As a small nation, we do not have a lot of power, but we do exercise a great deal of influence on a global scale — signs being that we won a seat on the United Nations Security Council last June, against strong opposition from other countries. We should now use that seat to try to halt the escalating violence in the Middle East — the worst since the 2014 war.
Gaza’s Hamas rulers and other militant groups have fired hundreds of rockets that have at times overwhelmed Israel’s missile defences. In response, the Israelis have levelled two apartment blocks in the Gaza Strip, where 2m Palestinians have lived under a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas took power in 2007. The destruction of apartment blocks in Gaza was among several tactics used during the 2014 war that are now the subject of an investigation by the International Criminal Court into possible war crimes.
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has told the Israeli ambassador that the country’s security forces must “protect all civilians in line with their obligations under international law”.
The Geneva Convention demands that combatants do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties. Neither side appear to be doing so, most notably the Palestinian militants who have fired indiscriminately more than 1,000 rockets into Israeli territory.
While the Israelis claim that their response is targeted, civilians are being killed in Gaza. Israel has sent 80 jets to bomb Gaza, and dispatched infantry and armour to reinforce the tanks already gathered on the border. These actions are dangerous and provocative, evoking memories of the last Israeli ground invasion into Gaza in 2014.
Jilan Abdalmajid, ambassador from the Mission of the State of Palestine, was before the Oireachtas foreign affairs committee on Tuesday, urging Ireland to use its position on the Security Council to push for a resolution condemning the building of Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands. She also accused Israel of continuing to violate the human rights of Palestinians.
The forced resettlement by Israeli forces of Palestinian families in east Jerusalem is, indeed, a human rights issue, but so is the firing of hundreds of rockets by Palestinian militants into Israeli cities. The people of Israel have every right to protect themselves from attack, not just from Hamas but from the Iranians, who are, in many ways, conducting a proxy war against Israel by arming Palestinian militants.
Irish influence should also be used to encourage US president Joe Biden to take a more active role in the Middle East. He needs to more firmly challenge Israeli settlement activity, which makes a peaceful resolution with the Palestinians harder to achieve. He also needs to reinvigorate the two-state solution peace deal.
Bill Clinton hosted an Israeli-Palestinian summit during his first year in the White House, while Barak Obama appointed a Middle East peace envoy on his second full day in office. On his inauguration day, Donald Trump vowed to secure an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. They all failed, but at least they tried.