A shortened version of this article was published today by the Times of Israel, this longer version was obtained by the TT with permission to publish it in full. Mr. Wim Kortenoeven fills us in with the details.
UPDATE: Wim Kortenoeven informs the TT with the following update:
This morning (20 June), in a Parliamentary debate on the issue, there was yet another surprising turn adding to the confusion. Foreign Minister Timmermans stated that he was misunderstood by the media and that he was wrongly quoted as not being willing to block EU sanctions against Israel.
This morning, he formally declared that the Dutch government opposes sanctions against Israel and that the Netherlands would oppose any sanction proposal by other (EU member) states.
In a two sentence letter he had already confirmed this policy just prior to the debate.
In the breach: Dutch foreign policy on Israel
A malicious foreign policy document accompanied a benevolent Dutch Foreign Minister to Israel
By Wim Kortenoeven
On Monday evening June 17, Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans (Labor Party) started his first official visit to Israel and the territories governed by the Palestinian Authority. This provides for an occasion to review the much celebrated Dutch-Israeli relationship, which has known some dramatic, surprising and confusing developments lately, especially after the fall of the previous Dutch government last year. Where it concerns Israel, the Netherlands are a battlefield like nowhere else, with some of the most vicious opponents of the Jewish State combating some of its best friends.
That previous Dutch government (October 2010 – April 2012) was a coalition of the Peoples Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD, center-right liberals) and the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA). Together, VVD and CDA had a 52 out of 150 minority in Parliament, but their coalition was supported ‘from the outside’ by the outspoken pro-Israeli and anti-Islamic Party for Freedom (PVV) of Geert Wilders, adding 24 seats in exchange for concessions in domestic affairs and resulting in a slim majority of 76-150.
The VVD-CDA+PVV government has been labeled the most pro-Israeli Dutch government in history, not only due to the influence of the PVV, but also because of strong pro-Israeli currents in the VVD. Within the CDA, the situation was more complex, with a strong pro-Israeli current in the leadership battling an increasingly strong anti-Israeli current in its constituency.
The government’s policy declaration to Parliament, issued in October 2010, emphasized its intention to “invest” in the relationship with Israel. This immediately materialized. The Netherlands became an outspoken ally of Israel in the international arena. In addition, the Dutch government secretly tried to revive negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority following the Amman crisis of January 2012. The Dutch not only provided a venue, they also held separate talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmud Abbas. On June 17, while the Dutch Foreign Minister was on a plane to Tel Aviv, the Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad revealed that these secret talks, code named ‘Blue-Green,’ had involved (former) Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal and VVD Foreign Affairs spokesman Han ten Broeke. Apparently, the Dutch initiative lasted at least a year, from February 2012 until March 2013, with Ten Broeke acting as a special envoy.
The pro-Israeli “investment policy” of the previous Dutch government culminated in a declaration on April 5, 2012 that a Dutch-Israeli Cooperation Council was to be established. Its first joint cabinet meeting was scheduled for June 7 2012 in Jerusalem.
Two weeks later however, Geert Wilders pulled the plug on the coalition, forcing the government to resign and call for elections. A government under resignation is not supposed to proceed with or develop policies that might be perceived as controversial. As such, the Dutch-Israeli Cooperation Council was put on hold and the June meeting was cancelled.
Elections were held on September 12 and upended the Dutch political landscape. The CDA Christian Democrats went down from 21 to 13 seats and Wilders’ Party for Freedom from 24 to 15. The Liberal VVD however, went up from 31 to 41 and Labor, which is traditionally hostile to Israel, went up from 30 to 38. The result by default was a coalition government of VVD and Labor, which immediately put the Cooperation Council in the deep freeze. At least, that is how it was perceived by the Dutch Parliament and the media.
Dutch-Israeli relations are a constant and very emotional factor in Dutch politics, in both the positive and the negative sense. Following the coalition crisis of April 2012, the Christian Democrats modified their platform, shifting more to the left and adopting a less friendly approach vis-à-vis the State of Israel. This clearly emerged last week, in a plenary debate on the Israeli security barrier. Parliament had been forced to debate the issue, following a public campaign of Christian Democratic ‘prominent’ and former Prime Minister Dries van Agt, one of Holland’s most notorious anti-Israeli activists.
In that debate, CDA Foreign Affairs spokesman Pieter Omtzigt not only harshly criticized the location of parts of the security barrier, he also vehemently attacked Israel’s settlement policy, calling for the imposition of “red lines” regarding further settlement construction. Omtzigt even suggested that if Israel failed to comply, the association treaty between Israel and the European Union ought to be suspended or even terminated. His faction subsequently voted against a resolution of three other opposition parties (the orthodox Christian SGP, the Christian Union and the PVV) that stated that the barrier, “being an important defensive instrument for the protection of Israeli civilians, constitutes no cause for the imposition of (international) sanctions against Israel.”
The VVD voted in favor of the resolution, with its eloquent spokesman Han ten Broeke arguing that the barrier might be [partly] illegal, but that it is legitimate. However, due to the CDA policy shift, the resolution was defeated 64-86. This was a clear victory for Van Agt, who has been lobbying his party for years in order to make it join the anti-Israeli camp.
The debate also exposed the infuriating ignorance of Labor spokesperson Désirée Bonis, a former Dutch Ambassador in Damascus and a ferocious opponent of Israel from the very moment she entered Parliament, last year September. Bonis stated:
“When the State of Israel was established, the State of Israel promised to the United Nations, in resolution 194 of 1948, that it would accommodate the Palestinian problem, as it had already been recognized, in the form of arrangements for return and compensation. Israel has also violated all of that.”
It suffices to write here that ‘194’ was a non-binding resolution of the General Assembly, that Israel had nothing to do with it, that no promises of the sort were ever made, and that Bonis was apparently trying to refer to the Palestinian-Arab refugee problem. Yet Bonis was not confronted with all of this during or after the debate, apparently because none of the foreign affairs spokespeople and none of the journalists observing the debate had noticed that she was talking absolute nonsense. Consequently, she got away with it.
In such a climate of malice and ignorance, dedicated anti-Israeli activists like Van Agt can sow disinformation with impunity.
Thirteen years ago, Van Agt started a fact-free and very emotional crusade against Israel, calling for boycotts and sanctions. He systematically accuses Israel of violating international humanitarian law and of refusing to execute UN resolutions, even if these cannot be unilaterally executed by Israel, such as Security Council resolution 242. He characterized the Jewish State as a “rottweiler” attack dog, while he himself has expressed support for Hamas, which states in its charter that all Jews ought to be exterminated. Several years back, Van Agt established the so called ‘Rights Forum’, which is basically an instrument for anti-Israeli lawfare in which over a dozen prominent Israel bashers have been united.
According to some of his opponents, the former Prime Ministers’ relentless crusade against the Jewish State is not without context. In 1972, when he was a young Minister of Justice, Van Agt proposed releasing from Breda prison three Nazi war criminals: Franz Fischer, Ferdinand aus der Fünten and Joseph Kotälla. Fisher was responsible for the destruction of the Jewish community of The Hague and Aus der Fünten for the destruction of the Jewish community of Amsterdam. Kotälla was an UnterSchutzhaftlagerführer at the notorious concentration camp in the Dutch town of Amersfoort, where he earned the nickname “the executioner”, because of his extremely cruel treatment of Jews and resistance people.
Justifying his activism, Van Agt told a journalist that he could do it because he was “an Arian”. But despite of all his efforts, the “Three of Breda” were not set free in 1972, due to a very emotional public outcry, which persuaded a majority of Members of Parliament to vote against an early release.
Kotälla died in prison in 1979. The Netherlands-based co-workers of Adolf Eichmann, Fischer and Aus der Fünten were eventually released to Germany in January 1989, at the instigation of then Minister of Justice Frits Korthals Altes of the Liberal Party (VVD).
In 2008, the German-Jewish writer Henryk Broder characterized Van Agt as “a decent anti-Semite”. And indeed, it is very difficult not to see Van Agt’s context. Last year on the 8th of November for instance, on the eve of the commemoration of the Kristallnacht of 1938, which brought unspeakable suffering and destruction upon the Jews in Germany and was in fact the start of the Holocaust, Van Agt spoke at the Intercultural & Interreligious Conference in the Dutch city of Nijmegen. On that occasion, he suggested that the Jewish State should have been established in Germany, instead of in Palestine. His remarks were greeted with a stormy applause by his largely Muslim audience.
There is a disturbing overlap between the board of Van Agt’s ‘Rights Forum’ and relevant people at the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV), an official advisor of the Dutch Parliament and Government, residing at the Dutch Foreign Office and chaired by former Minister of Justice Frits Korthals Altes. Some names: John Dugard, a former special rapporteur of the notorious UN Commission on Human Rights, former FM Hans van den Broek and former Dutch ambassador in Beirut Nicolaos van Dam.
The results of this overlap emerged last April, when the AIV published a 47-page advisory opinion on the Middle East peace process, its English version bearing the title “Between words and deeds: prospects for a sustainable peace in the Middle East” (http://www.aiv-advies.nl/ContentSuite/upload/aiv/doc/webversie_AIV83_ENG(1).pdf).
Despite its lofty references to international law and justice, it is nothing but a vicious indictment of the Jewish State; ignoring the Islamic root of the conflict; omitting crucial historical data; denying or omitting the legal rights of the Jewish people in Palestine; and manipulating facts, figures and UN resolutions. It is silent on Israel’s terrible dilemma’s, predicaments and territorial constraints, and it even ignores such essentials as the Islamic threat and Palestinian incitement against Israel and peace. In its conclusion, the AIV calls for the imposition of sanctions against Israel and for establishing (Dutch and EU) relations with Hamas, which is an organization that calls for the genocide of all Jews. This is Van Agt speaking.
This dreadful advisory opinion of an official government advisory council was in the pocket of Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans on his first official visit to Israel and Palestinian Authority governed territories. In last week’s debate in the Dutch Parliament, Timmermans himself characterized his visit as one to get acquainted with the situation on the ground. Just that. But again, nothing is what it seems. Much to the surprise of Dutch Israel watchers and no doubt of the anti-Israel voices in his own party, Timmermans started off his visit meeting Benjamin Netanyahu last Monday night and reviving the Dutch-Israeli Cooperation Council.
That’s good news, but what about the AIV advisory opinion calling for sanctions against Israel? It will be difficult for Timmermans to totally reject an advise from an official advisory council of the government. On the other hand, there is no way that his VVD coalition partner would accept adopting the document. Han ten Broeke already suggested that it be filed.
The constraint emerged 24 hours after Mr. Timmermans’ arrival in Israel, when he stated that the Dutch government would not vote against EU sanctions in case the Israelis would build houses for Jews in Area E1, the plot of land in between Jerusalem and desert city of Ma’aleh Adumim. He added that such a move would not be to the benefit of Dutch-Israeli relations. And his coalition partner VVD immediately voiced support for the Timmermans declaration, with Ten Broeke stating that E1 is his “red line” as well.
Sanctions after all? It shows that the traditional Dutch friendship with Israel has severely eroded, following last year’s elections.
After his return from Israel, the Dutch Foreign Minister is supposed to officially comment on the AIV-document. Subsequently, there will be a Parliamentary debate on both the advisory opinion and the government’s appreciation of it. The outcome will probably reflect the Dutch policy line vis-à-vis the embattled Jewish State for years to come. One should therefore hope that Timmermans’ Israeli counterpart has taken serious heed of the document and that he has done the utmost to show the Dutch Foreign Minister that its malicious content does not reflect reality and that it certainly doesn’t serve justice and peace. Timmermans will need that in order to survive the criticism that is bound to come from his own party. To this Israeli information effort should also have been added a informational visit to the Green Line where it runs only 15 kilometers from the Mediterranean. It is essential that Timmermans personally observes that what is part of the malicious AIV advice: rendering the Jewish State indefensible by turning the Green Line into an international border. But one should also ask the following question: does he really care?
- 19 June 2013
The author is a public affairs consultant for Wingate Public Affairs & Consultancy. He was a Member of the Dutch Parliament for Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom, worked previously as a journalist and as a pro-Israel lobbyist, and wrote books on Hamas and the roots of the Arab-Israeli conflict.