Ireland is the EU's most pro-Palestinian member

An official in the Israeli Foreign Ministry described Ireland as "the most anti-Israel member state of the European Union." They may well be right, although I doubt most Irish people or the Irish government would like to hear/read that. They'd prefer it to be phrased more positively.

A few years ago I was driving down I-95 from DC to Florida when I entered North Carolina. It was the first time I'd ever been in the state and I was struck by the billboards I saw from the highway declaring North Carolina to be "The most military-friendly state in the union."

Those signs could be the model for how Ireland would like to be known when it comes to its Middle East policy: 'The most Palestinian friendly state in the union.' The European Union, of course.

That Israeli official was commenting following Ireland's recent decision to upgrade the status of the Palestinian delegation to Ireland to a mission. Israel views this decision negatively and fears that other EU states will follow, providing a disincentive for the Palestinians to engage in negotiations.

As was pointed out on Twitter on Wednesday (@jonihle) it took "Ireland 45 yrs to allow UN-recognized Israel to open an embassy in Dublin." Yet the Palestinians will have theirs before they even have any form of UN-recognized state. And I fully expect that before it's appropriate to provide full recognition to any future Palestinian state, Ireland will have already done so.

This week's move is more symbolic than anything else. The most substantive change is that the head of the Palestinian delegation will be known as an Ambassador. He will present his credentials to the President, as all other ambassadors to.

So, it's symbolic, but it's also indicative. At a time when there are "heartening trends" in the always dispiriting Middle East, the Irish government has plunged into the situation to change the balance. Yes Ireland's a small nation, but it is also a member of the European Union, which makes this small nation's actions and words on the situation more weighty than if we were outside one of the key blocs in global politics.

This wasn't just clumsy either. Irking Israel and siding with the Palestinians is part of a long-established pattern for the Irish government.

Last summer when Irish and other pro-Palestinian activists were trying to run Israel's blockade of Gaza, the Irish government abandoned all pretense of its cherished "neutrality" to side with those who consider Israeli sovereignty and security a non-issue. Foreign Minister Micheál Martin was particularly strident in his demands that Israel cave in to the flotilla's blackmail.

That same government that was so smug in its condemnation of Israel last June is now at death's door, although their current troubles have nothing to do with foreign policy. The new government coming at the end of February will not mean change in Ireland's attitude to Israel, which it rates just below North Korea in rogue status.

I'd like to say that the government is out of step with the people on this matter, but I don't think they are. The usual protest groups and activists {Photo} are more strident, but probably reflecting a majority view. There is a great sympathy with the Palestinian people, which I can understand to a great extent. They have it very hard.

Yet the prevailing view - among the people, the media and the government - of 'Israelis bad, Palestinians good' is too simplistic and far from accurate. The Israelis would dearly love to live in peace with all their neighbors. Israel would like peace, trust, cooperation and trade with all the neighbors.

Yet some of those neighbors are still hell bent on seeing Israel destroyed. Many Palestinians would like to see Israel destroyed. Yet in Ireland there seems to be almost no understanding of the Israelis' predicament, their fears and their demand that they be treated as every other UN member state is treated.

For the Irish, unfortunately, being the Palestinians' best friend is more important than taking seriously the rights of a fellow small member of the United Nations.

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