The future of a proposed ban on the importation of Israeli goods produced in Palestinian territories has emerged as a sticking point in the talks on government formation.
The Occupied Territories Bill 2018, proposed by Independent Senator Frances Black and supported by Fianna Fáil, the Green Party, Sinn Féin, Labour and many Independents was passed by both the Dáil and Seanad, but was blocked by the Fine Gael-led Government by a procedural device last year.
Fianna Fáil and the Greens want the next government to promote the Bill and introduce the ban, but this is being strongly resisted by Fine Gael, according to several people familiar with the progress of the talks.
It is also understood that there has been fierce lobbying by both sides, while the US embassy – which is strongly against the legislation – has also made its views known to Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, who is leading the Fine Gael team in the talks, has resisted the Fianna Fáil and Green demands to have a commitment to progress the Bill included in the programme for government.
Mr Coveney has insisted that the Bill is “illegal” because trade is an EU competence, meaning that trade policy is made at EU level, not national level. One country cannot ban goods that may be legally imported elsewhere in the single market, he told the talks, adding that this was the advice of the Attorney General.
However, Fianna Fáil and the Greens have cited competing legal advice, and Fianna Fáil is understood to have proposed that the new government push for controls on imports from the occupied territories on an EU-wide basis.
Sources on both sides say there has been no movement and no agreement on the issue.
Supporters of the Bill have compared it to the ban on goods from apartheid-era South Africa – a characterisation fiercely resisted not just by supporters of Israel but also by some critics of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians as they fear the Bill singles out Israel for special treatment.
Senator Black said that she hoped that Fianna Fáil and the Greens would “hold strong” on the Bill.
She disputed the Attorney General’s legal advice, saying that she and her supporters had presented competing legal advice that the ban could go ahead. “We have an opportunity; we can show leadership.”.
Ms Black also pointed to the imminent Israeli annexation of Jewish settlements on previously Palestinian-held territory in the West Bank, part of the new Israeli government’s programme.
A spokeswoman for the Israeli embassy described the Bill as “the most extreme anti-Israel piece of legislation in the western world” .
“It is a blatant example of the manipulation and cherry-picking of international law to further an anti-Israel political agenda.
“Should it become law in Ireland it would certainly diminish any opportunity which Ireland may have to constructively contribute to the promotion of peace in our region.”