by Robert Harris (October 2012)
On the 19th of September an Irish parliamentary committee recommended a complete ban on imports from supposedly “illegal” West Bank Jewish settlements.
The committee will make the proposal to Eamon Gilmore, Tánaiste (second to the Prime Minister) and Foreign Affairs Minister. It would seem this process is merely a formality because Eamon Gilmore is very much behind the idea of boycotting Jewish settlements, even to the point of banning the entry of settlers into Europe!
Interestingly, a pro-Palestinian Christian group was the focal point of the committee meeting:
All members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade were supportive of a submission today from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel(EAPPI), a human rights observer organisation, calling for such a ban.
In reality this “human rights observer organisation” is in fact an extreme anti-Israeli group that has the singular propagandistic purpose of bringing Christians to the West Bank, to turn them into agents with the intent of demonising the Jewish State back home.
Both houses of the Irish parliament have been strongly pro-Palestinian for several decades. However, that bias should not have precluded professional politicians from at least providing a modest semblance of balance by engaging a group to represent Israel’s interests before recommending such drastic action.
Tell a fib often enough…
During the committee meeting EAPPI asserted the pro-Palestinian claim that Jewish settlements are the chief issue preventing peace:
Joe O’Brien, advocacy co-ordinator with EAPPI said the illegal Israeli settlements in the Palestinian West Bank had “long been recognised by the UN, the US and the EU as the biggest barrier to peace” in the region.
Despite the frequent claims of illegality, Jewish settlements in the West Bank do not break international law, due in part to Article Six of the Mandate to Palestine permitting close Jewish settlement in the region. Neither did Israel displace a legitimate sovereign.
The idea Jewish settlements somehow impede peace does not stand up to scrutiny either. Arafat walked out of the Camp David peace talks, chiefly over the proposal of shared sovereignty of the Temple Mount (Haram), Abbas dropped peace talks with Olmert in 2008 despite being offered almost 100% of territorial claims. Since then, Abbas has been running scared by putting the cart (settlements) before the horse (peace talks). He refused to meet Netanyahu until the very end of an ten month settlement freeze only to demand another before continuing.
Earlier this year, a senior representative of Netanyahu’s was regularly talking with PA representatives in Jordan in an attempt to restart talks. Unsurprisingly the talks-about-talks approach failed. As Ron Prosor, Israel’s Representative to the United Nations, said:
Direct negotiations are the only tool, the only way and the only path to create two-states for two peoples. Last January, Israel offered a clear proposal in Amman for restarting direct negotiations. We presented the Palestinian delegation with negotiating positions on every major issue separating the parties.
That proposal – filled with Israel’s vision for peace – continues to gather dust, as Palestinian leaders continue to pile up new pre-conditions for sitting with Israel. They are everywhere except the negotiating table.
In the summer Abbas indefinitely postponed a most unpopular meeting with a senior Israeli politician, the first such meeting in two years that had intended to be a starting point for resuming talks.
Why is Abbas unwilling to even meet? It could be said that the obsessive condemnation of Israel by the international community discourages the Palestinians from making the slightest compromise for peace. Settlements take up just 2% of the West Bank. Are certain committees and their ilk as blameworthy?
Broader motives behind the committee meeting
Whilst an Irish boycott of Jewish settlements is serious, the implications of the committee meeting can also be understood at a broader level since Ireland will be taking the rotating EU presidency in January.
Eric Byrne, TD, (Labour), said the Government should take a lead in Europe by instituting such a ban and should champion an EU-wide ban during Ireland’s presidency next year.
This perspective is in line with policy in the European Union, which has long adopted an antagonistic political stance on Israel.
The EU has trade agreements with Israel but refuses to offer the same benefit to goods from settlement areas. Yet the status quo may be tenuous. For example, the first step of a prospective pharmacological trade agreement, which would benefit EU citizens significantly, only scraped through due to two abstentions.
The prospect of an EU wide boycott may have motivated the EAPPI submission. Joe O’Brien asserted:
Ireland could take a powerfully symbolic and moral stance by banning produce from illegal Israeli settlements from the Irish market. […]
Though the value of products from the illegal settlements is small here – about €7 to €8 million a year, he said the move would be internationally very important.
Indeed, Omar Barghouti, a likely racist who is a founding member of the pro-boycott organisation PACBI, and the face of the BDS Movement today, stated:
This new Irish parliamentary move should become a model to be emulated by all European lawmakers who claim to care about human rights and international law
A deck stacked toward extremism and hypocrisy?
As has been stated by commentators previously, such a boycott is not so much an attack on settlements as an attack on Israel itself, and indeed committee member Senator Jim Walsh (Fianna Fáil party) suggested:
In the background we shouldn’t rule out banning all Israeli products.
Walsh is one of the numerous politicians (mainly IRA linked Sein Fein party members) that signed a statement demanding an end to the blockade of Gaza. He also put his name to a petition demanding the immediate release of Palestinian prisoners on hunger-strike, despite a number of them being associated with terrorism.
However, many of those reasonably familiar with the broad attitude of the Irish Parliament toward Israel would consider Walsh’s views to be relatively normal for that venue, and his anti-Israel actions to be unremarkable. This is perhaps the most worrying aspect of the issue, the fact that hardly anyone batted an eyelid. It was merely a foreseeable conclusion to decades of demonising anti-Israeli rhetoric.
It seems the committee was little more than a charade to lend their recommendations some credibility. Pat Breen was the Committee Chairman, an MP who held the honour of being Chairman of the Oireachtas Friends of Palestine group. Also present was Gerald Nash, present chairman of the same group, who has promoted the EAPPI. Other members, such as David Norris were also present. Norris is known for coming remarkably close to defending Hamas:
My colleague, Deputy Eric Byrne, raised the question of the murder of Hamas officials. I do not have much time for Hamas but it was democratically elected. We cannot subvert democracy by murdering them.
Thus, it would be undemocratic to kill Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas military commander assassinated in Dubai, even while in an effective state of war with the group now ruling a defacto state!
Non-members of Oireachtas Friends of Palestine also present have similarly extreme opinions, e.g. MP Pádraig Mac Lochlainn (Sein Fein), who sounds more like a representative of the Iranian Embassy:
In 2005 Iran brought forward a proposition to allow co-operation with external public or private interests, moving beyond a responsibility to allow monitoring. This issue can be resolved, as neither Iran nor any neighbouring state wants to imagine a conflict based on the use of nuclear weapons. However, Iran has its back against the wall in defending itself. The international community must engage with in on the proposition made in 2005.
Mac Lochlainn frequently calls for sanctions against Israel to force it to give up its nuclear arsenal. Thus, he wants to punish a State that has never threatened another with annihilation, whilst defending a major terrorist sponsor! Little wonder he also whitewashes and supports Palestinian violence:
Does the Tánaiste understand why young people on the West Bank consider it necessary to lift stones, their only weapon of resistance…
Ironically, at a time when representatives of Irish State have been increasingly speaking of boycotting Israel, they have been making strenuous efforts to improve business ties with China, including lucrative tax arrangements and investment schemes. Could it be that the Irish State thinks economic superpowers are not subject to any moral imperative, while a small state struggling for survival ought to be isolated and delegitimised whenever possible? Probably, for as the Mayor of Athlone stated in February:
Ireland has not been preaching to the Chinese about human rights.
Rob Harris contributes articles to several websites on contentious political issues (not to be confused with the popular English novelist (1957-) of the same name). He also blogs at eirael.blogspot.com and lives in Ireland.
To comment on this article, please click here.
To help New English Review continue to publish interesting and informative articles such as this one, please click here.
If you enjoed this article and want to read more by Robert Harris, please click here.