Israel summoned Irish ambassador Alison Kelly to its Foreign Ministry on Thursday morning to protest her country’s advancement of a bill that would criminalize trade with east Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the West Bank.
The bill mandates that an Irish citizen found guilty of engaging in trade with areas of Israel beyond the pre-1967 lines could be jailed for up to five years and fined up to a quarterof- a-million euros.
The Senate, known as the Seanad Éireann, passed the bill 25-20 in a second reading. It now moves through eight stages that include a committee meeting and a vote in Ireland’s house of representatives, known as the Dáil Éireann. It becomes law only with the signature of the Irish president.
Such a law would mark the first time a European Union member state has banned commercial activity over Israel’s pre- 1967 lines. The EU has issued guidelines for countries wishing to label such goods, but has not taken any steps to ban them.
Palestinians welcomed the vote and called on other European countries to similarly criminalize trade with Israeli settlements.
“This courageous step builds on the historic ties between Ireland and Palestine, as well as showing the way forward for the rest of the European Union,” PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said.
The Foreign Ministry slammed the vote, saying: “The Irish Senate has given its support to a populist, dangerous and extremist anti-Israel boycott initiative that hurts the chances of dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians.”
The legislation would “have a negative impact on the diplomatic process in the Middle East. The absurdity in the Irish Senate’s initiative is that it will harm the livelihoods of many Palestinians who work in the Israeli industrial zones affected by the boycott,” the ministry warned.
“Israel will consider its response in accordance with developments regarding this legislation,” it added.
Irish Independent Party member Senator Frances Black brought the legislative forward initially in January as a private member’s bill.
The bill has wide support among Irish politicians but is opposed by the government, which fears it would prejudice its involvement in any peace efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Still, the Foreign Ministry summoned Kelly in January and again on Thursday.
“I have been called in a number of times. One of the points I always make to the Israelis is that I represent the government and the government opposed the bill in January and it opposed it today,” Kelly told The Jerusalem Post after the vote.
The Irish government is a minority government and doesn’t enjoy a majority in either house, Kelly said. “The bill is focused [solely] on the sale of products from settlements and not on trade within the Green Line.”
“The Irish government has consistently opposed the policy of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions in relation to Israel and we regularly say this publicly,” she said.
Nonetheless, Kelly added: “The government opposed the bill for legal and political reasons but support for it in Ireland is a sign of the deep concern at continued settlement activity, which we believe seriously jeopardizes the prospect for peace and the two-state solution. We firmly oppose all settlement construction. Events on the ground at the moment in Gaza, the demolition of Palestinian homes in the West Bank and announcement of settlement construction renders the task more difficult in opposing the bill.”
Ireland is often one of Israel’s harshest critics with regard to its treatment of Palestinians. But Kelly said that “the scope of the Irish-Israeli relationship is broader than this issue.”
“We will continue to work to foster and to build wider links and to improve positive engagement with Israel in spite of the issues on which we disagree,” she added.
AFTER THE VOTE, Black tweeted an excited message: “Passed! Thank you for all the messages of support. This is a first step, but an important one. Today we state strongly: Ireland will always stand for international humanitarian law, justice & human rights. Onwards.”
During the senate debate that preceded the vote, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said: “I accept the bill would provide a moment of solace and from that perspective, emotionally, I can connect to it, I really can.”
Coveney argued that while the feeling of frustration and helplessness over the plight of the Palestinians has intensified, this bill asks that the government break the European Union’s laws regarding international trade, even though it is bound to abide by those rules given that it is part of the EU trading bloc.
Coveney said that the government remains clear that a ban against settlement products can only be adopted at the EU level, and it would consider such a bill were it proposed by the EU. Ireland is not in the position to declare that goods legally available elsewhere in the EU are banned, he explained.
He noted that it would undermine his capacity to be a foreign minister whom parties involved in the conflict could talk to. “I want Ireland to be at the center of those discussions where they matter,” he said.
Coveney added, “I fear in adopting the bill that we would be choosing to be a principled voice in the wilderness but unable to influence the real action.”
Black told the Senate she believed that EU law allowed for passage of her bill. “We should not trade in war crimes,” she said. “This is the bare minimum of an EU state.”
The legislation states that it gives “effect to the state’s obligations arising under the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and under customary international humanitarian law.”
It explains that it makes it “an offense for a person to import or sell goods or services originating in an occupied territory or to extract resources from an occupied territory in certain circumstances – and to provide for related matters.”
The Ireland Israel Alliance tweeted that the “fundamentally flawed” bill was “exposing the very dark underbelly of antisemitism in Ireland.”
“It’s extremely doubtful whether it will be passed into law because of EU and US legal implications. However, it’s a very sad day for Ireland that it even got this far!” the group tweeted.