Diplomacy fails in Derry but must bring end to slaughter in Middle East - The Irish News view

Protest which saw Joe Kennedy pull out of Magee meeting demonstrates depth of feeling over ongoing Gaza crisis

Palestinian solidarity campaigners outside the door of a meeting at Ulster University Magee on Wednesday after US Special Envoy to Northern-Ireland Joe Kennedy failed to attend as planned due to the protest. Picture Margaret McLaughlin 5-6-2024
Palestinian campaigners at Ulster University's Magee campus after US Special Envoy Joe Kennedy pulled out of a planned meeting. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin

The scenes in Derry yesterday which saw US Special Envoy Joe Kennedy pull out of a meeting with the Magee university taskforce offer another demonstration of the strength of feeling engendered in Ireland and around the world by Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza, which has now claimed more than 36,000 lives.

Mr Kennedy was in the north west at the invitation of a group responsible for developing an action plan to expand the higher education campus in the city.

However, he is understood to have decided at the last minute not to attend due to a protest being staged by pro-Palestinian activists. He met instead with Ulster University staff directly.

There is little doubt about Mr Kennedy’s commitment to economic investment in the region and the value of international links more generally when trying to attract opportunities to the area.

Equally, it is clear that many people are angry at what they see as US political and military complicity in acts of genocide by the Israeli government in retaliation to Hamas’ abhorrent attacks last October, which saw around 1,200 people killed and more than 250 hostages taken.

American support has been vital in allowing the contemptible Benjamin Netanyahu to maintain his merciless assault on the civilian population of Gaza, with President Joe Biden only recently beginning to express impatience with Israel in response to public pressure.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is the most nationalist and religious in Israel’s history (Amir Cohen/AP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Amir Cohen/AP)

That pressure has included high-profile protests at more than 100 college campuses across America, resulting in more than 2,000 arrests and propelling the Middle East issue up the political agenda.

Demonstrations have been staged on a smaller scale in Northern Ireland and Mr Kennedy must have known he could expect opposition at a student campus in Derry yesterday. It was disappointing he felt unable to front up and fulfil an engagement on an important matter.

However, the protesters’ decision to decline an offer by the economic envoy to hear their concerns first-hand also came across as churlish and counter-productive.

The Security Council meets about the war in Gaza (AP)
The UN Security Council meets about the war in Gaza (Seth Wenig/AP)

If diplomacy was found wanting in this small corner of Ireland, it can only be hoped that international efforts to reach a deal in the Middle East can prove more successful and bring a halt to Israel’s devastating eight-month campaign.

Military strikes have claimed dozens more lives in Gaza this week and the fear remains of the conflict widening to involve Hezbollah in northern Israel.

Palestinian children wounded in the Israeli bombardment on a residential building in Bureij refugee camp, are treated at al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza Strip (AP)
Palestinian children wounded in an Israeli bombardment on a residential building in Bureij refugee camp are treated at al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza Strip (Saher Alghorra/AP)

Mr Biden has backed a three-phase plan which would see a ceasefire, the release of hostages and reconstruction of the Palestinian territory. The impasse remains Israel’s demand for the destruction of Hamas, and the militant group’s insistence on a lasting ceasefire before hostages are given up.

Every pressure must be brought to bear to immediately end the suffering in Gaza and begin the difficult work of building permanent peace.