‘Very challenging’ to get EU to agree to suspend Israel trade deal - Tánaiste

Micheál Martin was speaking in Brussels after Ireland and Spain requested review of accord

Micheál Martin has called on the European Commission to state that funding will continue to Unwra.

It will be very difficult to get the required agreement of all 27 European Union member states to suspend the bloc’s trade deal with Israel, Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said after Ireland and Spain requested a review of the accord.

In a joint letter with Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez last week Taoiseach Leo Varadkar asked the European Commission to review as a matter of urgency the trade agreement to see whether Israel was in breach of its human rights clauses.

Any decision to suspend the deal, which underpins Israel’s heavy reliance on the EU for trade, would require the unanimous agreement of all 27 member states.

“It will be very challenging, and some will not agree with the Irish and Spanish position,” Mr Martin told reporters as he arrived at a meeting of fellow EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday.


One or two EU countries are still blocking an EU agreement to sanction extremist Israeli settlers in the West Bank who have been violently driving out Palestinian residents of the occupied territory, he said.

The United States and the United Kingdom have already imposed such sanctions on extremist settlers, but the issue has been held up in the EU since foreign ministers first considered it late last year, with Hungary and the Czech Republic wielding their vetoes.

Mr Martin has also called on the European Commission to clearly declare that funding will continue to Unwra, the United Nations aid agency that is the main source of humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip and which provides the backbone of many social services.

Several EU countries suspended funding after Israel accused some Unwra staff of involvement in the October 7th Hamas attacks that precipitated its invasion of Gaza, which has killed almost 29,000 people according to the local death count.

Ireland, Spain, and Portugal have announced increased funding to the agency to try to make up a shortfall due to the suspension of funding, including by the United States and UK, that is threatening to force it to shut down operations.

The EU is one of Unrwa’s largest donors, and the European Commission has said funding will depend on the outcome of an investigation of the allegations.

Mr Martin said that aside from its role in distributing emergency relief, it would be impossible to provide education in Gaza without the agency and that it would be required to provide social services once the conflict is over.

“The world is shocked” at the “level of inhumanity” within Gaza and “opinions have evolved” as well among EU foreign ministers with the “vast majority” now wanting an end to the violence, Mr Martin said.

He expressed hope that work for a ceasefire can “gain momentum ... for the sake of the ordinary people of Gaza who are living hell on Earth at the moment”.

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Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times