On recognition & partition: Ireland, Israel, & Palestine

Ireland’s decision to recognize Palestinian statehood has gravely disrupted diplomatic relations between Ireland and Israel. The latter condemned the gesture as “a reward for terrorism” perpetrated by Hamas in October and withdrew its ambassador from Dublin.

On May 22, Irish Taoiseach Simon Harris said:

“On the 21st of January 1919 Ireland asked the world to recognize our right to be an independent State. Our ‘Message to the Free Nations of the World’ was a plea for international recognition of our independence, emphasizing our distinct national identity, our historical struggle, and our right to self-determination and justice. Today we use the same language to support the recognition of Palestine as a State.” Read his full statement, which also condemns the Hamas attack and supports the Israeli state.

The recognition has generated a new round of media stories about why the Irish identify so strongly with the Palestinians. Such reports began long before the civilian death toll in Gaza from Israeli military strikes surpassed the number of victims from the Hamas incursion into Israel.

Palestinian flag

Fourteen months before that attack, Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab wrote a piece headlined “Comparing the Palestinian and Irish-Catholic Struggles.” In each case, he wrote, “a powerful force oppressed local indigenous populations in a clearly racist and paternalistic fashion.” He also details their differences with today’s Northern Ireland.

Kuttab noted that U.S. President Joe Biden, during a July 2022 speech in East Jerusalem, compared the Irish-Catholic struggle against Great Britain to the Palestinians against Israel. But the journalist questioned whether Biden, a strong supporter of Israel, is capable of “real and actionable policies related to Israel and the Palestinians.” The Biden administration has criticized Ireland’s recognition of Palestine, which was joined by Spain and Norway. But Ireland enjoys far more attention and goodwill from the U.S. government than the other two European nations.

In late May, a headline in the Jesuit magazine, America, declared, “Ireland recognizes Palestinian statehood: Why many Irish people resonate with the conflict in Palestine.”

Notice for Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign protest against U.S. weapons to Israel being shipped through Ireland. The bill has been delayed.

The piece quotes an Irish documentary filmmaker who says the Irish have a deep cultural memory of British rule and know what being colonized by a stronger neighbor is like more than most nations. The filmmaker has documented the efforts of peace activists to prevent the U.S. military from using Shannon airport in the west of Ireland as a refueling stopover for its Middle East adventurism, including arms shipments to Israel.

Catherine Connolly, an independent member of the Irish parliament, raised the Shannon issue in a May 23 interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! Connolly rejected the suggestion that Ireland’s recognition of Palestine is a prize for terrorism. “This is a step for peace,” she said.

Partition plans

The sectarian and territorial conflicts between the Palestinians and the Israelis parallel those between nationalists and unionists, Catholics and Protestants, in the north of Ireland, as detailed by M.C. Rast at History Today.

Ireland and Palestine: United by Partition?” recounts how British officials in late 1930s planned to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states in much the same way they had divided Ireland along sectarian lines nearly two decades earlier. A British report suggested “the gulf between Arabs and Jews in Palestine is wider than that which separates Northern Ireland from the Irish Free State.”

Rast also quotes Dublin’s Irish Independent newspaper as saying: “Partition is the Englishman’s favorite way out of a difficulty. But it is in itself a confession of failure.”

Economic impact

The economic impact of Ireland’s recognition of Palestine is beginning to take shape. Israel’s national airlines announced it will not renew direct flights to Dublin, which were only launched last year. Irish officials have said its €15 billion sovereign investment fund would divest from six Israeli companies, the Irish Times reported.

Israeli flag

Israel’s trade deficit with Ireland was €4 billion in 2022. Israeli imports totaled €5 billion, seventh largest among trading partners, but less than a quarter of the U.K.-leading €29 billion and U.S. second-place €22 billion.

Just under 600 Israelis lived in Ireland in 2022, according to the Central Statistics Office. The same census return does not indicate the number of Palestinians, while 2016 data showed fewer than 200 Palestinians. There were fewer than 3,000 Jews living in Ireland in 2016 compared to more than 63,000 Muslims. These figures do not include Northern Ireland.

For more on how activists in Ireland are responding to the recognition, visit the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Ireland Israel Alliance.

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