As the new Israeli government moves to illegally annex yet more Palestinian land, anyone who has been following the fate of the Occupied Territories Bill will have seen it emerge as one of the principle sticking points in the ongoing Irish government formation negotiations.
If made law, the Bill would ban trade with illegal settlements in recognised occupied territories. In terms of Palestine, this would see an end to imports from Israeli entities in occupied Palestine and Syria.
THE LONG JOURNEY TOWARD JUSTICE
It’s been quite the journey for the Bill, first introduced by Senator Frances Black in 2018.
At present the Bill is supported by all parties in the Oireachtas, with the sole exception of Fine Gael, which has been a consistent opponent of the Bill during the term of the minority government, despite the bill being approved by the Seanad, and passing both its initial reading in the Dáil, and the Committee Stage.
Despite this overwhelming support, in order to prevent it becoming law, Fine Gael put the kibosh on the Bill by using the obscure Money Message mechanism; an undemocratic process by which the government of the day can refuse to enact any piece of legislation if it is deemed to require the use of state finances – in other words, any law that has been voted for by the majority of TDs but which the government does not wish to pass.
That’s where the Bill stood as we headed into the 2020 general election, and during that election all parties, Fine Gael excepted, pledged to enact it if in government.
And this is where we find the Bill today – one of several points of contention in the negotiations between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party, and opposed only by a party that garnered barely 20% of the popular vote.
So far, both Fianna Fáil and the Greens have remained firm in their commitment to making it part of the Program for Government, while Fine Gael has continued its flat out rejection – while continuing to, at least formally, acknowledge that both the settlements and Israel’s plan to annex yet more Palestinian land are illegal and that something must be done.
LEGISLATION IS A LEGAL NECESSITY
The argument Fine Gael use is primarily that the Bill would be in violation of EU trade laws. To make this argument they rely on the unpublished opinion of the current Attorney General, Seamus Wolfe – and have denied parties or the public access to this opinion for over two years.
However, several eminent jurists and legal scholars argue the exact opposite, including Michael Lynn SC, James Crawford SC, Professor Takis Tridimas and former Attorney General Michael McDowell.
Indeed, legal scholars maintain that this legislation is actually a legal obligation required to bring Ireland into compliance with its duty to non-recognition of and non-assistance to serious breaches of international law; in this regard the Bill is supported by current and former UN Special Rapporteurs for the Human Rights in Palestine Michael Lynk, John Dugard and Richard Falk.
There are secondary, more political, arguments that Fine Gael use – such as the Bill lessening Ireland’s influence with Israel (leverage which has been so immense in the past, apparently) – but the mainstay of their opposition is ostensibly based in perceived legal problems, and particularly that of the current Attorney General.
Of course, as we know from the experience with Ireland’s ban on imports from Apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, the advice of one AG can be overwritten by that of their successor. Then-AG Peter Sutherland argued that a ban would contravene EEC law, but his successor AG John Rogers argued the opposite, and Ireland in fact became the first EEC country to introduce such a ban setting a major precedent.
Today in Ireland we have a real chance to pass this equally historic legislation in support of oppressed peoples.
A STRONG COLLECTIVE CAMPAIGN GOT THE BILL THIS FAR
Of course, the Bill didn’t get this far on its own – its progress down to two and half years of amazing work by Sen. Frances Black and her office, Niall Collins TD who introduced it into the Dáil, and is a testament to the tireless lobbying and mobilisation work of civil society organisations such as Sadaka, the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Trocaire, Christian Aid, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and Palestinian groups like Al Haq and BADIL.
But most of all, the main driver of this Bill’s progress has been the general public, who have made their support widely known – so much so that the Bill was coming up on the doorsteps during the general election.
Despite Fine Gael’s continued opposition, all of us who have worked on this campaign firmly believe that we can still push it across the line – but we need to up the political pressure on Fine Gael in particular, but also to let Fianna Fáil and the Greens know that their stance is popular and supported.
Indeed, with Israel’s plan to annex some 30% more of the West Bank next month going virtually unopposed by the international community, we cannot abandon the Palestinian people at this critical time.
Source: Unite for a real solidarity.