Israeli settlements: Seanad diplomacy
Upper house initiative shows momentum towards a real gesture of solidarity with Palestinians
The decision by the US administration of President Donald Trump to drop any pretence of impartiality by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has delighted Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu but produced a stronger case for global solidarity with Palestine. Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
Under a Private Members Bill tabled last week by Independent Senator Frances Black, it would be illegal to purchase goods or services from illegal Israeli settlements. In the short-term at least, the Bill won’t go much further. Senator Black was forced to withdraw it when it became clear that Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney was opposed and that Fianna Fáil would join Fine Gael in voting against if required. Senator Black may have lost the battle, but she has already scored an important victory in the propaganda war. Her initiative drew condemnation from Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who summoned the Irish ambassador in Tel Aviv to hear his protest.
The episode confirms two significant trends. First, Israel is acutely concerned about the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which it argues the Seanad Bill was designed to support, but is notably poor at dealing with it. Earlier this month, Israel blacklisted 20 activist groups that support BDS – a campaign that lobbies businesses, academics and artists to shun Israel – and blocked their members from entering the country. It was a self-defeating move that raised the profile of the movement and betrayed an alarming intolerance of dissent.
Second, the latest parliamentary démarche shows that momentum continues to build in Dublin towards a significant gesture of solidarity with the Palestinians. The most obvious would be recognition of a Palestinian state. The Government favours this in principle but opposes doing so now for the same reason that it opposed the Seanad Bill – it believes the EU should act in unison. But pressure is building. Both the Dáil and Seanad have passed resolutions endorsing the idea and the Trump administration’s decision to drop any pretence of impartiality by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has produced a stronger case for global solidarity with Palestine. Unless the Government can show some progress towards a common EU position in the coming weeks, the pressure for a unilateral move will be irresistible.