Thursday, 18 November 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
During the Minister's recent visit to Israel and Palestine, did he meet with anyone from the Israeli Government and, if not, did he seek to do so? Does he get any sense from this trip that, because of the change of Government in Israel earlier this year, there has been any step change in the Israeli approach? Do any of the Palestinian groups with whom he met have even the slightest hope of any reset? Does he agree the recent designation by the Israeli defence ministry of six prominent and well-respected Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist organisations is not encouraging?
I visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory in the first week of November. This was my fifth visit as Minister for Foreign Affairs.
In respect of Ireland's role on the UN Security Council, I had useful exchanges on peace and security issues in the wider region, including the situation in Syria and Lebanon, and on regional security. I had detailed discussions with Israeli and Palestinian interlocutors, the UN and civil society on the Middle East peace process and the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories. I undertook a range of engagements in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ramallah, as well as a field visit in the West Bank.
On the Israeli side, I met with President Herzog, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Lapid, and the Minister of Health, Mr. Horowitz. I had constructive discussions on the challenge of antisemitism, climate change, the women, peace and security agenda, and the response to Covid-19. I restated Ireland's commitment to constructive engagement on the Middle East peace process. I noted steps taken by members of the new Israeli coalition Government to reach out to Palestinian counterparts but underlined Ireland's deep concern on settlements, settler violence, demolitions and evictions in the occupied Palestinian territories. In addition, I asked the Israeli Government to cease unilateral actions such as the recent announcement on settlements, which are illegal under international law, undermine the viability of a future Palestinian state and negatively impact on human rights. In all my discussions, I emphasised the vital role played by NGOs in any democracy and expressed my concern at the recent designation of six Palestinian organisations as terrorist entities.
On the Palestinian side, I met with Prime Minister Shtayyeh and the Deputy Prime Minister, Ziad Abu Amr. I stressed the need for democratic renewal in Palestine and underlined the importance of the Palestinian Authority's role in protecting the rule of law, human rights and civil society space. I announced €2.4 million in additional support for the Palestinian people, of which €2 million will go to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UNRWA, which provides essential services in very stretched and difficult circumstances.
I welcome the Minister's statement and his articulation of the issues raised. I acknowledge the delicacy with which he broaches these subjects as a member of the European Council. From the perspective of his being the Minister for Foreign Affairs of this country, I likewise acknowledge the commitment he has made in regard to the Palestinian people and the funds that have been made available to assist them.
Having spoken to both sides during his trip and in the context of a new Government having been formed and, unfortunately, in the context of the designation, as I mentioned, of prominent human rights groups as terrorist groups, does the Minister agree that things do not augur well for the new Government's approach and that we should not expect to see the sea change or reset for which we had hoped? Is that the view and opinion of those he has met from the Palestinian side?
Many people predicted the new Israeli Government would not last very long because it is a coalition of eight different parties, some of which have diametrically opposing positions on certain issues. However, it has managed to pass a budget, not only for one year but for two, and the expectation now is it may last for a period of time. That is welcome because we need stability in the area and we need an Israeli Government we can talk to as an interlocutor to try to make progress on a peace process about which Irish people care very much.
The signals in regard to the political choices the Israeli Government has made have not been particularly good. Announcements on the expansion of settlements, forced demolitions, evictions, settler violence and Israel's response to that violence are issues about which Ireland is very concerned. I was vocal on those points during my trip to Israel. However, I also think there are members of that Government with whom Ireland should be developing a relationship. They have a very similar perspective to ours.
In the Minister's discussions with Israeli Government representatives, was there reference to the motion that was passed by the Dáil stating Israel's action in the West Bank is a de facto annexation? Are there any moves of a similar nature from other European countries conveying the same sentiment?
The answer to the Deputy's second question is "No". I am not aware of any such moves even though I have spoken to quite a number of foreign ministers in regard to Ireland's rationale for passing that motion. For now, I do not see any momentum behind that particular approach. I certainly stand over the decision we made, collectively as a Parliament, that the strategic nature of the expansion of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory should now be considered as a de facto annexation. However, what we have done is not something other EU states, as of yet, are willing to replicate. That does not mean it will not happen but it is important to be honest about it. I certainly think this Israeli Government sees Ireland as arguably its most vocal critic internationally and certainly the most vocal within the European Union in terms of our approach to Palestinians and the occupied Palestinian territories. We need to be consistent, respectful and firm. We must ensure everything we say is consistent with international law, which is my job.