine has focused attention on a possible new direction.

It is important to be realistic too. Recognition of Palestine before full statehood is actually achieved is not a magic formula that ends the occupation, advances the talks or even predetermines the outcome. Already, 135 countries have recognised the state of Palestine. Unfortunately, simply saying it is so does not make it so. State recognition is a serious business and should not become an exercise in collective make-believe, because this favours nobody. We in this country should know better than most that a sovereign territorial claim that exists only on paper is no solution. In fact it can become a substitute for policy and a barrier to engagement on the real issues. It helped some people here to escape into an imaginary world of their own construction, where reality was never confronted. I would not support recognising a state of Palestine that exists only in the same fanciful world as our own thirty-two county, rebel song republic. This would do a gross disservice to the people of Palestine and all those around the world who want to see a just and lasting settlement to this most intractable of problems. That is just one of the reasons it is important to stress that recognition of a state, both in terms of whether and when, remains constitutionally a matter for Government in the ongoing conduct of international relations. This motion, and the motion in the Seanad last October, are recognised as non-binding on the Government on those two points. None the less, this is an important articulation of the views of this Parliament on where we stand on the question of Palestine.

In summary, we must continue to do all we can to bring the parties to the table. The key focus must remain on getting substantive negotiations going, bringing the occupation of the Palestinian territories to an end and bringing about a Palestinian state that exists in reality as well as on paper. In the interim, we should not rule out any option, including an early formal recognition of Palestine, if a united international and multilateral position on that point will help to bring the parties to the table and to get real and meaningful talks under way.

11:45 pm

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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I would like to share time with Deputy Keaveney.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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On behalf of Fianna Fáil, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the need for the Government to recognise the state of Palestine on the basis of the 1967 borders. We will be supporting this motion. I am glad that Deputies on all sides of the House are supportive of this proposal. We believe this House must send out a strong message in one voice on behalf of the Irish people that we stand with the people of Palestine and their right to self-determination. We acknowledge that this motion largely reflects what happened in Seanad Éireann on 22 October last. When a motion supporting the recognition of the state of Palestine - it called "on the Government to formally recognise the State of Palestine and do everything it can at an international level to help to secure a viable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" - was carried unanimously on that historic occasion, it was an indication of the strong democratic support in Ireland for such recognition. It reflected the strong desire in this country for a sustainable and secure settlement of the conflict in the Middle East, for peace for Israelis and Palestinians in their own states, and for equality, fairness and justice in the settlement between the Israeli and Palestinian people.

Fianna Fáil has been at the vanguard in supporting a two-state solution in the Middle East for a number of decades. Fianna Fáil in government led Ireland to become the first EU member state to declare that a solution to the conflict in the Middle East had to be based on a fully sovereign state of Palestine, independent of and coexisting with Israel. That policy position was launched in 1980 by the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, the late Brian Lenihan senior, who said that the Palestinian people "had a right to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent State in Palestine". The motion passed by Seanad Éireann shows that we are moving further in this regard. We now believe the time is right for the Government to fully recognise Palestine as a sovereign, independent state. We have called on the Government to follow the lead of the French Republic's Parliament, Sweden and the UK House of Commons by recognising the state of Palestine. Our rationale in this regard stems from a frustration with the lack of progress in advancing the two-state solution in recent years. That is a message that has come from all speakers here tonight.

The recent war in Gaza and the unwillingness of the Israeli Government to engage in meaningful and constructive negotiations with the Palestinians have resulted in a mind shift across the world regarding how best to approach the conflict in the Middle East. We acknowledge that recognition by itself cannot end the occupation. Only Israel can do this. If Ireland and other EU states recognise Palestine, it could represent an important step towards unlocking negotiations. The recognition of Palestine would be anti-occupation, rather than anti-Israel. Given that Ireland already recognises the state of Israel, the recognition of Palestine would help to create a parity of status. Some 20 years after the Oslo Accords, the prospect of achieving a two-state solution appear to be more remote than ever. That fact should concern all Members of this House. It appears to any objective observer that Israel has done everything it can to undermine the chances of achieving such an outcome. We acknowledge that there have been many initiatives allowing for talks on peace, but they have continuously failed with the result that Israel has intensified its illegal occupation of Palestine. The illegal settlements on the West Bank have trebled in size as Israel has seized more Palestinian land and planted Israeli settlers on it. Israel has erected a huge separation barrier and implemented what must called an apartheid regime on the West Bank that denies Palestinians the basic human rights their Israeli counterparts take for granted. Such actions are not those of an Israeli state that is preparing for a two-state solution. Such actions will not inspire and consolidate peace.

This summer, we witnessed Israel's third devastating assault in six years on the people of Gaza. Any hope the Gaza ceasefire might lead to meaningful peace negotiations was quickly dashed when, within one week of agreeing to it, Israel announced more settlements on the West Bank. This deeply provocative move fundamentally undermined any prospect of peace. As my colleague, Senator Power, outlined in the Seanad, these actions represented a deeply cynical, long-term game aimed at destroying any prospect of a viable Palestinian state. Unfortunately, these actions have been facilitated by a largely passive international community, including the EU, which has stood by as Israel has wilfully violated international law and ignored countless UN resolutions. As things stand, Israel has no incentive to engage in meaningful negotiations. It has successfully used its military might time and again to ensure it holds all the cards. Without wider recognition of the Palestinian state, representatives of Palestine have been in a weaker position at the negotiating table. It is time to redress this balance by joining Sweden and other EU member states in recognising Palestine and thereby making it clear that statehood is a right of the Palestinian people, rather than an Israeli bargaining chip to be played in further negotiations which are doomed to fail. The recognition of the state of Palestine would increase pressure on Israel to pursue a genuine peace process that has a real prospect of delivering peace and justice for Israelis and Palestinians.

Fianna Fáil has always respected and celebrated the establishment and progress of the state of Israel. We have never questioned the right of the Israeli people to exercise their right to self-determination and self-defence. Our support of this motion and our tabling of the motion in the Seanad in October should not be seen as a slight against Israel or its people. Like any other nation, Israel has a duty to abide by internationally accepted standards of human rights, proportionality and responsibility. The Palestinian authorities must act in a responsible fashion in their interactions with Israel. They should condemn the recent lone wolf attacks carried out in Jerusalem and take action to prevent such attacks in the future. Ireland has traditionally and rightly been vocal in its support for the Palestinian people and proactive in lobbying on their behalf internationally. We do this because we understand what it is like to be a nation without a voice. We understand the difficulties of bargaining with a stronger power. We understand conflict between peoples. The lessons of our experience should inform our efforts to secure full recognition for the Palestinian state and deliver a viable two-state solution to settle the conflict.

We have the opportunity to outline our position now instead of seeking to hide behind the EU's lack of consensus on this matter. Sweden is not hiding behind the lack of an EU Common Position or accepting the Israeli line that the recognition of Palestine is something in Israel's gift in future negotiations. Nor should we. In supporting this motion and taking this step to help build a lasting and just peace in the region based on human rights and respect for international law, we are sending a clear message on behalf of all Irish people. We should take this step and join the many others in the international community who want a lasting peace in the Middle East. Now is the time to act. Now is the time to support the recognition of the state of Palestine. We should also use all other international fora available to us to encourage other states to make the same moves.

The Acting Chairman will recall how the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, stated his belief at the last meeting of our foreign affairs committee that the EU had to take a more proactive approach in seeking a peace settlement. I hope that the Minister strongly puts to the European Council the message that, along with other members of the international community, the EU has a binding and moral duty to ensure basic justice and equality for a people who have been downtrodden for many decades.

I recall reading some essays on the work and political life of one of Deputy O'Dowd's predecessors in Louth, Frank Aiken, who served for many years as Minister for External Affairs and was one of Fianna Fáil's founding members. During his time at the UN in the 1940s and 1950s, he often spoke at length about the need for justice and equality for everyone in the Middle East. Many years later, we are speaking about the same subject. Unfortunately, there has been no progress for the Palestinian people.

11:55 pm

Photo of Colm KeaveneyColm Keaveney (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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On 22 October, Fianna Fáil proposed a motion calling on the Government to recognise Palestine formally as an independent and sovereign state. The motion was passed by Seanad Éireann, having been unanimously accepted because of the careful work of colleagues in that House. I will take this opportunity to acknowledge the dedication, commitment and, above all, action of Senator Power in securing the type of consensus that was required to ensure sufficient support for the motion.

The motion before the Dáil reflects the motion that was presented to the Seanad on 22 October. Unlike in the Seanad, however, the movers of this motion - Sinn Féin - did not seek to build the type of consensus that was required to see its implementation. It is unfortunate that Sinn Féin has tried to engage in a political trick by tabling this motion while failing to build on the momentum of the consensus in the Seanad. It has endangered that opportunity. The Government could have opposed it, meaning we could have been the first country in the EU to reject a proposal of this sort. It was dangerous not to pursue a cross-party approach to get this across the line in the interests of the people of Palestine.

Photo of Sandra McLellanSandra McLellan (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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We did.

Photo of Colm KeaveneyColm Keaveney (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Government's acceptance of the motion. It has risen above itself and political strategy. I also welcome the fact that the Government has recognised the greater good by supporting the passage of this motion.

As quickly as possible, let us address the "whataboutary" that we consistently hear from those who are pro-Israeli and who lobby on and engage in this debate. I fully accept the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign state. I fully accept its people's right to defend themselves, but only within the confines of internationally accepted norms, particularly in the conduct in war. As a sovereign state, Israel has a solemn duty to respect and honour international law as well as the human rights and, in particular, civilian rights of populations in the region. We should take this opportunity to condemn out of hand the attacks on civilian targets - hospitals, ambulances, schools and homes. These must stop, as we cannot have the horrific practice of imposing pain in what can be best described as the collective punishment of the most vulnerable people in the region as a consequence of the evils done by a small minority.

In line with this philosophy, I condemn terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens and call on Hamas to take whatever action is necessary to reflect on the efforts being made by the international community, including Ireland, and to step up to the mark where the lives of innocents in Israel are concerned. The Palestinian leadership must condemn this violence and rise above the brute force approach taken by its opponents. It must also respect sovereign responsibility and conform to the human rights standards to which sovereign states are bound.

The Palestinian people are a proud people with a long history, a rich culture and a strong sense of identity. Undoubtedly, they are a stronger people as a consequence of the suffering and misery they have had to endure. In the 1980s under a Fianna Fáil-led Government, Ireland became the first EU member state to declare that an essential feature of any resolution to the conflict in the Middle East had to be a two-state strategy. In the past decade, however, and especially this summer, Israel has sought to establish a new set of facts through a new type of engagement of violence on the ground. The future of any Palestinian state is only sustainable if the population has a chance to establish itself and develop a society, but that would not be in Israel's strategic interests.

We cannot deny the dignity of Palestinian individuals or their families and children who are being slaughtered by a military regime in pursuit of an unclear and unhealthy cause. Even now, the Israeli Government is attempting to colonise east Jerusalem. The Minister of State should take whatever action is necessary to outline to Israel's Dublin-based diplomatic unit our protest over Palestine's right to recognise that area of Jerusalem as its future capital.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Deputies Catherine Murphy and Healy are sharing time.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Independent)
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I thank Sinn Féin for tabling this motion. I am happy to support it. I am glad the Government is also supportive of it. Obviously, this motion follows the work in the Seanad. I acknowledge Senator Power's work in particular. It has been important.

If this year has demonstrated anything, it is that we can dispel the notion that supporting this type of motion will shake the fragile peace process in the Middle East. This is because there is no peace process, and that is the real tragedy. The barbarity and severity of the bombardment the citizens of Gaza had to endure for 50 days this summer - known to the Israeli defence forces as Operation Protective Edge - has smashed the hopes of even the most naive that this Israeli Government is interested in pursuing a peace settlement. The UN figures are absolutely appalling, showing the death of 1,523 Palestinian civilians and six Israeli civilians, 519 of them children.

The reason we are debating this motion today is that the international community has grown exasperated waiting for the peace to come and watching these horrors unfold. Members have received correspondence in recent days from a large number of Israeli people from all walks of life. It is very important that these 650 civilians, prominent figures all, have shown leadership where their government failed so to do. Yesterday, a former Israeli ambassador to Ireland told the thejournal.iethat recognition of Palestine was an essential part of a two-state solution. It is very important that the Israeli voices whose message we are conveying in this debate get the attention they deserve so we can help to encourage a solution from within this very troubled part of the world.

12:05 am

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary South, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)
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I compliment Sinn Féin on bringing forward this motion and welcome the Government's acceptance of it. Statehood is the right of the Palestinian people, as is increasingly accepted and supported internationally. Some 135 countries have now formally recognised the state of Palestine, including eight EU member states, namely, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Malta, Cyprus and Sweden. In addition, the British, Spanish and French parliaments and, in this country, the Seanad have called on their respective governments to recognise Palestine. It is particularly instructive that 900 prominent Israeli citizens have called on Dáil Éireann to pass this motion and give recognition to the state of Palestine. In their letter they say:

We, the undersigned citizens of Israel, who wish for it to be a thriving country, are worried by the continued political stalemate, the occupation and settlement activities that lead to further confrontations with Palestinians and squash any chances for compromise. Your initiative for recognition of the state of Palestine will advance prospects for peace.
There is no doubt that we have an opportunity here to help to build a lasting and just peace in the region based on human rights and respect for international law. In fact, the adoption of this motion and the recognition of the state of Palestine would be an important expression of support for Palestinian statehood and for freedom and peace in the region. International recognition of the state of Palestine is an important action that will increase diplomatic pressure on Israel to end its occupation and ongoing colonisation of Palestinian land and the apartheid system it operates against the Palestinian people.

Of course, recognition itself cannot end the occupation; only Israel can do that. In that context, I urge the Government to impose political and economic sanctions on the state of Israel until such time as it ends its occupation of Palestine and abides fully by its international obligations under international law, thereby allowing a truly independent and free Palestine to exist.

Debate adjourned.