Ireland’s parliament has voted to condemn Israel’s “de facto annexation” of Palestinian land in what it said was the first use of the phrase by an EU government in relation to Israel.
Government and opposition parties united on Wednesday night to back a motion that excoriated Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
The foreign minister, Simon Coveney, called the vote in the Dail, the lower house of parliament, a “clear signal of the depth of feeling across Ireland”.
Israel hit back with a strong statement that called the motion “outrageous”, “baseless” and a “victory for extremist Palestinian factions”. Lior Haiat, a spokesperson for the foreign ministry, said it would distance Ireland from its ambition of playing a constructive role in the conflict.
John Brady, a member of parliament for Ireland’s opposition party Sinn Féin, which sponsored the motion, called the vote a victory for justice.
The Dail rejected an amendment from People Before Profit, a small leftwing party, to expel the Israeli ambassador.
Coveney said the centre-right government had backed the motion because of what he described as Israel’s “manifestly unequal” treatment of the Palestinian people.
“The scale, pace and strategic nature of Israel’s actions on settlement expansion and the intent behind it have brought us to a point where we need to be honest about what is actually happening on the ground … It is de facto annexation,” Coveney told parliament.
“This is not something that I, or in my view this house, says lightly. We are the first EU state to do so. But it reflects the huge concern we have about the intent of the actions and, of course, their impact.”
Coveney also insisted on adding a condemnation of recent rocket attacks on Israel by the Palestinian militant group Hamas before he agreed to government support for the motion, which had been tabled by the opposition Sinn Féin party. “The acts of terror by Hamas and other militant groups … should not ever be justified,” Coveney said.
For more than 50 years, Israel has maintained an occupation over the Palestinian territories. In recent years, Israeli government officials have announced intentions to permanently claim, or annexe, the land.
The difference between occupation and annexation is critical as Palestinians living on annexed land would technically be living inside Israel without citizenship rights. Palestinian officials and some rights groups argue that situation already exists under a “de facto” annexation.
About 450,000 Israeli settlers live in the occupied West Bank, among roughly 3 million Palestinians. Most countries view settlements as illegal. Israel cites historical and biblical links to the land.
There has been a flurry of diplomatic moves since a Friday ceasefire ended 11 days of the worst fighting between Palestinian militants in Gaza and Israel in years. The bloodshed claimed more than 250 lives in Gaza, including 66 children, and 12 in Israel, including two children.
The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, and the UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, were in the region this week. Both have sought to underline their countries’ commitment to a two-state solution, despite decades of failed efforts and voices within Israel and Palestine claiming such an outcome is now extremely unlikely.
Blinken said on Tuesday he would reopen a US mission to the Palestinians in Jerusalem – shut down by Donald Trump – so that Washington could rebuild the relationship. On Wednesday, he flew to Cairo to meet the Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, and to Amman to meet King Abdullah II of Jordan, two leaders who are intimately involved in Israel-Palestinian relations.
Raab’s Wednesday meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials came as sources said the UK plans to oppose a resolution for an independent commission of inquiry drawn up by the UN’s human rights council.
According to a draft of the resolution, seen by the Guardian ahead of a Thursday vote, the agency will call to urgently establish a commission to investigate all “violations” in Israel, Jerusalem and the occupied territories since early April.
The resolution added it would assess “all underlying root causes of recurrent tensions, instability and protraction of conflict, including systematic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial or religious identity”.
While the US and UK positions are in line with longstanding policy, Ireland is among a few country’s that appear to be changing their position amid an evolving global debate. France’s foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said on Sunday that the long-held aspiration for Palestinians to obtain their own country “was starting to disappear”.
He said the current situation had a high chance of leading to apartheid, an accusation that has largely been levelled by activists and rights groups rather than governments. “The risk of apartheid is strong if we continue to adopt the logic of a single state or the status quo,” Le Drian said. Israel has strongly denied allegations of apartheid.
In Dublin, the recent Gaza bloodshed prompted pro-Palestinian protests.