Tuesday, 11 May 2021
Ceisteanna (Atógáil) - Questions (Resumed) - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Will the Minister respond to the recent report by the Human Rights Watch organisation that accuses Israel of the crime of apartheid? This has been given added significance in light of evolving events in East Jerusalem and Gaza over the past number of days, which amount to war crimes, annexation and apartheid. I look forward to the Minister's response.
I am aware of the report referred to in the details supplied, which my officials are reviewing. It is quite a long report, at which my Department's legal team are now looking.
I have been forthright in expressing my concerns regarding the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Ireland’s position on this issue is, and will continue to be, based on international law, Israel’s obligations as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention and the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council, which we have seen over the past number of decades. Ireland has made this position clear at the Security Council, where the issue is discussed each month.
Our approach is rooted in the illegality of Israel’s occupation and the right of Palestinians to self-determination. The restrictions that are imposed on Palestinians undermine the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, a right which is at the heart of a proposed two-state solution.
The overall human rights situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory remains a priority concern. Ireland has been active on this issue at the most recent session of the Human Rights Council in March.
Ireland also provides financial support to Israeli and Palestinian NGOs working on human rights issues.
Ireland also continues to raise a range of human rights concerns directly with the Israeli authorities and in multilateral fora, including the UN Human Rights Council and at the Security Council. Ireland and the EU will continue to monitor developments on the ground. We remain committed to a two-state solution and will continue to work with partners to revive a political process in line with international law, which ensures equal rights and is acceptable to both parties.
I thank the Minister. I welcome his statements in recent months but unfortunately they are only words. Words are important and significant. That is why I want to ask the Minister about the specific use of words such as “apartheid” and whether he views what is being done in the occupied territories by Israel as apartheid. The Minister said he will be forthright in terms of international law. International law shows war crimes are being perpetrated by Israel. Does the Minister agree these are war crimes? Does he agree also what is effectively happening in East Jerusalem, forced displacement, is annexation? It has happened before and there has been de jureannexations of Golan and Jerusalem which were breaches of international law. Is what is happening on the ground annexation? Could I have a simple “Yes” or “No” reply?
Human Rights Watch is a respected NGO. I value the role it and other civil society organisations play. The report by Human Rights Watch is a lengthy and complex document which, as I said earlier, is being reviewed by my Department. I continue to be concerned about the overall human rights situation in Israel and Palestine and discriminatory practices. There is no doubt Israel's actions have violated Palestinian human rights and equal treatment, and unilateral actions have undermined trust between Israel and the Palestinians.
I am also mindful of the threat posed to the future enjoyment of rights in the context of a future Palestinian state. The programme for Government commits to supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It also commits to building a consensus at EU level to take a more proactive approach in supporting a negotiated two-state solution and lasting peace process. While Israeli actions on the ground on settlements are undermining the feasibility of a two-state solution, there is still an opportunity to correct the course. It is critical we put all our efforts into doing so.
The Minister will be aware the International Criminal Court is investigating Israel for war crimes. It is interesting the Minister cannot say that what is happening on the ground - the forced displacement of Palestinian people from the occupied territories – is a war crime. It is a fact; it is not me making it up. That is a fact the Minister cannot dispute. It is worrying he cannot simply state that.
Ending the culture of near total impunity for Israel is allowing it to perpetrate these war crimes and the apartheid system it operates. Words are not forcing Israel to stop and adhere to international law. We need definitive action. The Minister, and we as a country, can lead given our position on the UN Security Council. Ireland and the EU were quick to impose sanctions against Russia for its actions in Crimea. I cannot understand why, after so many decades, we still sit idly by and allow Israel to act with impunity. Why can we not take specific actions in terms of sanctions and calling it what it is, namely, annexation? Words will only go so far. We need action and the Minister needs to step up to the mark and take that action.
Please listen. Much is being done. Ireland is raising its voice internationally but pretending that Ireland on its own can change the course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not being realistic. The way for us to really change things on the ground is to work and use our influence within the UN Security Council and the EU, which is exactly what we are doing, rather than putting ourselves out on a limb and taking a position that we cannot build consensus around and, therefore, not actually impacting on the lives of people on the ground, which is ultimately what I am about and what this Government is about. I hope it is what this Parliament is about as well.
That is why tonight we are talking to other like-minded countries on the UN Security Council about trying to build consensus around clear actions and statements at a Security Council level. That is why I raised the issue yesterday at the Foreign Affairs Council meeting. Unfortunately, the situation on the ground has deteriorated significantly since then but this will remain a big priority for the Government and for my Department.