AVERIL RAISES THE NEED FOR IRELAND TO RECOGNISE PALESTINE IN THE SEANAD

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Senator Averil Power: On 22 October and 10 December 2014 Seanad Éireann and Dáil Éireann, respectively, adopted motions calling on the Government to recognise the state of Palestine. A wave of EU parliaments, including those in the United Kingdom, France and Spain, have passed similar motions. In most cases, recognition is part of an overall approach to the Middle East peace process. In May 2015 the Vatican concluded its first treaty formally recognising the state of Palestine, with an agreement on church activities in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

After this House and the Dáil passed the motions referred to last year, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, stated in the Dáil that he was open to early recognition, if that would be helpful. The Minister said he would reflect on the question, including by engaging in a reflection at EU level on the European Union’s overall approach to the Middle East process. This reflection was initiated by High Representative Mogherini. The Minister has also stated a move towards recognition would help to jump-start a peace process that has stalled. 

  One year on I am very disappointed that the Government has not acted on the recommendation of the Seanad and the Dáil. The latest direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in March 2014 and there is no expectation of a resumption of the negotiations in the foreseeable future. There is no political or peace process in being. The latest Israeli Government, formed by Prime Minister Netanyahu in May, is a coalition of nationalist and religious parties, most members of which are openly hostile to the establishment of a Palestinian state and support ongoing expansion of the legal settlements. On the Palestinian side, the Palestinian factions are fragmented. The West Bank and Gaza are disconnected and there are serious leadership and legitimacy issues.

  The Minister appears to be waiting for a broader EU consensus to grow on the issue of recognition of Palestine. One third of the member states of the European Union already recognise Palestine, with Sweden being the most recent, having done so last year. Given the division among EU member states on the issue, consensus is unlikely to be reached in the short term. Granting recognition is a member state competency; it is not one which is reserved to the European Union. This would be a progressive measure for Ireland to take and one which does not require consensus at EU level. A full year on since the motions were passed by the Oireachtas, it is clear that it is time for Ireland to follow the example of Sweden and recognise Palestine without further delay. 

  I have tabled this matter to draw the Minister’s attention to it and, in particular, to the fact that more than one year has passed since the motions were passed by the Seanad and the Dáil. Will Ireland now move to recognise Palestine without further delay?

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan: Information on Jimmy Deenihan Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan I thank the Senator for raising this issue. The Minister regrets that he cannot be in attendance and wishes for me to convey his apologies to the Senator in that regard. 

  The achievement of a sovereign Palestinian state, recognised not just by Ireland but by everyone, including Israel, has been a major foreign policy objective of the Government since it took office. It is something we seek to achieve in reality, not just in words, and all of the Government’s actions in relation to the Middle East conflict are directed towards that end. Only a two-state solution, with a Palestinian state existing alongside and in peace with Israel, can satisfy the need of both peoples for security and prosperity.

  Last year the Seanad, on 22 October, and the Dail, on 10 December, passed motions calling on the Government to recognise Palestine and to help to achieve a two-state solution. The Government did not oppose or seek to amend the motions which were calling for something on which we were already working. There were similar motions in other European parliaments, prompted by the decision of Sweden in October to recognise Palestine. In Ireland, as in most countries, recognition of sovereign states is a matter for decision by the Government. The views of the Oireachtas are, of course, a very important factor in that consideration, but it remains for the Government and, in the first instance, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to consider if this would be an appropriate step and, if so, when it might be best to take it.

  With other Ministers, the Minister spoke in the Dail debate on 9 and 10 December. They set out in detail the Government’s view on the issue. The Minister made it clear that, while successive Governments had always seen recognition as part of an overall peace agreement, he had no difficulty with early recognition by Ireland if he felt it could be helpful to the situation, that is, the efforts to reach such a peace agreement.   The statements in that debate also set out, in more detail than I can state today, the many and various factors which the Minister would weigh up when making that decision. We all know that recognition by Ireland will not of itself bring a Palestinian state into being. We need to consider not just the positive symbolic significance that recognition might have for Palestinians but also what effect it might have on the Israeli side whom we seek to influence and persuade. We must consider how it might affect Ireland’s influence and voice on the issue both in the region and in international discussions, particularly at EU level, and any impact it might have on Ireland’s ability to continue its work on the ground. There are potential downsides to be considered as well as gains.

  In terms of timing, clearly some events in the past year would have weighed on the consideration as regards when might be the right moment for a decision to be made on recognition. These include the lengthy election and coalition building process in Israel in the first half of the year, the continuing debate in the EU on Middle East policy and latterly the upsurge of violence in Jerusalem and elsewhere. During that period, the Minister has visited Israel and the Palestinian territory. He has also discussed the recognition question with some EU colleagues and the Palestinian Foreign Minister. It is also worth noting that no further EU partner has followed Sweden’s example and recognised Palestine. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade is continuing to consider the question of early recognition by Ireland of the state of Palestine.

Senator Averil Power: Information on Averil Power Zoom on Averil Power I thank the Minister of State for his reply and appreciate that he will bring this issue to the attention of the Minister. I wish to stress that recognition by itself will not end occupation and only Israel can do so. Ireland’s recognition of the state of Palestine would have enormous symbolic significance.

  Last year, after this House passed a motion that I had initiated, I was invited to speak at a UN conference on Palestine that was held in New York. At the conference other countries warmly welcomed the fact that Ireland had taken such a step and there was a sense that it would be positive and helpful if more countries did so. One third of the EU already recognise Palestine so there is a significant group.

  Throughout its history Ireland has had a proud tradition of standing out and not just following the herd, and waiting for common consensus. On issues of human rights and international justice, we have proudly stood out and led the way and this is another area where we need to do so. As Trócaire has pointed out, the recognition of the state of Palestine would be anti-occupation and not anti-Israel. Ireland has recognised the State of Israel and recognising the state of Palestine would help to create a parity of status which could only be helpful in getting the peace process off the ground and jump starting it which the Minister said was necessary a year ago. I ask the Minister of State to bring my remarks to the attention of the Minister and to ask him to correspond with me directly when he has had a chance to consider the issue again. 

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan: Information on Jimmy Deenihan Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan I thank the Senator and congratulate her on being invited to speak on this issue at the UN. Both the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Government are quite willing to move on early recognition of Palestine if it is concluded that it can be helpful, and if now is the right time. Such a commitment is significant and sends out a very clear message of support for a Palestinian state. The Minister made this viewpoint very clear during the debate in the Dáil last year, as well as the factors which would guide that consideration. I know that he is continuing to carefully consider this question. I will be happy to advise him of the arguments advanced by the Senator here today and I advise her to write to him directly. I know from speaking to the Minister that he has a special interest in this area. He has travelled to Palestine and Israel so he has a very good understanding of what is happening on the ground there and he has seen it at first hand. I am convinced that he will make the vital decision on recognition when it is appropriate.

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