Thursday, 24 June 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
99. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the engagement he has had to date with the new coalition government in Israel and in particular with regard to Israel’s ongoing de facto annexation of Palestinian land; his plans to highlight a recent report (details supplied) with the new Israeli Government which states that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians amounts to the crimes against humanity, of apartheid and persecution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33903/21]
My question relates to the new coalition Government in Israel and what engagement the Minister has had, or intends to have, with it, particularly in view of Israel's ongoing de facto annexation of Palestinian lands and the Human Rights Watch report, which has just come out.
We have already debated these issues but this is also a very useful question to respond to. Israel’s new coalition Government took office on 13 June. I have written to the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yair Lapid, and I look forward to having a chance to speak with him in due course on a range of issues. The EU High Representative has spoken to Mr. Lapid. I participated in a discussion on the Middle East at the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday. The relationship between Israel and the EU is important and we hope to have an opportunity to meet with Minister Lapid at the Foreign Affairs Council in the coming months.
Civil society organisations play a valuable role in protecting human rights. My Department considers the analysis of civil society on the situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, including the report to which the Deputy referred. Ireland also provides financial support to Israeli and Palestinian non-governmental organisations, NGOs, working on human rights, particularly in occupied Palestinian territory. The human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory is very concerning. Ireland raises concerns about human rights and unlawful and discriminatory practices against Palestinians, both directly with the Government of Israel, and in multilateral forums. Many of the Deputies will have heard me doing that, including at the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council.
Ireland’s position 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. Later today, Ireland will participate in the monthly UN Security Council meeting on the situation on the Middle East. Today’s session, which includes Israeli and Palestinian permanent representatives to the UN, focuses on the implementation of Security Council Resolution 2334, which relates to settlements. Ireland will set out our clear position on the illegality of Israeli actions on settlements, evictions and unnecessary demolitions and our concerns at the scale and nature of their expansion, which negatively impact both the human rights of Palestinians in the occupied territory and prospects for a future, viable two-State solution.
I was struck by the forcefulness of the Minister's language in reply to other questions, especially on Hungary and Belarus. He talked about human rights and core principles. Quite clearly, the policy of Israel has gone beyond all core principles. The Human Rights Watch report, A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution, published in April, details in the strongest language possible the crimes against humanity, persecution and apartheid, that Israeli authorities are committing against millions of Palestinians.
The Minister referred to the new Israeli Government taking power on 12 June. After it took power, significantly, on 15 June, there was a second round of air strikes against Gaza. I specifically ask the Minister what forceful action he is taking. I appreciate his bona fides and hard work on this matter, but as we talk and use words people are dying on the streets of Gaza. I have the details, as does the Minister. The ambassador from Palestine has filled all of us in on this. What action is the Minister taking, in view of the trade between Europe and Israel?
To respond to the accusation that as we talk people are dying on the streets of Gaza, that is not fully accurate. I am glad to say we have a ceasefire. Obviously, there was real concern about air strikes in recent days in Gaza. Thank goodness, nobody was fatally injured in those air strikes. There is no country in the EU more vocal on this issue than Ireland and no foreign minister more vocal on it than me. I again used the opportunity, under the current affairs section of the discussions at the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday, to raise my concern about these issues and to ask yet again for the European Commission to produce a toolbox so we can really understand the leverage we have and the tools we can use to make sure we get real engagement on some of these issues. There was an indication the new Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs would be invited to meet us in the Foreign Affairs Council. I would welcome that and the opportunity for that discussion. We will continue to focus on ensuring Ireland uses its influence as best we can to move towards a discussion and negotiation for a permanent peace settlement, which is ultimately what this is about.
I do not wish to argue over numbers of deaths, but the ambassador tells us that five Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of June, including one 15-year-old boy, the third child to be killed in the village of Beita. We know the International Criminal Court, its staff and the civil organisations that support it are under extreme pressure, because of increasing public criticism of it by England, the leader in England and by Israel itself, among other countries. We know that because former politicians in Ireland signed a letter in relation to the matter.
The EU trades with Israel. The Minister used such strong words regarding gay rights in other countries, which is perfectly correct, but we do not use the same strong language when it comes to what is happening because of the Israeli occupation, illegal by any standard, in its taking over and killing people. I am an absolute supporter of the Jewish nation, and I do not like to have to say that, but what is happening is against all human rights standards. We have got to stand up and say that, while still supporting Israel. We have to stand up and say what it is doing is utterly wrong.
I agree with virtually everything the Deputy has just said. We need a relationship with Israel but we have also got to call out breaches of international law. I can be accused of some things in this House, but I am not sure it is fair to accuse me of not speaking directly and in a strident manner about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. I have been very direct in calling out breaches of international law and the disproportionate use of force and my concern that not enough has happened to protect civilians and children.
We have also backed that with significant increases in financial support for UN organisations working in Gaza. I do not shy away from using strident language when it is appropriate to do that. However, I also believe there is an opportunity now to reach out to the new Israeli Government and to try to ensure there is a change of direction over time in its policy direction towards Palestinians, which I and this Parliament call out all the time.