A prominent US politician has lobbied Irish lawmakers to reject a proposed ban on imports from Israel’s illegal settlements.
Peter King, a member of Congress for New York, is among those who have opposed a bill being debated in Dublin.
Although the bill – aimed at forbidding goods from Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank – seeks to uphold international law, King has depicted it as subversive.
King has tried to convince Fianna Fáil, one of Ireland’s largest parties, to withdraw its support for the proposed ban.
“It is critical that countries and leaders interested in facilitating a lasting peace amongst Israelis and Palestinians not serve to empower the most radical, who have no interest in seeking peace,” King stated in an email message addressed to Fianna Fáil’s team in the Oireachtas, Ireland’s national parliament.
He argued that the proposed ban on settlement goods “does just that by undercutting Palestinians truly interested in peace and empowering Hamas terrorists and recalcitrant Palestinians who refuse even to approach negotiations.”
King’s appeal was made in July and has not been previously reported.
Despite his strong connections with Ireland’s politicians, King could not persuade Fianna Fáil to change its stance. The party’s lawmakers have twice voted in favor of the Occupied Territories Bill, as the proposed ban on settlement goods is known.
Niall Collins, Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on foreign affairs, confirmed that King had been in contact with the party. Collins added that staff from the US embassy in Dublin had visited him “a couple of times,” urging him to oppose the bill.
During a trip to the West Bank in the summer, Collins was taken aback by the scale of Israel’s settlement activities.
“I struggle to see how a two-state solution can ever be achieved because of the whole proliferation of the settlements,” Collins told The Electronic Intifada. “The whole West Bank now is so fragmented that I struggle to see how that pipe dream can occur.”
The position taken by Fianna Fáil has proven vital towards having the bill approved by the Seanad, the upper house in the Oireachtas. Nominally in opposition, Fianna Fáil is enabling the work of a minority government led by its rival Fine Gael through a “confidence and supply” arrangement.
Whereas Fine Gael has tried to torpedo the Occupied Territories Bill, Fianna Fáil has backed it.
Fianna Fáil has previously proven accommodating to the US elite. While in government, it allowed the US to refuel military planes in Shannon Airport at the time of the 2003 war against Iraq.
But on the issue of Israel’s settlement goods, Fianna Fáil has listened to public opinion.
Collins acknowledged that he was unaware of the depth of Irish empathy for the Palestinians until he became his party’s foreign affairs spokesperson earlier this year.
“I was very surprised at the time,” he said. “But I understand now that Palestine is a huge issue for people in Ireland.”
The arguments made by Peter King smack of double standards. His use of the term “terrorists” to describe Palestinian resistance fighters is at odds with how he has previously defended Irish republicans involved in an armed struggle.
Although he suggests that Hamas should be isolated, King encouraged dialogue with Irish republicans at a time when the British government was refusing to deal with them. He has taken credit for persuading Bill Clinton, then US president, to issue a visa for Gerry Adams, then leader of the political party Sinn Féin, in 1994.
Adams’ visit to New York is widely recognized as having helped to advance the Irish peace process.
Equally, King is wrong to assert that a ban on settlement goods would undercut Palestinians “truly interested in peace.” His argument overlooks how Israel’s apartheid system – including its relentless colonization of the West Bank – is the primary obstacle to peace and justice.
The ban being considered in Ireland aims to make Israel pay a price for its settlement activities. Under the terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention, building settlements in a territory acquired by force is a war crime.
In the recent past, King has proven to be an especially reactionary member of Congress. He has, for example, supported President Donald Trump’s attempts to prevent residents of seven largely Muslim countries from entering the US.
King did not respond to a request for comment.
Inspired by a strike
Advocates of the ban on settlement goods have drawn inspiration from a strike by staff of the Irish retailer Dunnes Stores in the 1980s. By refusing to handle South African goods, the Dublin strikers made a significant contribution to an international campaign that would ultimately result in sanctions being imposed on Pretoria’s apartheid government.
“We are being watched from all over the world,” said Frances Black, the Irish senator who formally proposed the Occupied Territories Bill. “If this legislation gets through here in Ireland, I have no doubt that other countries will follow suit – just like what happened with the Dunnes Stores workers in Dublin.”
Black, also a well-known singer, has been touring Ireland over the past few months to promote a ban on Israeli settlement goods.She has been critical of the uncooperative response from Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign minister and a leading figure in the Fine Gael party.
Coveney’s claims that – as a European Union member – Ireland may not unilaterally ban Israel’s settlement goods have been disputed by a number of lawyers. The lawyers insist that individual countries are entitled to restrict trade for reasons of public policy.
“I think the Irish government is probably fearful of Ireland leading on this,” said Black. “They are fearful of what the European Union and the United States might say. They said the same thing with the Dunnes Stores workers – that we couldn’t lead on this – but I’m saying that we can lead on this and that the people of Ireland want this.”
Ciaran Tierney is a journalist based in Galway, Ireland. Website: ciarantierney.com.