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Palestine & Israel

What you need to know about the Occupied Territories Bill

1. What is the Occupied Territories Bill?

The Control of Economic Activities (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 is a piece of proposed legislation. If enacted, it would ban trade between Ireland and Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank. The Bill was introduced by Senator Frances Black and is supported by Trócaire and other leading human rights organisations.

2. Does this Bill only affect Israel?

If enacted, the legislation would apply to territories where there is a clear international legal consensus on the status of the occupation. As it stands, only the occupied Palestinian territories have been confirmed as occupied by the International Court of Justice. However, this Bill allows for other territories to be included so long as there is consensus between the Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade and both houses of the Oireachtas.

3. Would this result in a boycott of Israel?

No, this Bill does not implement a boycott of Israeli goods, or single out Israel. It only bans the import and sale of goods produced in settlements that are illegal under international law. As such, this legislation differentiates between Israel and the illegal settlements in the West Bank. This distinction is already made by governments around the world and is long-standing policy of both Ireland and the European Union.

4. What are the settlements and why are they important?

Settlements are Israeli residential, agricultural and business developments built in the West Bank. In other words, they are built on land outside Israel’s internationally recognised borders. Palestinian communities are forcibly removed from their land in order to make way for these illegal settlements.

Under international criminal law, the transfer by a State of its civilian population into a territory it has militarily occupied is a war crime. Importantly, it is also a crime under Irish law, no matter where in the world it is committed.

Today there are more than 500,000 Israeli settlers living across the occupied West Bank, including east Jerusalem. Settlements control more than 42% of the West Bank’s land and the majority of its water and natural resources.

The European Union’s position is absolutely clear: Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory are “illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible”. Despite this, EU states, including Ireland, continue to make the settlements financially viable.

5. How much trade is there between Ireland and the settlements?

It is difficult to put a precise figure on it but the Trading Away Peace report found that the EU imports approximately 15 times more from the illegal settlements as it does from Palestine.

Imports to Ireland from Israel from January to October last year were around €50m (€231m exports, €50m imports). Working on the EU estimate that settlement goods make up about 1% of this, the total value would be €500k, while a Government estimate from 2012 put it at around €1.5m. The level of uncertainty makes it difficult to be precise, but we can estimate that roughly €1m of settlement goods are imported to Ireland each year.

Regardless of the level of trade, this legislation is hugely powerful and symbolic because it would see Ireland finally taking concrete action to oppose continued illegal settlement expansion. It would align Ireland’s trading policy with its political policies and embed international law in our trading relationships.

6. Why is Trócaire supporting this legislation?

Trócaire wants all the people of Israel and Palestine to live in peace and security. We believe it is an injustice for innocent families to be evicted from their homes and land to make way for illegal settlements. We stand in support of international law and for the principles of peace and justice. Find out more about Trócaire’s work in Israel and Palestine.

7. Is this Bill compatible with EU law?

Trade rules are generally uniform across all EU member states. However, exceptions are granted where they can be justified “on grounds of public morality, public policy or public security, and the protection of health and life of humans”.

The legal basis of the Bill and its permissibility under EU law are confirmed by two formal legal opinions: the first from Michael Lynn, Senior Counsel in Ireland, and the second from Professor James Crawford of the University of Cambridge, Senior Counsel in the UK and one of the most eminent authorities on international law worldwide. The Bill was also drafted by the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Advisor (OPLA) of the Houses of the Oireachtas.

8. What happens next?

The bill has progressed through the Seanad and some stages of the Dáil, but will need support from newly elected Dáil members after the election to become law.

The Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 was passed in full by Seanad Éireann in 2018, and passed its first vote in Dáil Éireann in early 2019. It was then sent for detailed scrutiny in the Oireachtas Select Committee on Foreign & Affairs and Trade. This review took place over several months, hearing from expert testimony and input, and in December 2019 the Committee also voted in favour of the bill.

However, before becoming law it needs to go back to the Dáil for final votes, which can be resumed after the general election.

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