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Ireland has taken a rare diplomatic lead by recognising Palestine but what will it achieve?

There is no mistaking the message of the Palestinian flag flying at Leinster House - Ireland stands with Palestinians now more than ever

The passersby on Kildare Street were looking for the Palestinian flag flying at Leinster House. “Where is it?” asked one. “I can’t see it.”

“It might be around the other side,” his companion replied. It was. It was flying alongside the EU and Ukrainian flags.

Inside the Dáil Taoiseach Simon Harris said it was about “keeping hope alive”.

The Tánaiste Micheál Martin had a more forward-looking warning for Israel. “I am encouraged that we are now beginning to see a clear view emerging amongst member states that it is simply not credible that the EU-Israel relationship can remain entirely unaffected by the behaviour of this Israeli government.”

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Palestinian ambassador Jilan Abdalmajid was applauded by all sides in the Chamber. It was one of those Dáil debates in which everyone more or less agrees with anyone else. But will the recognition achieve anything?

“In concert with others, yes it will,” says UCD professor of international relations Ben Tonra. “There’s a momentum there now,” he adds, citing the possibility that Belgium and Slovenia may follow at some point in the future. Even France, he says, is “in play”.

“The European ground has been shifting for some time.”

For Gezim Visoka, an assistant professor of peace and conflict studies in DCU, the move is “opening a new chapter in how the international community sees the Palestinian question”.

“It opens a path for Palestine to receive new forms of support and protection, for example, in state-building,” he says.

But there is little prospect for the immediate future of EU sanctions against Israel. Support for Israel – albeit combined with disapproval at the continuing campaign in Gaza, and especially the killing of civilians in an air strike on a refugee camp in Rafah earlier this week – remains strong in some capitals and in the EU institutions. Ireland has been calling for a review of the EU-Israel agreement, which would be a precursor to sanctions, for months now. And while there is no indication that the Irish point of view will achieve a breakthrough there is also no doubt that the EU’s collective position – insofar as it can be said to have one – has moved to a more Israel-critical position.

Has Ireland made an enemy of Israel?

“We have certainly made an enemy of Netanyahu and those around him,” says Tonra.

“The EU is gradually dissociating itself from the Netanyahu government,” says Visoka. “It’s an anti-Netanyahu move.”

It is also a pretty rare example of Ireland taking a leadership position among EU countries on the issue. “It’s not a small thing,” says Tonra. “Boldness is not exactly a characteristic of Irish diplomacy.”

Dublin insists that the recognition is intended as an aid to peace. The Israelis respond by asking how something intended as a contribution to peace could be welcomed by Hamas (as the Irish recognition was), an organisation dedicated to the violent destruction of their country.

The answer seems to be that the Irish Government decided that giving Hamas a boost was an acceptable price to pay for the censure of Israel that is the real point of the recognition. It is prompted above all by a desire to say to Israel that its destruction of Hamas in Gaza and the fearful toll in civilian casualties is not acceptable, that it should be condemned by Israel’s allies and, furthermore, that Ireland will be active in the Palestinian cause. It is not just a gesture; it is a signal of intent.

Both Taoiseach and Tánaiste were careful to emphasise the Irish Government’s opposition to Hamas and their absolute acceptance of Israel’s entitlement to protect its citizens. The Ceann Comhairle stressed, in advance of the Dáil statements, that the Dáil “cherished” the Irish Jewish community.

But there is no mistaking the message of the flag flying at Leinster House, the debate inside, and the position of the Government: Ireland stands with the Palestinians, now more than ever.