Ireland’s Gerry Adams comes out for partition (of Palestine)

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, 4 December.

Shadi Hatem APA images

Last week Gerry Adams, president of the Irish republican party Sinn Féin, visited present-day Israel and the occupied West Bank. Israeli occupation authorities barred him from a planned visit to besieged Gaza.

Adams met with Yitzhak Herzog, leader of Israel’s Labor Party, historically among the more culpable for the ethnic cleansing and colonization of Palestine, but which is still seen as “dovish” in the eyes of the uninformed.

He also met with Mahmoud Abbas, de facto leader of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, who has declared that he considers “coordination” (many Palestinians call it collaboration) with the Israeli occupation forces to be “sacred.”

To his credit, Adams has made strong statements regarding Israel’s summer attack on Gaza and there’s no doubt rank and file supporters of Sinn Féin have been among the most dedicated campaigners for Palestinian rights in Ireland.

But now that he is back on Irish soil, we are seeing the fruits of Adams’ travel: he is proposing a resolution on Palestine in Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Irish parliament, the Oireachtas – where he represents County Louth in the Republic of Ireland.

According to a statement from Sinn Féin, the party will this week put forward a motion “calling on the government to officially recognize the State of Palestine on the basis of the 1967 borders as established in UN resolutions.”

For reasons I explained with respect to similar moves in Sweden, the UK and France, such recognition of a Palestinian “state” does not amount to full support for Palestinian rights, but simply reaffirms the partition of historic Palestine and legitimizes Israeli apartheid and Jewish sectarianism.

The so-called “two-state solution” is a means to rescue Israeli apartheid at the expense of the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinian refugees who under its terms must be permanently barred from returning home in order to guarantee a violently gerrymandered Jewish majority.

The “two-state solution” is advocated today primarily by those who support Israel’s “right to exist as a Jewish state,” which in practice means a “right” to be racist.

Such resolutions also serve as a substitute for real pressure and action: why does Sinn Féin’s parliamentary motion lack any reference to, say, a European arms embargo on Israel, or support for the campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS)? It should be noted that although the resolution doesn’t mention it, Sinn Féin as a party has called for an arms embargo on Israel. The party also passed a motion at its 2013 national conference backing the Palestinian call for BDS.

That such “recognition” proposals come out from conventional European politicians is no surprise, but for such a proposal to come from Sinn Féin – once called the “political wing of the IRA” – is an absolute travesty.

Sinn Féin calls itself the “All-Ireland” party, operating north and south of the British-imposed partition line. It has historically fought to end the sectarian partition of Ireland which was carried out to assure the continued rule in the north of Protestants descended from English and Scottish settlers.

No one needs to give Adams any lessons on the terror that Irish nationalists, the vast majority Catholics, experienced under this racist and sectarian regime. It was only after all efforts at peaceful change were violently suppressed that some in the Irish Republican movement returned, in the late 1960s and 1970s, to an armed struggle imposed on them through British and unionist intransigence.

“The right of Palestinians to self-determination and to have their own state as well as the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure borders is unquestionable,” Sinn Féin now declares.

But of course the partition of Palestine was just as much a gross violation of the rights of self-determination of the Palestinian people as was the partition of Ireland of the Irish people’s rights.

Palestinian rights are not synonymous with having a national state, otherwise Adams should never have fought to end the partition of Ireland.

Rather, he should have accepted decades ago that Northern Ireland is the legitimate “Protestant state for a Protestant people” – as an infamous Northern Ireland ruler once put it – while the Republic in the south is the “state of the Catholic people.”

Sinn Féin did not, and does not accept that. The 1998 Belfast Agreement that Adams himself negotiated recognizes no such right to sectarian statehood in Ireland, but allows for the abolition of Northern Ireland if referendums call for it (I discuss this at greater length than I can here in my book The Battle for Justice in Palestine and in a 2010 paper for the Palestinian think-tank Al-Shabaka.)

Why now does Adams call for the sectarian partition of historic Palestine and the recognition of a Palestinian statelet or bantustan on a fraction of its territory? Why does he affirm that Israel, a racist and sectarian colonial “state” founded on the ongoing destruction of an existing country, has a “right to exist”? His stance today is a betrayal of Irish history too.

Palestinians are struggling for all their rights and only when Palestinians achieve those rights can there be peace with justice for all who today live in historic Palestine. The question for Adams is: will he back them?

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Well said Ali. I think Gerry probably favours the concept of Palestinians having sovereign control over their territories and relates that to Ireland having sovereign control over Northern Ireland. He probably doesn't fully understand the complexity of the two state solution.

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I think that recognition of Palestine is at least a good first step. Also, to stay on people's good side I'd avoid putting the IRA in such a good light. Catholics here in Ireland don't even do that.

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Vinny, a better explanation would be that Adams and co. identify with Fatah and Abbas and their willingness to exchange a democratic, secular Palestine for the chance to rule a kind of pair of bantustans. Having subordinated themselves to the Brits in Ireland, they now favour the Palestinian leaders subordinating themselves to Israel.

The PFLP continues the struggle in Palestine just as organisations like eirigi continue the struggle in Ireland.

Phil

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I think that's a very generous reading Vinny. It's been very clear for some time that 'new' SF is trying hard to navigate a dilemma of its own making: on the one hand responding to widespread revulsion among its core supporters against the recurrent slaughter being carried out by Israeli forces and on the other being extremely careful not to overstep the boundaries of American pilicy in the region. Don't forget that SF now plays a role in US-sponsored 'conflict resolution' right around the world including--incredibly--in Baghdad at the height of US occupation. The same dilemma marked their involvement in the protests against the Gaza onslaught last summer: their rank and file wanted to mobilise, but the party was careful not to step on the wrong toes. Thus not a single SF banner on the 3000 strong March to the U.S. consulate in Belfast. And strangely their billboards around Belfast read 'palestine: stop the persecution' but NOT 'stop the occupation'. Their retreat is obvious, and disgusting, and consistent w their transformation into a safe pair of hands in all matters, foreign and domestic.

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Sinn Fein has accepted British rule over the six north-eastern counties of Ireland, thereby essentially accepting a two-state solution through partition. Those who oppose continued British rule and partition are now called 'traitors' by the Sinn Fein leadership, and accused of being 'anti-peace'. Sinn Fein also supports a police force with access to some of the most draconian and repressive legislation in Europe; a force which is largely controlled by Britain's MI5 and which can deploy covert British military forces such as the Special Reconnaisance Regiment whenever required. As a coalition partner in the six county administration, it has implemented austerity programmes which have seen over £1.5 billion of cuts in recent years to essential public services such health, education, etc., and will implement a further similar amount of cuts to public services over the next 4-5 years.
Both SF and the PA are well-matched to one and other. Both appear to be more interested in seeking and maintaining the small vestiges of powers bestowed upon them by their respective colonial masters than in achieving real freedom, real justice and real peace in either Ireland or Palestine.

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I think this is very interesting, I think you are being very harsh on a leader of people who respect and support Palestine, I understand your frustration completely, and I believe George Galloway has the same argument that Israel don't have a right to exist therefor recognising Palestine means recognising Israel, I believe Gerry Adams is trying to give Palestine an official state name so the International community will see that Palestine is being wrongly treated, AND THAT THEY CAN ACT UPON ISRAEL'S ILLEGAL ACTIONS.
You could have easily said this to him yourself in an email etc. And I am sure he would be happy to respond. Good post, but It is only to a certain extent that you can make a similarity between the Republican Cause in Ireland and the Palestinian cause, yes to a certain amount I agree 100% that they are similar, but it is not identical and calling Adams a betrayer of Irish history makes no sense. Also, The Dáil Éireann is not the lowest house of the Government, it's the highest, the Oireachtas is the entire government, and Seanad Éireann is the lower house. Please be more factual.

Ali Abunimah's picture

Hi Cárthach, Many thanks for your comments. I don’t think I was personally disrespectul to Mr. Adams, and certainly not to his members, who I acknowledge to be at the forefront of Palestine solidarity in Ireland. Sinn Féin members are out there standing with Palestinians every day and I recognize and deeply appreciate that. But Mr. Adams is a politician whose job is to take political positions. It’s quite okay to disagree with those. For me, this is an issue of fundamental and existential importance and the strength of my argument reflects that. I believe that Mr. Adams ought to know there are strong arguments against the course he has taken. I doubt he hasn’t heard these arguments before and I do think he’s smart enough to understand them. As for comparing Palestine and Ireland, there are of course differences, but this one cannot be elided: Northern Ireland and Israel were created as violently gerrymandered states to give one group — a settler group — power over a dispossessed indigenous people. If we call that illegitimate and a violation of self-determination in Ireland, how can Mr. Adams turn around and argue that it is right in Palestine?

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Oh dear Cárthach. You're getting some very basic stuff completely wrong. The Dáil is the lower house of the Oireachtas, the Seanad is the upper house of the Oireachtas - the equivalents of the House of Commons and House of Lords being the lower and upper houses of the British Parliament respectively. The government consists only of cabinet ministers, a small group of about 15 heads of department, all of whom are TDs elected to the Dáil but otherwise the government is constitutionally distinct from either house of the Oireachtas. Please be more factual.

Besides this, comment is free so the Electronic Intifada, just like everyone else, has every right to be publicly critical of Adams. Suggesting that these arguments should have been put to Adams in an email and kept private is ridiculous. Is that how you think debate should be conducted in an open society? Holding Adams above reproach is the typical SF response to any criticism of the leadership. Adams has the same right to be publicly criticised as any representative in a democratic society.

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Gerry Adams' endorsement of Zionism comes as no surprise to observers familiar with Sinn Fein's style of government in the power-sharing arrangements in Northern Ireland. And today, as polls in the Republic record a surge in SF support, with the prospect of a coalition role in the next Irish government, the party's leaders are following in the footsteps of Fianna Fail, the right-wing populist movement that rose to power from outlaw status in the Civil War. Adams' opportunistic endorsement of left initiatives such as the current anti-privatisation campaign against Irish Water is just one example of a deeply conservative party probing the weaknesses in a rotten political system in order not to initiate real reform, but to gain power in an old, familiar way. Support for the utterly moribund and cynical "two state solution" in Israel/Palestine is entirely consistent with the self-serving attitude of Adams and co. In calling for partition, he is speaking to his American funders and key institutions, the great bulk of them located on the right wing of the imperialist spectrum.

This article is most welcome in bringing to readers' attention the contradictions of Sinn Fein's policy on the issue of Palestine, when contrasted with the high-minded rhetoric given out by the party in carefully crafted position papers. Thanks, Ali, for the analysis.

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Gerry Adams's step was good for Palestine. It was not great. It was not perfect. But we should recognize and support actions that are good instead of waiting for perfection to drop from the skies.

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I am in favor of the only logical solution for the conflict: one secular democratic state where Palestinians and Israelis live together in peace. Yet, in many European countries, and certainly in a country like mine, Netherlands, which is extremely zionism-oriented, discussing 'the recognition of Palestine' would be a big step ahead compared to the no--discussion at present. Here in Holland, Palestinians in general are offhandedly branded 'terrorists' (also because they are muslims). Once 'Palestine' is recognized, debate will inevitably move on cause eyes will open to the impossibility of a two-state 'solution', since there will be no 'Palestine' entity left. Or am I naive?

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Given that Ireland is about the 137th country to recognise Palestine as a state, I wonder why Ali hasnt seen fit to write articles slamming all the other countries and their Politicians, instead he personally goes after Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams, Hmmm, agenda....

Ali Abunimah's picture

Hi Maeve,

I’ve consistently opposed the recognition bids and have spoken out using my social media accounts every time it has come up, in Sweden, the UK and France among others. As for articles I would refer you to my widely circulated post: ”By recognizing ‘State of Palestine,’ Sweden could harm Palestinians.”

Also see my article ”Recognising Palestine?” from 2011 at Al Jazeera.

So your contention that I’ve been silent about all the other cases, but decided to pick on Gerry Adams is completely without merit. Having said that, I do think that Adams’ support for sectarian partition is especially egregious and baffling given what Sinn Féin stands for in Ireland. That’s a substantive argument and that’s the case I make in the article. I challenge you to try to refute my arguments rather than to plead that there is some sort of foul. Mr. Adams has a position and I have a position. Which one of us do you think has the more convincing argument?

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Speaking as a revolutionary Marxist, who at present sees only merit in a one-state perspective for Palestine, that is, one where Palestinian arab AND Israeli jew (workers and poor) unite along their more prescient class connectivity against their common enemy eg. Imperialism and self-satisfied bourgeois nationalism, Gerry Adams shows, by mirroring, his own limitations on the Irish social question in agreeing to the creation of an entrenched border post to postpone a working class reckoning with the class enemy. Of course, a socialist Palestine itself cannot be considered as a long-term separate entity from either the other bordered, worker masses of the middle east, north Africa or even Europe.

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The Adams leadership has been headed down this road for a long time. They welcomed the agreement that set up the PA when it was clear that this was very similar to the establishment of the Free State, but with even less sovereignty than the Free State had. I was a member of SF at the time and it was one of the early warning signs for me of where that leadership was heading. SF didn't have to say anything but a statement was released in Tom Hartley's name (he was SF gen-sec at the time) welcoming the very thing that republicans had opposed in Ireland in 1921 and fought a civil war to try to prevent. I drew the conclusion that if they thought this was so good for the Palestinians then, logically, the must think some form of 'internal settlement' would be OK in the north of Ireland.

Regarding SF participation in Palestinian solidarity in Ireland. Are they really that active? I would've thought a group like eirigi was much more active in Palestinian solidarity. Also, Adams these days has to keep all that American money happy and those folks are not exactly keen on the Palestinian cause.

Phil

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If we look at the wider question Partition, be it in Palestine or Ireland or India, is an imperialist 'solution' to the divisions it itself has created. It freezes those confessional/religious divisions and far from being a simple first step towards a final solution - as it is often sold as - becomes an impediment to any solution.

Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein has sold the pass on the Irish Question in order that he and Sinn Fein can get their hands on the trappings of power. It can and will do nothing for the nationalist population nor to foster unity between Protestant and Cath olics. The divisions are still there because the only reason for the 6 County State is as a Protestant Supremacist state.

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Should we encourage our MEPs to vote in favour of this - a state 'alongside Israel'? The recognition of Palestine as a political entity feels like a step forward, but would it actually just be a step towards an unjust solution?