Netherlands embraces Israel tighter, squeezing out human rights

Adri Nieuwhof |The Electronic Intifada |22 June 2011

Dutch Deputy Prime Minister Maxime Verhagen with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman

While Israel continues its ruthless occupation and oppression in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Syria’s Golan Heights, the right-wing government of the Netherlands plans to deepen its economic collaboration with Israel instead of holding it accountable for its violations of international law.

Maxime Verhagen, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation set out the Dutch government’s newest plans to strengthen political and economic relations with Israel in a 14 June speech in Haifa (“Innovation Nations Promoting Stronger Relations Between The Netherlands And Israel In A Changing Middle East”).

Verhagen announced policies in Israel about which the Dutch government had apparently not even informed parliament, The Electronic Intifada discovered.

Putting business before human rights

Trade and investment are forces for peace, Verhagen argued in his speech, “So when I say we want to strengthen economic relations with Israel, I also mean the Palestinian Territories. We believe this will help create a peaceful and prosperous Palestinian state.”

Verhagen urged Israel to allow normal trade between Gaza, the West Bank and third countries. But most of his speech was concerned with praising Israel and offering more rewards — not merely economic, but political as well.

Verhagen highlighted the long-standing Dutch-Israeli ties in the areas of research and development, academia and business. The collaboration covers high-tech industries, water, agrifood and horticulture.

For example, Verhagen talked about his visit to Better Place, an Israeli company which is building transport infrastructure in settlements and on Jewish-only roads in the occupied West Bank, as an investigation by The Electronic Intifada found last year. Verhagen pointed out that Better Place is “now preparing an electric taxi service between Amsterdam and Schiphol airport which will become operational in 2012.”

The Dutch government offered to share expertise in respect to the newly-discovered gas fields off the coast of Haifa and Gaza, said Verhagen. This offer could potentially embroil the Netherlands in pillage of Palestinian natural resources.

Verhagen spoke about his efforts to encourage Israeli technology firms to work in the Netherlands and encouraged Israeli firms to “to showcase Israeli agritechnology for the European public.”

Israel has made “green technologies” or what critics call “greenwashing” an integral part of its propaganda strategy to divert attention from human rights abuses.

Legislators surprised by “Dutch-Israel Cooperation Council”

To crown the strengthening of ties, Verhagen announced the inauguration of the Dutch-Israeli Cooperation Council — an initiative of Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal — by January 2012.

The Electronic Intifada asked Labor Party Member of Parliament Frans Timmermans to comment on the creation of the council.

Apparently Rosenthal had not informed the Dutch parliament, because Timmermans immediately requested Rosenthal to clarify his plans in parliament, a request that was turned down by the minister. Only when MP Alexander Pechtold of the D66 party seconded the request for information, did Rosenthal promise to deal with the issue in a few months.

Netherlands endorses Israeli position on refugees

Regarding the peace process, Verhagen laid out policies that were similar to those recently announced by US President Barack Obama. But on the question of refugees’ rights he went considerably further than Obama in openly endorsing Israel’s refusal to accept Palestinian refugees’ right to return home:

Their large-scale return to Israel is not a realistic option as this would jeopardize the Jewish character of the State of Israel. It would also undermine the very reason of being of a Palestinian state. The refugees should be offered an acceptable settlement, including compensation for those who will not be able to go back.”

Strong criticisms

Former Prime Minister of the Netherlands Dries van Agt heavily criticized Verhagen for praising Israel as “a modern democracy founded on the rule of law.”

Such a democracy would “not violate international law,” van Agt told The Electronic Intifada, whereas the State of Israel repeatedly “ignores UN resolutions and disdains the International Court of Justice and the international treaties. Verhagen rejoices [at the sight] of even more intimate collaboration with Israel.”

Van Agt added “It seems it does not matter to him [Verhagen] that ‘his’ Israel continues its refusal to meet the demands of the EU like releasing the stranglehold on Gaza.”

The former Dutch prime minister — who has himself faced stinging criticism from pro-Israel groups for his support of Palestinian human rights — pointed out that Verhagen “pleads for the resumption of the peace process and talks piously about the two-state solution without a word about the ongoing colonization of Palestinian land. He even avoids the term ‘occupation’ when he speaks about the Palestinian territory. Instead of expressing fraternal warnings he smothers all Israel’s evil policies in hugs.”

Also reacting to the speech, United Civilians for Peace chairperson Farah Karimi told The Electronic Intifada that her organization “welcomes the call on Israel to ensure that the occupied Palestinian territories will be opened for all humanitarian and economic goods, for commerce and exports.”

UCP is a coalition of the Dutch donor organizations ICCO, Cordaid and Oxfam-Novib, and peace organization IKV Pax Christi.

Karimi added “The ongoing blockade of the Gaza Strip by Israel since 2007, refusing entry to the majority of humanitarian goods, is a breach of international humanitarian law, and in my view, simply morally unacceptable. But it can also contribute to further escalation of the conflict. The Palestinians have suffered enough; they have the same rights to a decent life, to a livelihood, to health care and education as any Israeli.”

Netherlands sets aside commitment to human rights

In October 2010, a right-wing minority government came to power with the support of the anti-Islamic Party for Freedom, known by its Dutch initials PVV. As part of its official policy statement, the new government agreed with the PVV to “further invest in the relationship with the State of Israel.”

Minister of Foreign Affairs Uri Rosenthal made clear what this intention entailed when he threatened to cut the funding of the Dutch grant-giving organization ICCO for its support of The Electronic Intifada, citing its reporting on the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

Last year, Rosenthal told the Dutch-language daily newspaper De Volkskrant that the two pillars of his policy are stability and security. Human rights was “a third pillar, but you cannot always, constantly be concerned with human rights” (Rosenthal wil netwerk ambassades reorganiseren,” 12 December 2010).

Rosenthal’s lack of concern about human rights violations by Israel was painfully clear in a debate in parliament on 14 June. Previous Dutch governments joined the international community in condemning extrajudicial killings by Israel, but under questioning from opposition MPs, Rosenthal bluntly denied that Israel even carries out such killings (“Human rights no longer Dutch priority,” Radio Netherlands Worldwide, 15 June 2011).

Deputy Prime Minister Verhagen’s speech in Haifa indicates that willful blindness to Israel’s actions is now well-established policy.

Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland.


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