Van Bommel: Stop escalation of violence in Middle East

22 July 2006

Van Bommel: Stop escalation of violence in Middle East

In yesterday's emergency parliamentary debate, SP foreign affairs spokesman Harry van Bommel said that the violence of the escalating war against Lebanon and the Gaza Strip was 'disproportionate'. Mr Van Bommel asked the government to state its position in relation to the conflict, and demanded that the Netherlands urge European Union partners to use the EU-Israel Association Agreement as a means of exerting pressure.

Below is a slightly shortened version of Harry Van Bommel's contribution to the first round of the emergency debate held on Friday. The “government statement” referred to in this debate is an official letter traditionally sent by the government to parliament prior to a debate the contents of which provide the substance of the debate:

Harry van BommelThe situation in the Middle East is completely out of control. Every act of violence leads to a further escalation of violence and for that reason all such acts must be immediately halted. The Netherlands, the European Union and the UN must bring pressure to bear for an immediate ceasefire. The Dutch government is not doing that and is thereby open to reproach.

Every act of violence against civilians and civilian targets, from whatever side, is in contravention of international treaties and must for that reason alone be condemned. The government's written statement on this point is not completely clear. The minister writes that Israel's actions are just if they are “proportional” and if “innocent civilians are as far as possible spared”. Can this, in the government's view, possibly be the case when residential areas have been bombed?

The government's statement begins with a description of the recent developments following the attack of 25 June on the Israeli army post on the border with Gaza and the death of two soldiers and seizure of a third. In this way the minister completely avoids the political situation which began with the elections in January, democratically conducted elections of which Hamas was the winner. The result was a total boycott of the Hamas government, both politically and financially. This boycott was supported by the EU and by the Dutch government. The Netherlands and the EU therefore carry joint responsibility for the political situation. Why was this important background, the most important recent political development, left out of the description?

Israel's reaction towards both Gaza and Lebanon is disproportinate and wrong. The EU calls on Israel to exercise restraint and not to use disproportionate violence. Can this be taken as an unambiguous accusation, given that this is in reality already happening? Is the government of the opinion that Israel's violent actions are serving the interests of Israel's security? Is the government conscious of the risk that the whole region will go up in flames?

On page four of the statement the minister writes that collective punishment and intimidation are inadmissable on the grounds of Art. 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and that he condemns such punishment and intimidation. Is the government not of the opinion that this is just what is happening in Gaza? What does this mean in relation to Israel's culpability? Infrastructure in Gaza, such as the sea port, which was paid for with Dutch money, has now been reduced to rubble by Israeli bombardment. Must it now be rebuilt with more Dutch money?

In the case of the war with Lebanon, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert has called the seizure of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah ‘an act of war by Lebanon’. Does the government share this opinion? Hezbollah has to date enjoyed the support of a small minority in Lebanon. To identify this minority with Lebanon is unjust; Israel's reaction, moreover, works against its own interests, as now many more will support Hezbollah. Does the government believe this approach to be intelligent? Does it have any chance of success? In recent years the EU has invested a great deal of money in strengthening democracy in Lebanon. These efforts have been blown away in a single week. How do you see relations with Lebanon in the short term and what contribution do you intend to make to preserve the hundreds of thousands of refugees in the Lebanon from a humantitarian disaster?

What do we do now? That is the most important question. The government gives no answer to it in this statement. Israel has announced that it hopes to be able to continue its bombardment unhindered for a further week – pressure must be exerted immediately, therefore, or does the government see it as desirable that Israel should get its extra week? The Netherlands stresses the role of the US as a member of the quartet. President Bush's opinions regarding the settling of the conflict have been heard via an accidentally on-air microphone. Does the Dutch government share these views?

Why do you not lay more emphasis on the role of the EU as a member of the quartet, not least because the EU is an important economic partner of both Israel and Lebanon? The EU has an Association Agreement with both countries, and in Israel's case it offers a means of exerting pressure and must be suspended. Other diplomatic means must also be used – recall the Dutch ambassador from Israel!

The suggestions regarding a UN peacekeeping force appear for the present to be futile. First of all there must be an immediate cease-fire. Moreover, the conflict must not be allowed to be internationalised. In this respect flights by the Israeli air force over the Syrian presidential palace must be condemned. You state this “does not contribute to de-escalation.” That is much too weak: it is a provocation.

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