In a surprise move, the Irish Senate on Tuesday postponed voting on a bill that seeks to criminalize the import and sale of settlements goods, hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sharply criticized the proposed legislation.
The government opposed the passing of the the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018, but vowed to revisit and possibly support it before the parliament’s summer break, in the event there is no significant progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
It is currently unclear if and when the bill will again be brought to a vote.
The proposed legislation — a private member bill sponsored by Independent Senator Frances Black — declares it an offense “for a person to import or attempt to import settlement goods.”
Likewise, those who “assist another person to import or attempt to import settlement goods” would be committing a crime punishable with up to five years in prison, if the bill were to become law.
Even if had passed on Tuesday, the bill would still have to clear several additional hurdles before becoming law.
While the bill does not mention Israel and the Palestinian territories, critics have charged that it appears has been written exclusively with the Middle East conflict in mind. A two-hour discussion at the Senate, known in Ireland as the Seanad Éireann, focused almost exclusively on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
All speakers condemned Israeli settlements and alleged human rights abuses, but while supporters of the bill argued that Dublin needs to take action to stop Israel’s alleged misdeeds, opponents posited that the legislation might be problematic from a trade law perspective and could negatively affect the government’s efforts to be seen as a serious player in the conflict.
“Settlement construction is consistently undercutting Palestinians’ hope for the future,” Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said, calling it “unjust and provocative.” However, he added that he opposes boycotts against Israel.
“There are many countries around the world about which we have serious human rights concerns. We do not seek to prevent trade with those countries, except in very rare circumstances, in accordance with decisions at the EU or UN level,” he said.
The US administration’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has led to a situation in which it is “more important than ever” that other countries be perceived has potential players in the peace process, Coveney argued, adding that Dublin would be sidelined if the bill advanced.
Minutes before the Irish Senate started discussing the motion, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement condemning the bill, saying its entire goal is to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and harm the State of Israel.
“The initiative gives backing to those who seek to boycott Israel and completely contravenes the guiding principles of free trade and justice,” his office said in a statement.
Netanyahu also ordered the Foreign Ministry to summon the Irish ambassador in Israel, Alison Kelly.