In a journey marked by stark contrasts, Irish Tánaiste Micheál Martin embarked on a diplomatic mission to the Middle East, with the second day of his visit to the Palestine revealing a considerably warmer reception compared to the previous day’s stopover in territories occupied by Israel.
During his time in Jerusalem, the Irish delegation experienced an occasionally chilly reception from their Israeli hosts, which was widely perceived as a response to the Tánaiste’s (Deputy Prime Minister) criticisms of Israeli settler violence and Ireland’s perceived leniency in condemning attacks on Palestinians.
However, the mood shifted dramatically during Martin’s visit to Palestinian-controlled areas in the occupied West Bank, where he was not only greeted with warmth but also presented with generous gestures of appreciation.
This warm reception is perhaps unsurprising, considering that Palestinians theoretically governing some parts of the West Bank, receive substantial financial support from Irish Aid, particularly in the field of education.
Investing in Education
The impact of this funding became evident during Martin’s first stop of the day at a technical school for girls and young women in Ramallah. An honor guard comprising young students welcomed the Tánaiste, who took the time to engage with each of them before venturing inside to witness firsthand how Irish financial assistance is being utilized.
At the school, students were actively engaged in various vocational courses, including coding, hairdressing, and dressmaking. These skills hold the promise of employment opportunities for Palestinian females.
The Irish delegation received a warm embrace from the students, who appeared unfazed by the presence of dignitaries. One student noted that visits by European Union officials were a regular occurrence, emphasizing the importance of education for both Ireland’s economic recovery and Palestine’s future development.
Supporting Palestinian Development
Martin underscored the significance of education in lifting Ireland out of economic stagnation, expressing his belief that it would play a similar pivotal role in Palestine.
However, the visit was not devoid of challenging discussions. During his visit to the Palestinian Authority’s headquarters, Martin paid his respects at the tomb of the late leader Yasser Arafat and met with his successor, the 87-year-old Mahmoud Abbas.
The Tánaiste raised concerns with Abbas regarding the prolonged delay in holding Palestinian elections, which have not occurred since 2006. Martin stressed that this democratic deficit was unacceptable and underscored the importance of taking risks for the pursuit of peace, drawing parallels with the Northern Ireland peace process.
Later, the delegation received briefings from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Palestinian charities supported by Ireland. The somber news was that Palestinian casualties caused by Israelis had increased significantly, with 174 fatalities reported in the first half of 2023, a two-and-a-half-fold rise compared to the same period last year. Additionally, there had been a notable surge in the demolition of Palestinian homes by Israeli occupation forces, justified on the grounds of lacking permits. However, the UN highlighted that 99 percent of Palestinian building permit applications were denied by the Israeli occupation, making the demolitions a calculated punitive measure.
As the delegation stood on the historic Mount Scopus (Arabic: Jabal al-Masharif/ Mount of the Watchmen) in Jerusalem, the hills of Jordan, the next stop on Martin’s tour, loomed faintly in the hazy distance. In a sober reflection before departing the occupied territories, Martin stressed the urgency of holding elections in Palestine and shared his encounters with individuals working towards dialogue and reconciliation in the region, who themselves were experiencing mounting pressure.
In a bold stride towards a more robust stance on the Palestinian issue, the Irish political party Sinn Féin earlier this week has amplified its demand for the formal recognition of the state of Palestine by the Irish government and a decisive divestment from Israeli enterprises benefiting from the contested settlements in the West Bank. Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on Irish Foreign Affairs, Matt Carthy TD, has emphatically called upon Tánaiste Micheál Martin to seize this moment during his Middle East visit as a pivotal opportunity to declare these consequential policy shifts.