The Irish senate has voted in favor of a bill banning the importation of products from illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, paving the way for the country to become the first EU nation to enforce a boycott of Israeli settlement goods.
The bill, which passed on Wednesday in the upper house of the Irish parliament, the Seanad, will need to make its way through more Seanad votes and then the lower house before becoming law.
The bill passed with 25 lawmakers voting in its favor, 20 against it and 14 abstaining.
Palestinian officials and activists supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement hailed the move as courageous.
Hanan Ashrawi of the PLO Executive Committee released a statement after the vote saying she was “truly honored to extend our sincere appreciation of and deep gratitude to the Seanad Éireann who took a courageous and principled stand in support of peace, justice, and morality.”
Ashrawi praised the “historical friendship and solidarity between both the Palestinian and Irish peoples,” adding that the legislation bears great significance for Palestine, particularly in the context of Ireland’s firm commitment to defending social justice, equality and freedom and the rights of the oppressed, including the Palestinians, a people in captivity and exile.”
She went on to implore other EU countries and the international community to follow in Ireland’s path “to hold Israel accountable and to act on their declared principles and policies by banning all settlement products and beginning a process of de-occupation in Palestine.”
While the bill calls only for the boycott of the importation of goods produced in Israeli settlements, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed it “gives a tailwind to those who seek to boycott Israel and is utterly contrary to the principles of free trade and justice”. The bill does not ban all Israeli products.
According to the Irish Times, the EU has estimated that settlement goods make up about one percent of the €50 million annual imports from Israel to the country, at €500,000.
The Irish government, however, estimated in 2012 that the figure stood closer to €1.5 million.
The Irish Times highlighted that many fruits and vegetables imported from Israel come from the settlements, specifically Medjool dates. The dates are farmed by settlers in Jericho, famous in Palestine for its dates, on occupied Palestinian land.
According to the newspaper, if enacted into law, regulating settlement goods may prove difficult for the country, given reports of Israeli settlement companies bypassing EU labeling regulations by bringing products from settlement farms to processing facilities inside Israel proper, from where they are labeled and shipped out.
“By using such tactics, exporters can present their goods as ‘made in Israel’, thereby enjoying preferential access to the EU’s markets,” the Irish Times reported.
The Israeli government, which slammed the bill as “populist, dangerous and extremist,” has increased its measures to combat the BDS movement, as it has expanded to include companies, universities, and religious institutions around the world divesting from organizations complicit in Israel’s violation of Palestinian rights.
Despite previous pressure from Israel on Ireland to kill the legislation, the Irish lawmaker behind the bill, Frances Black, said in a statement prior to the vote that “trade in settlement goods sustains injustice”.
“In the occupied territories, people are forcibly kicked out of their homes, fertile farming land is seized, and the fruit and vegetables produced are then sold on Irish shelves to pay for it all,” she said, adding that “settlements are war crimes, and it’s time for Ireland to show some leadership and refuse to support them.”