Brendan Smith TD on Fianna Fail’s continuing commitment to and support for Palestine during a Private Members Debate Motion in Dail Eireann on Tuesday, 9 December 2014
Deputy Brendan Smith: On behalf of Fianna Fáil, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the need for the Government to recognise the state of Palestine on the basis of the 1967 borders. We will be supporting this motion. I am glad that Deputies on all sides of the House are supportive of this proposal. We believe this House must send out a strong message in one voice on behalf of the Irish people that we stand with the people of Palestine and their right to self-determination.
We acknowledge that this motion largely reflects what happened in Seanad Éireann on 22 October last. When a motion supporting the recognition of the state of Palestine – it called “on the Government to formally recognise the State of Palestine and do everything it can at an international level to help to secure a viable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” – was carried unanimously on that historic occasion, it was an indication of the strong democratic support in Ireland for such recognition. It reflected the strong desire in this country for a sustainable and secure settlement of the conflict in the Middle East, for peace for Israelis and Palestinians in their own states, and for equality, fairness and justice in the settlement between the Israeli and Palestinian people.
Fianna Fáil has been at the vanguard in supporting a two-state solution in the Middle East for a number of decades. Fianna Fáil in government led Ireland to become the first EU member state to declare that a solution to the conflict in the Middle East had to be based on a fully sovereign state of Palestine, independent of and coexisting with Israel. That policy position was launched in 1980 by the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, the late Brian Lenihan senior, who said that the Palestinian people “had a right to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent State in Palestine”.
The motion passed by Seanad Éireann shows that we are moving further in this regard. We now believe the time is right for the Government to fully recognise Palestine as a sovereign, independent state. We have called on the Government to follow the lead of the French Republic’s Parliament, Sweden and the UK House of Commons by recognising the state of Palestine. Our rationale in this regard stems from a frustration with the lack of progress in advancing the two-state solution in recent years. That is a message that has come from all speakers here tonight.
The recent war in Gaza and the unwillingness of the Israeli Government to engage in meaningful and constructive negotiations with the Palestinians have resulted in a mind shift across the world regarding how best to approach the conflict in the Middle East. We acknowledge that recognition by itself cannot end the occupation. Only Israel can do this. If Ireland and other EU states recognise Palestine, it could represent an important step towards unlocking negotiations. The recognition of Palestine would be anti-occupation, rather than anti-Israel. Given that Ireland already recognises the state of Israel, the recognition of Palestine would help to create a parity of status.
Some 20 years after the Oslo Accords, the prospect of achieving a two-state solution appear to be more remote than ever. That fact should concern all Members of this House. It appears to any objective observer that Israel has done everything it can to undermine the chances of achieving such an outcome. We acknowledge that there have been many initiatives allowing for talks on peace, but they have continuously failed with the result that Israel has intensified its illegal occupation of Palestine. The illegal settlements on the West Bank have trebled in size as Israel has seized more Palestinian land and planted Israeli settlers on it. Israel has erected a huge separation barrier and implemented what must called an apartheid regime on the West Bank that denies Palestinians the basic human rights their Israeli counterparts take for granted. Such actions are not those of an Israeli state that is preparing for a two-state solution. Such actions will not inspire and consolidate peace.
This summer, we witnessed Israel’s third devastating assault in six years on the people of Gaza. Any hope the Gaza ceasefire might lead to meaningful peace negotiations was quickly dashed when, within one week of agreeing to it, Israel announced more settlements on the West Bank. This deeply provocative move fundamentally undermined any prospect of peace.
As my colleague, Senator Power, outlined in the Seanad, these actions represented a deeply cynical, long-term game aimed at destroying any prospect of a viable Palestinian state. Unfortunately, these actions have been facilitated by a largely passive international community, including the EU, which has stood by as Israel has wilfully violated international law and ignored countless UN resolutions. As things stand, Israel has no incentive to engage in meaningful negotiations. It has successfully used its military might time and again to ensure it holds all the cards. Without wider recognition of the Palestinian state, representatives of Palestine have been in a weaker position at the negotiating table. It is time to redress this balance by joining Sweden and other EU member states in recognising Palestine and thereby making it clear that statehood is a right of the Palestinian people, rather than an Israeli bargaining chip to be played in further negotiations which are doomed to fail. The recognition of the state of Palestine would increase pressure on Israel to pursue a genuine peace process that has a real prospect of delivering peace and justice for Israelis and Palestinians.
Fianna Fáil has always respected and celebrated the establishment and progress of the state of Israel. We have never questioned the right of the Israeli people to exercise their right to self-determination and self-defence. Our support of this motion and our tabling of the motion in the Seanad in October should not be seen as a slight against Israel or its people. Like any other nation, Israel has a duty to abide by internationally accepted standards of human rights, proportionality and responsibility.
The Palestinian authorities must act in a responsible fashion in their interactions with Israel. They should condemn the recent lone wolf attacks carried out in Jerusalem and take action to prevent such attacks in the future. Ireland has traditionally and rightly been vocal in its support for the Palestinian people and proactive in lobbying on their behalf internationally. We do this because we understand what it is like to be a nation without a voice. We understand the difficulties of bargaining with a stronger power. We understand conflict between peoples. The lessons of our experience should inform our efforts to secure full recognition for the Palestinian state and deliver a viable two-state solution to settle the conflict.
We have the opportunity to outline our position now instead of seeking to hide behind the EU’s lack of consensus on this matter. Sweden is not hiding behind the lack of an EU Common Position or accepting the Israeli line that the recognition of Palestine is something in Israel’s gift in future negotiations. Nor should we. In supporting this motion and taking this step to help build a lasting and just peace in the region based on human rights and respect for international law, we are sending a clear message on behalf of all Irish people. We should take this step and join the many others in the international community who want a lasting peace in the Middle East. Now is the time to act. Now is the time to support the recognition of the state of Palestine. We should also use all other international fora available to us to encourage other states to make the same moves.
The Acting Chairman will recall how the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, stated his belief at the last meeting of our foreign affairs committee that the EU had to take a more proactive approach in seeking a peace settlement. I hope that the Minister strongly puts to the European Council the message that, along with other members of the international community, the EU has a binding and moral duty to ensure basic justice and equality for a people who have been downtrodden for many decades.
I recall reading some essays on the work and political life of one of Deputy O’Dowd’s predecessors in Louth, Frank Aiken, who served for many years as Minister for External Affairs and was one of Fianna Fáil’s founding members. During his time at the UN in the 1940s and 1950s, he often spoke at length about the need for justice and equality for everyone in the Middle East. Many years later, we are speaking about the same subject. Unfortunately, there has been no progress for the Palestinian people.