The Occupied Territories Bill
The Occupied Territories Bill (OTB), when enacted, will result in a complete ban on the import of goods and services produced in illegal settlements, including from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The Bill is currently before the Irish Parliament, having successfully passed through the Seanad (Upper House of Parliament) and the initial stage in Dáil Éireann (Lower House).
The OTB was initially drafted and promoted by Sadaka following years of political engagement on how best to ensure the Irish Government take a strong stance on Israel’s illegal settlements. In latter years, Sadaka formed a coalition comprising Senator Frances Black, Trócaire, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, SIPTU, GLAN and Christian Aid. This coalition, representing hundreds of thousands of members, played a leading role in securing the progression of the Bill through the Irish legislature.
For the past number of decades Israel has engaged in the systematic colonisation of the Palestinian territory – the West Bank and East Jerusalem – which it has occupied since June, 1967 by transferring its civilian population into settlements that it has built on that territory. This has been done in flagrant violation of international law and to the severe detriment of the Palestinian people.
Israel’s contempt for international law and international condemnation in relation to its settlement building requires that states take steps to compel it to comply with its obligations under international law. To this end Ireland must introduce a ban on trade with Israeli settlements.
Entitlement of Ireland to ban trade with Israeli Settlements under EU Law
Article 24 of EU Regulation 2015/478 on the common rules for imports from non-Member States of the EU allows States to ban the importation of goods from such States “on grounds of public morality, public policy [or] the protection of health and life of humans.”
The same exception applies under Article 36 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union in relation to goods in free circulation within the EU. A prohibition on the importation of settlement goods is arguably justifiable on each of these grounds
Call for Oireachtas to ban trade with Israeli Settlements
Decades of condemnation from the UN and countries across the world of Israeli settlement building, as well as a decision of the International Court of Justice confirming the illegality of this activity, has done absolutely nothing to deter Israel in its effort to colonise the West Bank.
It is patently clear that Israel will only comply with its obligations under international law if the international community compels it to do so. In order to ensure respect for international criminal law and international humanitarian law, and for the Irish law which gives effect to it, and more importantly in the interest of ending the severe hardship caused to Palestinians by Israeli settlements, the Oireachtas should adopt a ban on trade with these settlements.
A number of NGOs support a ban on settlement goods including Amnesty International, ChristianAid and Trócaire in Ireland. So too does the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Although the Bill passed all but one of the necessary stages in both houses of the Oireachtas (Parliament), it was blocked by the current government through a technical mechanism known as the “Money Message” which allows the government to stall enactment of Bills considered to have negative financial consequences.
The power to do this comes from Article 17 of the Irish Constitution which says that no Bill “for the appropriation of revenue or other public moneys” may be enacted unless the Government has first recommended that purpose to the Dáil by a Money Message signed by the Taoiseach.
There is overwhelming support for the Occupied Territories Bill in the Irish population. The 2020 General Election provided a major opportunity to remind politicians of the extent of the support for the Occupied Territories Bill among their constituents. Sadaka mounted a constituency-by-constituency campaign, contacting candidates and asking them their position on the Bill. This was followed by a targeted campaign in which Sadaka supporters throughout the country were encouraged to contact the candidates in their area and reinforce the message that this was an issue which could determine the votes they received. This campaign undoubtedly influenced the inclusion of the Bill in the proposed Programme for Government drawn up after the election.
In a truly historic moment for Palestine, on Thursday January 24th 2019, the Lower House of the Irish Parliament (Dáil Éireann) voted by 78 votes to 45 in favour of the Occupied Territories Bill. The Upper House (Seanad Éireann) already passed the Bill in December 2018. If enacted, the Bill will ban the sale of goods and services originating in illegal Israeli settlements established on stolen Palestinian land. An extraordinary majority of the vote in Dáil Éireann in support of the Occupied Territories Bill.
The Occupied Territories Bill passed the Committee stage in the Seanad. Cross party co-operation and support (with the exception of Fine Gael) this Bill was exemplary. A number of packed public meetings on the Occupied Territories Bill were held around the country over the last few weeks. In Limerick and Cork respectively, Senator Frances Black was joined by Billy Kelleher TD and Niall Collins TD (both Fianna Fáil) to promote support for the Bill.
Minister Simon Coveney and the Government remain opposed to the Bill. This is based on two key arguments: firstly that the Bill is not compatible with EU law and secondly that it would undermine a role he envisages Ireland might play in a resumed Middle East peace process. These positions are not tenable.
On 11th July, Seanad Éireann voted on the Occupied Territories Bill 2018. The Bill passed a second reading with 25 Senators voting for the Bill and and 20 senators, mainly Fine Gael, voting against.
Sadaka, Trócaire, Christian Aid, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Senator Frances Black and other members of the Seanad Civil Engagement Group worked together on this initiative. The Green Party, Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party, Sinn Féin and the Social Democrats all committed their support for this Bill as did a number of independents. That means a majority of TDs and Senators now support it. Unfortunately, the Government is opposing it, claiming it is incompatible with EU law. This is despite the fact that several eminent legal experts – including former Attorney General Senator Michael McDowell and judge on the International Court of Justice Professor James Crawford – have said that EU law does not prevent Member States from banning trade with Israeli settlements.
In 2016, Sadaka called on the Irish Government to use all institutional mechanisms at its disposal, at both domestic and EU level, to implement a number of policies. Among these, Sadaka claimed that “Ireland should seek an EU ban on trade and investment with Israeli colonies/settlements, the construction of which has involved the commission of war crimes by Israel on a massive scale”.