This means that both houses of the Oireachtas now support the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination; recognise a Palestinian state, and endorse the right of the Palestinian people to independence and sovereignty.
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.
It also means that Irish people are standing with progressive Israeli opinion which wants a lasting peace arrangement and supports the recognition of a Palestinian state.
The passing of this motion, in conjunction with the passing of similar motions in Parliaments across the EU, is an important act of solidarity with the Palestinian people.
The dangers and the tensions in that tragic situation were underlined with the sad news yesterday of the death, during a protest on the west Bank, of Ziad Abu Ein a Cabinet Minister in the Palestinian government.
Minister Abu Ein died taking part in a non-violent demonstration to mark International Human Rights day. He and others were planning to plant olive trees – symbols of peace – on land owned by a Palestinian but which because of a nearby illegal Israeli settlement is mostly off limits to Palestinians.
So now was exactly the right time for this motion.
I returned from the Middle East on Sunday having spent three days there. It was my fourth visit to the region in 8 years. In 2009 I spent two days in Gaza. At that time the Israeli government wanted me to agree that I would not meet Hamas. If I refused they would deny me entry through the Erez crossing. I refused. I believe in dialogue. Israel relented and I spent 48 hours seeing for myself the devastating impact the Israeli war of 2008-09 had on the people and infrastructure of Gaza.
On this occasion the Israeli government said no. It gave no explanation. An anonymous spokesperson later tried to claim it was because I wanted to ‘hang out with Hamas’ and because I wouldn’t speak to the Israeli government. Neither claim is true.
Making presentation to President Abbas
I travelled into the west Bank. I spoke to President Abbas and others in the Palestinian Authority, to NGOs and representatives of Palestinian organisations, including Mustafa Barghouti of the Palestinian National Initiative. And in Jerusalem I met brave Israeli citizens deeply concerned for the future.
Mise agus Dr. Mustafa Barghouti
Among them were Alon Liel and Ilan Baruch. Both are former professional diplomats in the Israeli government and both were Ambassadors for Israel. They have been hugely critical of Israel’s policy toward the Palestinian people. And both support the campaign to secure official government recognition by EU states and others of a Palestinian State.
They share the belief of the Palestinian leadership that such a move will place the Palestinians and Israelis on an equal footing in any negotiation and create a new dynamic in the peace process. They also believe it is a right, a principle that for too long has been conditional on the agreement of Israel.
Why should the right of the Palestinian people to sovereignty and statehood be dependent on Israel?
Israel is a state. It has an embassy in Dublin and others scattered around the world.
The Palestinians have a ‘Mission’. This is wrong. The people of Palestine have the right to freedom and independence and statehood. It should not be conditional on Israel or subject to any veto by it or any other state.
Alon Liel and his colleagues initiated a campaign in support of a Palestinian state. A letter now signed by over 900 prominent Israeli citizens, including Nobel laureates, writers, academics, business people, and broadcasters, was sent to Parliamentarians in Sweden, in Britain, in France, in Spain, in Belgium and in the Dáil, seeking support for a Palestinian state. All of these Parliaments, now including the Oireachtas, passed positive motions of support.
The letter is evidence of a deep desire and hope by some Israelis to adopt an approach which they believe is in the interests of Palestinians but crucially is also in the interests of Israel. Those I met are proud patriotic Israelis. They believe the recognition of a Palestinian state is a key step on the road to ending the decades long conflict. The letter reads:
"We, citizens of Israel who wish it to be a safe and thriving country are worried by the continued political stalemate and by the occupation and settlements activities which lead to further confrontations with the Palestinians and torpedo the chances for a compromise. It is clear that the prospects for Israel's security and existence depend on the existence of a Palestinian state side by side with Israel. Israel should recognize the state of Palestine and Palestine should recognize the state of Israel, based on the June 4 1967 borders. Your initiative for recognizing the state of Palestine will advance the prospects of peace and will encourage Israelis and Palestinians to bring an end to their conflict".
It is clear from my conversations that many Israeli citizens understand the deeply corrosive affect the occupation of Palestinian land, the apartheid system Israel has created and the brutality and dehumanising impact of IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) actions are having on Israel.
One of those I spoke with – Yehuda Shaul – is a former Sergeant and Commander in the Israeli Army. He is co-director of ‘Breaking the Silence’ an organisation made up of former Israeli soldiers who speak out against the actions of the IDF.
He is deeply concerned at the moral price Israel and its citizens are paying to maintain the occupation. He is also an Israel patriot who believes that speaking out against injustice is necessary to defend Israel, as well as advance the rights of Palestinians.
Shaul dismisses Israeli government claims that its military operations are defensive and to oppose terrorism. He believes that that is only a small part of the strategy. ‘It’s all about offensive,’ he said, ‘and maintaining Israeli military control over Palestinians’.
He told me that the current Israeli policy of occupation and settlements is not designed as a temporary measure but is intended to be permanent. ‘Occupation takes place every day; it is an offensive act every day.’
It is he said a ‘national security concept dependent on absolute control – a status quo that is not a frozen reality and is being entrenched every day.’
He was clear in his conclusion also. He told me; ‘The International community is failing Israelis and Palestinians. There is a lot of talk but no action. Nowhere in history,’ he said, ‘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.’
Shaul concluded with: ‘No one will live in dignity or freedom here. Neither the Palestinians or Israelis until there is a sovereign Palestinian state. This is the right patriotic position.’
The Separation Wall
As I travelled last week across Israel and Palestine the landscape was full of walls. Mostly small dry stone walls to separate neighbours, or between farm land, or built to terrace fields on the side of rocky hills. But the separation wall is different. It is a scar on the land and conscience of Israel and of the international community. It stretches for 700 hundred kilometres. It is a multi-layered, often 60 metre wide exclusion zone with a concrete wall eight metres 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. It captures within its boundary Palestinian land that is then annexed by the Israeli government. The separation wall, and the sterile roads that Palestinians are banned from, are symptomatic of an institutionalised, deliberately structured system of economic, cultural and social apartheid that brings shame to Israel and to the international community that has failed to take a stand against it.
The motion passed by the Dáil provides a route map for progress for the Irish government and for the international community. Last night Palestinian representatives who attended the Dáil debate were very uplifted by the outcome. So too where those Israeli activists whom I have kept in touch with in recent days. But they and we, and all of those who support peace between Israelis and Palestinians, know that there is a lot of hard work ahead before we achieve that historic conclusion.
Fógra Tairisceana : Notice of Motion
GNÓ COMHALTAÍ PRÍOBHÁIDEACHA
PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS
“That Dáil Éireann:
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 8th 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 22nd 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 30th October, 2014, Sweden became the first EU Member State to formally recognise the State of Palestine while a Member State of the EU;
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 threatening the establishment of a viable Palestinian State based on the 1967 borders;
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.”