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Irish premier tells Biden: It is possible to be for Israel and for Palestine

Irish premier Leo Varadkar has told the US President it is possible “to be for Israel and for Palestine” during a speech at a White House event for St Patrick’s Day.

He said the Irish people are “deeply troubled” by what is happening in Gaza because “we see our history in their eyes” through forced emigration, a denied identity and hunger.

But the Taoiseach also said “we also see Israel’s history reflected in our eyes” through a diaspora “whose heart never left home” and had a nation and language revived.

He said that lessons can be learned from the peace process in Northern Ireland “particularly the concept of parity of esteem” and the key role of the United States.

“I believe it is possible to be for Israel and for Palestine and I believe you do too.

“Because the life of a Palestinian child is equal to that of an Israeli one,” he said.

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and US President Joe Biden during the St Patrick’s Day Reception and Shamrock Ceremony (Niall Carson/PA)

“And the aspiration of the Palestinian people to have a homeland, and a fully-fledged State, in the land of their forefathers is equal to that of Israel’s.”

Mr Varadkar made the comments at an event where he handed Mr Biden a bowl of shamrock in a tradition repeated for St Patrick’s Day every year.

Quoting the former US president John F Kennedy, Mr Varadkar said he had told the Irish parliament months before he was killed, that Ireland should be “the protector of the weak and of the small”.

“When somebody dies before their time, as he did, their words can assume a kind of prophecy, a sort of sacred promise to the future.

“As a country, we have tried to live up to the mission he set for us when he predicted that one day we would do something to give to the world ‘a future of peace with freedom’.”

Mr Biden, who often celebrates his Irish heritage, paid tribute to immigrants who left Ireland for the US during his speech: “The Irish spirit can never be overcome.”

He also said the US and Ireland are aligned on support for Ukraine and increasing aid to Gaza.

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US President Joe Biden shows emotion as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks (Niall Carson/PA)

“Our countries stand proudly for liberty and against tyranny. We stand together and oppose Russia’s brutal war of aggression in Ukraine.”

He added: “The Taoiseach and I agree for the urgent need to increase humanitarian assistance in Gaza and get the ceasefire deal that brings hostages home and moves towards a two-state solution.”

The ceremony marks the end of Mr Varadkar’s week-long visit to the US.

While usually the undocumented Irish and economic ties are to the fore during the trip, this year event have been dominated by the war in the Middle East.

Protests have been held in Dublin and Belfast to coincide with the trip and to push for a more aggressive policy on Gaza from the government as meetings were held with senior US figures.

Mr Varadkar has said throughout the trip that, instead of a boycott, Ireland should engage in discussions to highlight issues such as the spiralling number of deaths and injuries in Gaza.

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left) at a bilateral meeting with President Joe Biden in the Oval Office at the White House (Niall Carson/PA)

Asked whether he could have partaken in the Oval Office meeting with US President Joe Biden on Friday and then withdrawn from the shamrock ceremony on Sunday, Mr Varadkar said earlier in the day: “I suppose all these things go together.”

“I don’t think it would have been a wise decision or appropriate for me to take the time in the Oval Office and do that meeting and then turn around a day or two later and say that I wouldn’t participate in a ceremony that goes back 40 years.”

He said it would be a “misimpression” if people thought the trip to Washington DC was “just a single event that lasts for an hour where there are speeches and a bowl of shamrocks handed over”.

Although he said previously that the US should not be sending arms to Israel, the Taoiseach added he “wasn’t shocked” that the US would continue to, as it was long established policy.

“I appreciate we live in a world where everyone has to be angry all the time and is encouraged to get angry and then when you’re not angry, you’re asked ‘why aren’t you angry?’

“That’s not the way I operate.”

He added: “What you do then is you do all you can to work for a ceasefire, to encourage our American and European partners to work towards that, to increase our humanitarian aid for Palestine, which we’ve done.

“So we’re doing everything we can, that’s practical, given our influence in the world, to push for a ceasefire and for lasting peace.

“I understand why other people may become consumed by anger.

“It’s just never a way that I’ve done my job.”

The Irish premier held a bilateral with the US President in the Oval Office on Friday where the two leaders discussed the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, as well as Irish-US trade relations.

Mr Biden agreed with Mr Varadkar when he said there needed to be a ceasefire “as soon as possible”.