Israel has not provided us with evidence linking NGOs to terrorism, says Irish FM

“We have asked, like the EU, the evidence base to designate these NGOs,” he explained as he sat down with the newspaper at the Inbal hotel, just before heading to meet with President Isaac Herzog.

But “we have not obtained any credible evidence to link NGOs to terrorism, certainly not that I have seen,” said Coveney, who has also served as his country’s defense minister since 2020.

The issue is high on his agenda during his two-day visit to Israel. It is his fifth such trip since he became foreign minister in 2017.

The tall and outspoken diplomat is quick to describe himself as a friend of the Jewish state, but one who does not hesitate to criticize it on issues of disagreement such as the terror labeling of NGOs. In this case, the concern is personal, because Ireland provides funding to two of Israel’s selected NGOs: Al-Haq and Addameer.

“We have very strong systems for knowing where our money is being spent and how it is being spent,” Coveney explained, adding that the two groups had passed his government inspection.

A child waves a flag as protesters participate in a protest in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails in Ramallah, West Bank, on September 8, 2021 (credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN / REUTERS).

The document that Israel has provided to Ireland does not justify such a charge, so more evidence is needed, he said.

“This is not the case with us accusing Israel of anything; we’re just asking the question, ”Coveney said.

“Two organizations that we provide modest funding to and that represent people predominantly in occupied territories in the West Bank have now been designated as effectively supporting terrorist organizations, and we would like to see the evidence base for that,” Coveney explained.

If the charge is shown to be correct, he said, Ireland “would act on that immediately … I would never allow Irish taxpayer money [go toward] supporting terrorism or violence or inciting violence “.

It is important that democratic countries like Israel support civil society, Coveney said.

“In my opinion, any democracy that works has to facilitate that space for active criticism and, sometimes, protest from civil society,” explained Coveney.

“We fund a lot of NGOs that are very critical of me and very critical of the Irish government. That is what NGOs do. They shake things up. They ask tough questions. They lobby on certain issues and often protect minorities and people who can’t protect themselves, ”Coveney added.

He is expected to raise the matter when he meets with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Wednesday. Top diplomats from their respective countries are also expected to discuss the Civil Administration’s decision last week to advance plans for 3,130 settler houses, a move Coveney has opposed, as has the European Union.

“This has been a source of friction between Ireland and Israel and the EU and Israel,” he said, adding that most of the international community opposes settlement activity that it considers illegal under international law and an obstacle to a resolution of two states to the conflict with the Palestinians.

“That is the opinion of the vast majority of countries in the world,” Coveney said, adding that “Ireland just articulates it, perhaps more often than others.”

It is not possible, he said, to build trust between Israelis and Palestinians in a way that leads to a “structured dialogue for peace” when more and more settlement houses are being built in “very strategic locations that separate Palestinian communities from each other. . “

Such activity, he said, makes “the future two-state solution seem an increasingly remote and unfeasible possibility,” he added.

“This is why I, the EU and many others have expressed real concern” over Israel’s decision to promote more than 3,000 settler homes. “It sends a terrible signal to the international community about Israel’s intentions,” he added.

Coveney also spoke of the impact that peace would have on Ireland’s position on issues like Jerusalem. He speculated that his county could move its embassy to Jerusalem, but only once the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was resolved.

“We believe that the appropriate place for our embassy is Tel Aviv,” he said. “If that changes in the future, I hope we can consider it. [relocating the embassy to Jerusalem] And no one will consider it a controversial decision because we will have a peace agreement that will have resolved many outstanding issues in relation to Jerusalem. “

Coveney said that when he meets with Palestinian officials, as he intends to do in Ramallah on Wednesday, he also raises his opposition to the Palestinian Authority’s practice of providing monthly financial stipends to terrorists and their families, in what Israel calls ” payment”. -for-kill “.

“I have been quite direct with the Palestinians on this issue,” Coveney said.

“Providing a financial reward for someone who committed a crime and is in prison is something that I think the Palestinian Authority should actively change,” explained Coveney.

“There certainly should be no financial reward for crimes,” and “I have advised and encouraged the Palestinian Authority to stay away from that,” Coveney added.

Iran will also be on the agenda when Coveney meets with Lapid. Israel has opposed a push from the administration of US President Joe Biden to reactivate the 2015 Iran deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, from which the Trump administration abandoned in 2018. Tehran and six world powers: the United States, Russia. , China, France, United Kingdom and Germany. Israel has argued that it did not stop Iran’s nuclear persecution and that it allowed the Islamic Republic to embolden its regional aggression.

The other world powers, and now the Biden administration, believe that it remains the best vehicle to prevent Iran from producing atomic weapons.

EU-led talks with third parties to reactivate the deal have failed, and in the meantime, Iran has moved a little closer to the point where it could produce a nuclear bomb.

Coveney said his country has a critical role to play in reviving the agreement, which he supports.

In January 2021, Ireland began a two-year term on the 15-member UN Security Council. He was appointed facilitator of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, by virtue of which the Council approved the JCPOA.

“In that role, we continue to try to bring the parties together in Vienna to reach an agreement. We believe that if an agreement can be reached, that will make a positive contribution to stability, ”said Coveney.

If the agreement is not revived and “Iran develops the capacity for a nuclear weapon, that creates very significant instability in the region and also more than likely proliferation in terms of other countries that want to develop nuclear capacity in response, that is, Saudi Arabia. ”Coveney said, adding that therefore the stakes were high.

“These are dangerous times, especially for Israel, because of course they are watching this very closely and they are very skeptical of the JCPOA process. I understand that, I have spoken with Israeli ministers many times on that subject, ”said the Irish diplomat.

He acknowledged that the delay in the talks, which will resume in November, has been problematic.

“Here’s a real-time consideration,” he said. “Iran is developing its nuclear capacity outside of what was agreed in the JCPOA. They are not even close to complying with what was agreed.

“Of course the JCPOA is not in place, which is the problem.

“At some point, countries that are committed to making the JCPOA work will wonder if it can continue to do the job it was designed to do if Iran continues to move away from that compliance and move toward developing nuclear weapon capability.” Coveney said.

Today, Iran has enriched uranium to 60% purity, Coveney said. What is needed are robust and transparent inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and for “Iran to stop its investment in nuclear capacity” and “comply with the spirit and letter of the JCPOA,” he added.

“But that has to be agreed and negotiated,” he added. “The new Iranian government has indicated that they will return to Vienna for negotiations in the coming weeks; that’s welcome, but that’s just getting people into a room, “he said.

The real test is whether or not progress can be made once the talks resume, he said.

“There is all kinds of uncertainty surrounding the current negotiations, we know that, Ireland and the EU and the US and many others agree, including Russia, that it is still worth seeking an agreement on the JCPOA, because we believe that the award is a significant one ”should the deal revive, he said.

“Does it solve all the problems related to Iran? no, he does not do it. Is it better to have it in place than not to have it? yes, we do, ”Coveney concluded.

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