The Irish on Israel: Why Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore Lambasted the Jewish State

by Robert Harris (November 2011)

has referred to Jews as “a lesion on the forehead of history” etc.

In the Middle East Peace Process, the search for freedom and equality has yet to bear fruit. The Arab-Israeli conflict remains depressingly deadlocked. Unless this deadlock is broken, the opportunities for yet another generation of children will be destroyed.

The nature of a Palestinian state is again conflated with existent states in an assertion about borders:

Some would seek to argue that Palestine cannot be recognised as a State because its borders remain to be agreed. But if the borders of Palestine are still a matter for negotiation, then so, by definition, are those of Israel which is rightly a full member of the UN.

On the face of it, his point sounds reasonable. Yet when analysed the point represents a non-sequitur that misleads as it strips each case of their differing contexts. Distilled down, he essentially argues that recognition and/or membership of a Palestinian state equates with the same status afforded to Israel: A is justified as B has already been so. He appears to argue that both are conditional on each other being valid, regardless of the matter of disputed boundaries. Since he parallels the two, we can infer that both must have some form of similarity in terms of the conditions of their recognition/membership. This could be a distant similarity where equivalencies are artfully drawn out or a closer similarity in terms of circumstance. Does this bear out? Not really. The UN afforded an extant Israel full membership in May 1949, around the time the Armistice Lines were being finalised with the other nations involved in the 1948-49 war,which the International community now seek to re-use to carve up the State permanently.

Well the need for negotiations depends on Palestinian intent. If the Palestinian leaders seek to continue conflict and eventually destroy Israel then surely it merely strengthens their hand to avoid negotiations by placing greater demands on Israel before negotiations have a chance to take place. The incitement in the Palestinian media, even under the supposedly moderate Abbas, continues to radicalise the populace.

Provided that the resolution is drafted in terms that are reasonable and balanced, I expect Ireland to give its full support.

There can be no doubting the hugely transformative power for the Middle East region of a final end to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

I again urge the Government of Israel to halt all settlement expansion. And I also call on them to end the unjust blockade of Gaza by opening up land crossings to normal commercial, human and humanitarian traffic.

Broader contextual issues

The UN repeatedly failed to face the challenges of the past satisfactorily. It became a political tool for the Communist/Middle East bloc long ago. Its future does not look rosy either. It remains driven by sectional interests, e.g. the Islamic OIC bloc typically gets the support of the anti-Western Non-Aligned Movement representing a majority of UN members.

Gilmore goes on to extol the virtues of the Charter, seemingly as the basis of all that is good in the UN:

For decades many members that should have abided by the principles of the Charter, such as universal values, freedom, equality etc., failed to do so. It is absurd to suggest the UN is the repository of human ideals. The Charter is a reminder of the monumental failure of the UN rather than a cause for any hope.

Now more than ever, the UN is demonstrating that it is the home for these fundamental values and goals and the arena in which we can best pursue collective solutions.

Sadly, the truth is that the United Nations is far from being the institution it purports to be. It is a body shielding many brutal regimes by giving them legitimacy. One blackly comic example is the UN-HRC containing some of the very worst human rights abusers in the world. The incongruity is so overt, e.g. the spectacle of Saudi Arabia on the Commission on the Status of Women, and the antisemitic Durban anti-racism conferences, that it is really a wonder anyone can still think it a legitimate agent for good in the world. Yet many people continue to see the UN as a deeply virtuous, if at times ineffectual, institution.

Gilmore described the Arab Spring glowing heroic terms, as a move toward freedom when in fact it is a deeply worrying source of instability and extremism in a region already blighted by such problems:

While the loss of the dictatorships are not something to bewail, the Arab Spring uses motifs of Islamic supremacy, and an undercurrent of Arab racism particularly in Libya. Hostility toward Israel, and Judaism in general, is a sizeable element in the movement.

A similar aggression toward Christians has been especially damaging because they lack the protection of a state like Israel. The destruction of Mid Eastern Christians has increased in recent months. Isolated events have reached the news occasionally but the phenomenon has otherwise been completely ignored at the UN, by Western leaders and also by many branches of the faith. In Egypt it is estimated that 100,000 Christians have left since the fall of Mubarak and worse is to come.

Aftermath of the speech

After the speech Gilmore elaborated on his criticism of Israel during one parliamentry session. It was a more frank account of his views. In reply to questions by Mick Wallace, an MP who was involved with the Gaza Flotilla campaign, Gilmore stated:

The illegal Israeli settlements are a key driver of the unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict. The expansion of settlements inherently involves the seizure of Palestinian lands, destruction of homes and eviction of families, and the exclusion of farmers from their fields.

The settlements also constitute, and are intended to constitute, an obstacle to the achievement of a comprehensive peace. If the settlements had not been put in place, the way to a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab world would now be clear and that such an agreement would be readily achievable.

Gilmore makes unjustifiable myopic assumptions about the intent of Israeli policy toward settlements. For a time they were encouraged with tax breaks to provide a security buffer between Israel and the Palestinian territories. However, Israel has repeatedly shown a willingness to dismantle settlements in the West Bank in exchange for a peace agreement, and have already done so in the Sinai and Gaza. It is then nothing less than an absurdity for Gilmore to claim this is the principle issue preventing peace.

Gilmore claimed settler violence is increasing, perhaps as a result of a recent arson attack on a mosque:

Violence by settlers against Palestinians is increasing and is largely ignored by the military authorities. The whole settlement enterprise sends a clear message that there is one law for Israelis and another for Palestinians.

In fact the attack was an unusual incident that drew wide condemnation from the Israeli establishment and Jewish leaders while Hamas used the event to incite violence.

The recent permission for the construction of more homes in Gilo was also a source of consternation:

Internationally, Jewish neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem are classed as settlements to the same extent as sites like Hebron, which are embedded in the West Bank quite deeply. It is bizarre to be so opposed to all Jewish construction beyond the Armistice Lines, without any distinction, even though sites like Gilo were intended to remain part of Israel according to the peace plans put forward for the last two decades. Meanwhile Israel also faces a well-publicised housing crisis due to shortages.

Israel must be encouraged to see that its own best interests are not served by the occupation.

Why the Irish authorities should know better

It is common to hear comparisons between the Northern Irish conflict and that found in the Israeli-Palestinian territories. This comparison is alluded to by Gilmore:

In Ireland, we know from our own experience that peace does not come easily. It requires political will and difficult compromises. But we also know the benefits of peace. There can be no doubting the hugely transformative power for the Middle East region of a final end to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

There is a tendency to parallel the catholic Irish with the Palestinians, and the Britain with Israel. Yet in reality these comparisons have only a very limited validity. The Irish have a great deal in common with the Jews historically, having been persecuted and pushed out into a diaspora by occupying empires, and Ireland is as much the homeland of the Irish as Israel is a homeland to the Jews. Indeed some Irish revolutionaries are known to have expressed sympathy for Zionism in the early 20th Century.

There are numerous divergences between these two conflicts as well so lessons from one are not easily transposed to the other. However, some understanding can legitimately be taken from the resolution of conflict in Ireland. The first is genuine compromise. The Irish have accepted that the unification of Ireland is not a precondition for ending conflict. As part of the Good Friday Agreement, a referendum removing the claim to Northern Ireland in Articles 2 and 3 of the Republic of Ireland Constitution was overwhelmingly accepted by voters. There was a mutual acceptance of the fears of the opposing sides, which were then addressed in a meaningful fashion. Within a short time a remarkable transformation took place in Northern Ireland. Even seasoned political commentators were astonished at the results.

One Jewish resident of Jerusalem stated when faced with the likely division of his city: and lives in Ireland.

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