Thursday

17th Jun 2021

Ireland sets EU precedent on Israeli 'annexation'

  • Israeli settler in Hebron, a Palestinian city in the occupied West Bank (Photo: Rosie Gabrielle)

Ireland has become the first EU country to formally designate Israeli settlement expansion as "annexation" of Palestinian land.

The Irish parliament, the Dáil, said so in a motion passed unanimously on Wednesday (26 May).

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"The scale, pace, and strategic nature of Israel's actions on settlement expansion and the intent behind it have brought us to a point where we need to be honest about what is actually happening on the ground ... it is de facto annexation," Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney also told MPs in a debate on Tuesday prior to voting.

"This is not something that I, or ... this house, says lightly. We are the first EU state to do so," he said.

"But it reflects the huge concern we have about the intent of the actions and, of course, their impact," he added.

Annexation is anathema to international law and has triggered EU sanctions in other cases, such as Russia's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.

"Tonight's decision ... is historic, Ireland is the first country to state that. We need to use that mandate to hold Israel to account for their crimes," John Brady, an MP from Ireland's nationalist Sinn Féin party, which tabled the motion, also said on Wednesday.

It "must mark new assertive, consistent confrontation of Israeli crimes against Palestine," Mary Lou McDonald, another Sinn Féin MP, added.

But the Dáil scrapped an amendment calling for Ireland to expel Israeli diplomats by 87 to 46 votes.

The fallen amendment, tabled by People Before Profit, a small left-wing party, had also called for "a comprehensive package of economic, political, and cultural sanctions against the state of Israel, similar to that applied to apartheid South Africa".

And the Irish motion condemned Hamas, a Palestinian militant group, for rocket fire against Israeli civilians.

The vote came after an 11-day war between Israel, which killed over 250 Palestinians, and Hamas, which killed 12 Israelis.

The spark which ignited fighting was Israeli eviction of Palestinians from Jerusalem to make way for settlers.

Israel had not issued a statement on the Irish vote as of Thursday morning.

For their part, EU leaders, who met in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday, welcomed the recent Israel-Hamas ceasefire and pledged to "work with international partners to restart a political process".

"The EU reiterates its firm commitment to the two-state solution," they also said.

Europe does not recognise Israel's 1980 annexation of East Jerusalem.

It says the 450,000 settlers who moved to the West Bank after Israel conquered it in 1967 have done so illegally.

And it has warned that settlements were making a two-state solution impossible by ring-fencing the Holy City and splitting Palestinians into an archipelago of isolated units.

The EU has withheld grants to settler companies and urged European retailers to label settler products.

After the last Gaza war in 2014, Sweden also became the first-ever sitting EU state to recognise Palestinian statehood.

"We hope that this will show the way for others," the then Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström said.

The French parliament passed a non-binding motion urging its government to do the same.

The EU has never imposed sanctions on Israel, however.

The French government ignored parliament and it remains to be seen if the Irish precedent on "annexation" will fall on deaf ears, like the Swedish one on recognition.

But the latest Gaza war has put the Arab-Israeli conflict back on the EU agenda.

The Palestinian people's hope of ever living in their own country "was starting to disappear", French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also told Le Figaro, a French newspaper, on Sunday.

And if the fallen Dáil amendment on sanctions and apartheid-era South Africa sounded extreme, then Le Drian used the same vocabulary to describe what was happening on the ground.

"The risk of apartheid is strong if we continue to adopt the logic of a single state or the status quo," the French minister said.

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