Earlier this month, the Times of Israel wrote about a report by the Dutch Advisory Council on International Relations (known by its Dutch acronym AIV) on changing Dutch policies towards Israel. The report criticizes Israeli policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, makes a case for labeling and, potentially, banning settlement products from the Dutch and EU markets, and calls for a European initiative to facilitate balanced negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Despite the fiercely negative reaction by the Israeli government, the AIV report and its recommendations reflect widespread Dutch opposition to the occupation and have been welcomed by a fair share of the Dutch political spectrum.
As a reaction to the AIV report, Yigal Palmor, a spokesperson for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, classified the report as either “a fake […] or a particularly daft parody of a ‘typical European Middle East policy’ report.”
The Times of Israel article states that the report fails to mention Israeli civilian casualties inflicted by Palestinian terrorism, and according to Palmor, no mention is made of either the Hamas coup in Gaza nor of its violence, in light of one of the recommendations in the report to reconsider current Dutch policies to abstain from contact with Hamas.
Despite accusing the AIV of being one-sided and ignorant on the conflict, the objections raised by Palmor are simply incorrect. The Advisory Council clearly mentions that both sides, Israel and the Palestinians, should refrain from violence save for self-defense. It mentions rocket attacks from Gaza as being the instigator of Operation Cast Lead in 2008, and it acknowledges the suicide bombings that wrecked Israel during the Second Intifada. Palestinian violence is clearly mentioned as subverting prospects for a durable peace agreement.
That being said, yes, the report is a harsh one for the Israeli government to read, as it departs from a less critical approach towards Israel as propagated by Dutch governments so far. The Advisory Council does not strip the Palestinians of their responsibilities to help end the conflict and create a peace agreement. But it does share a point of view — and quite fairly, in my opinion — which sees Israel as by far the strongest party in the conflict, creating more responsibilities and possibilities, more so than the Palestinians, to ensure a peace agreement. And, above all, Israel is an occupying force, which binds it to international obligations to end the occupation.
Israeli policies toward the Palestinians and the occupied territories in the last couple of years have given few reasons for Dutch policy makers and the Dutch public to assume that the current Israeli government is truly invested in ending the occupation. Israeli settlements have continued to grow, not only in the big “settlement blocks” destined, from an Israeli point of view, to become part of Israel in a future peace agreement, but also outside of these blocks.
Even though in every serious peace proposal so far Jerusalem will become the capital of two states — Israel and Palestine — policies on the ground and opinions widely shared by leading politicians and government officials in Israel seem to reject it. There is hope that US Secretary of State John Kerry will be able to restart peace negotiations, but the last couple of years have seen little-to-no progress, for which a fair share of the Dutch government and Dutch policymakers blame Netanyahu.
From this point of departure, the AIV report tries to search for alternative ways for Dutch foreign policy to help shape a durable and viable peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, on the basis of a two-state solution. A solution which, the AIV stresses, is in the interest of both Israelis and Palestinians.
Putting the pressure on Israel by labeling or possibly banning Israeli settlement products from the Dutch market, and refraining from extending ties with Israel as long as the occupation deepens, the settlements continue to grow in size and the settlers in number, can come as a shock, but these are policies widely supported by many in the Netherlands and, in fact, Europe.
It is up to the Netanyahu government to prove it is committed to ending the occupation instead of repeating the same harsh reactions and worn-out accusations of being “anti-Israel,” which so many over here are growing pretty tired of. A real push for peace is the only way to stop harsher policies from being implemented.