Tuesday 18 September 2018

Cabinet decides not to recognise Palestine despite Gaza deaths

Restraint: Simon Coveney. Photo: PA
Restraint: Simon Coveney. Photo: PA

Kevin Doyle Group - Political Editor

Ministers have discussed the possibility of recognising the state of Palestine within weeks, but the proposal was ultimately rejected by Tánaiste Simon Coveney.

Independent Minister Finian McGrath wanted the Government to put a plan in place that would see the region formally acknowledged by Ireland.

Sources described the debate as "lively" as ministers expressed outrage over the killing of dozens of people along the Gaza border.

Mr McGrath is understood to have called on the Government to honour a commitment in the Programme for Government to recognise the state of Palestine.

But he was told the promise was made in the context of Palestine being "part of a lasting settlement of the conflict", which has not yet been achieved.

Mr Coveney met with Israeli ambassador Ze'ev Boker in advance of the Cabinet meeting to express "Ireland's shock and dismay at the level of death and injury on the Gaza Strip".

He also called for restraint from Israel in the hours and days ahead.

However, the Tánaiste stopped short of taking any direct diplomatic action.

The Dáil heard several calls for Mr Boker to be expelled from the country, but Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said this would be counter-productive.

"Our view as a Government is that we solve conflict through dialogue. In this country, just over 20 years ago, it was necessary to engage in dialogue with terrorists in order to bring about peace on this island. That had to be done and it was the right thing to do," the Taoiseach said. "For these reasons we will not be recalling the Irish ambassador or expelling the Israeli ambassador.

"We will continue to engage with Israel and Palestine and try to be part of a future peace process. We will also act through the United Nations."

He noted that the violence in Gaza is likely to feature highly on the agenda of an EU Council meeting in Sofia today and tomorrow.

Sinn Féin said it was "not enough to simply symbolically call in the Israeli ambassador".

Pearse Doherty told the Dáil that the Government was quick to expel a Russian diplomat based on information from UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

"We need an even more robust response in this scenario," he said. "The Palestinian people need our solidarity now more than ever. This could be one of the bloodiest episodes we have ever witnessed if we continue to stand idly by.

"The Government must take action. It must also recognise the state of Palestine."

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said the Government should seek to influence the EU approach to the situation.

He said Palestinian people had been "cut down by snipers" for protesting and it is a "shocking reality for the whole world to address".

"For most right-thinking people, it made our blood run cold," he said. "I think it's time for Ireland to make a stand."

Mr Howlin said the Government should be seeking to act alongside the EU but if that isn't possible then we "have to consider what we do independently".

Fianna Fáil's Niall Collins said the EU and United Nations "cannot stand back and let this further escalate".

"All the hand-wringing in the world will not solve this issue. Those of us in the European Union who desperately want a peaceful Middle East must be willing to step up to the mark to act as a counter-balancing force to the one-sided approach of the current US administration," Mr Collins said.

"The Trump administration is now part of the problem. It has a blinkered view of the Middle East that must be counteracted by a balanced EU response."

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett described the international response as "shameful" while Israel is perpetrating a "cold-blooded massacre".

Irish Independent

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