Peace between governing parties more important than peace in the Middle East?

14 March 2008

Peace between governing parties more important than peace in the Middle East?

by Harry van Bommel, Member of Parliament and SP Spokesman on Foreign Affairs

This week, in The Hague, human rights took centre stage in a parliamentary debate on Israel and Palestine. The question was whether Israel is justified in its complete closure of access to and from the Gaza strip as a reaction to missiles fired at Israeli civilian targets.

When I took the floor I based what I had to say on the Geneva Convention, in which it is stated that no-one should be punished for a crime that he or she has not committed. The total closure of Gaza is a collective punishment which affects everyone and is therefore illegal. Originally the government also came to this conclusion. The Minister for Development Cooperation in the Christian Democrat-Labour-Christian Union coalition, Labour (PvdA) man Bert Koenders, also referred to it as a collective punishment.

Then, however, Christian Democrat (CDA) Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen woke up and smelt what was going on. A letter from the minister arrived at Parliament, the point of which was that while Israel must do better, there was no question of collective punishment or of transgression of international law. In answer to a question I put to him, Verhagen went so far as to say that the Israeli reaction, as a result of which dozens of children died, was 'proportional'. It is impossible to enter into debate in the face of this degree of ruthlessness.

What happened next, politically, was much worse. The PvdA did then support a parliamentary declaration to the effect that Israel had broken international law, but lent no support to the desire of the SP and the Green Left to see economic action taken against Israel. In short, Israel abuses human rights but the Labour Party is not willing to take any action. Peace within the coalition evidently weighs more heavily than does peace in the Middle East.

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