Condemn both sides' aggression – a sustainable peace can only be achieved through negotiation

9 January 2009

Condemn both sides' aggression – a sustainable peace can only be achieved through negotiation

Today Parliament at last debated the crisis situation in the Gaza Strip with Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen. Speaking on behalf of the SP, Harry van Bommel argued for a balanced approach by the Netherlands, and the condemnation of Hamas rocket attacks, as well as of the disproportionate response of Israel's offensive. In addition, diplomacy must be strengthened: a sustainable peace can only be achieved through negotiation.

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Below are extracts from Harry van Bommel's contribution to the debate:

In order to understand the situation in Gaza the government goes back to to 4th November 2008, when Israel discovered Hamas' tunnel into Israel. The UN Rapporteur for Human Rights, Richard Falk, goes further back than this. He points to the fact that Israel did not honour commitments to improve living conditions during the truce.

In reality you have to go still further back. The closure of the Gaza Strip was in place before the truce. The UN was already calling this a collective punishment, and thus in conflict with the Geneva Conventions. And our development minister, Mr Koenders, also called this a collective punishment, though this later turned out, unfortunately, not to be the government's position.

You can go even further back, to 1967, to the beginning of the occupation.

The occupation has transformed Gaza into the biggest open air prison in the world. It is not literally occupied, but rather surrounded. In January 2007 an international law report appeared, paid for in part by the Netherlands, which stated that Israel must be regarded as the occupying power, and therefore as in part responsible for living conditions there.

Providing humanitarian aid is only possible in dribs and drabs, and following recent events even this has been stopped. The SP applauds Mr Koenders for demanding an explanation from the Israeli ambassador. We are also curious to know his answer.

Legitimacy and proportionality

The government has expressed its views on the legitimacy of Israel's actions, that Israel has the right to defend itself. But I would venture to doubt that this invasion of Gaza can be seen as self-defence in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter. I would like to see the government commission a report on this point from the Advisory Council on International Questions.

The cabinet has given no judgement as to proportionality. Is Israel's action excessive? The government says only that it has the impression that Israel has 'restrained itself'.

Is proportionality a condition which the government sees as important? For Israel itself, and for some political groups in this Parliament, it seems that it is not.

Is the government aware that on 27th December UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, as well as condemning Hamas – also expressed his condemnation of Israel's excessive violence? Why do you not share this view?

And do you share our view that as a result of doubts about the proportionality of these actions, further investigation is necessary? You want last week's attack on the school to be looked into, but why do you not support a broad investigation of the proportionality of the whole operation? My proposal is that you argue for this at the UN, in which case, at the same time, reports that white phosphorus and depleted uranium grenades have been used can be investigated.

War Crimes?

The key question at the moment is whether war crimes have been perpetrated. This description has been used by a number of worthy people: the Reverend Desmond Tutu, the Christian Democrat Dries van Agt and Labour's Thijs Berma. The known facts also point in this direction. Use of artillery and heavy bombardment in heavily populated areas are never permissible. Firing rockets from these areas is also criminal.

On what does the government base its expectation that Israel will do everything possible to prevent citizens from becoming victims of the military action?

No surprise

Lastly on this point, two questions: can the minister confirm that this war was not unexpected, but that in recent months it was already being prepared for? And can the minister give his reaction to the analysis, one which comes also from the Israeli side, that the moment when Gaza was invaded was chosen entirely because of the elections which will take place in Israel in February?

In addition to legitimacy and proportionality, effectiveness is also an important concept in law governing the conduct of war. Does the government believe that the Israeli approach will prove effective? The government considers, correctly, that the military action has not yet led to an end to the rocket attacks by Hamas.


A sustainable truce can only be achieved around the negotiating table. The government sees it as a gain that the Palestinians and Israel should enter into immediate and intensive negotiations. I applaud that. At last the government recognises that it is necessary to hold talks with the Palestinians. Hamas is part of the problem, but talking with them is also part of the solution. The international political boycott of Hamas has resulted in failure.

Last night a UN resolution was adopted, but there is unfortunately still no truce.

Supervision of borders

There is a Dutch-Danish initiative to send EU observers. It is to the credit of the Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen that he has come forward with this initiative. I would like to put a number of questions regarding the elaboration of this plan, but that would be premature, it seems to me. One question, however, is certainly of importance. Why should this be limited to the Gaza-Egypt border? Why should observers not also guarantee the opening of the Gaza-Israel border crossing? This must and shall form part of any truce, that is unavoidable. The SP calls on the minister to bring this up for discussion.

The government ends its letter to Parliament with the announcement that these events in Gaza do not compel a revision of the cabinet's standpoint regarding the deepening of relations between the EU and Israel. I find this premature, and for two reasons: you have said yourselves that you want to see an investigation of the attack on the school. So wait for the results. And this war will hopefully soon come to an end, but could just as well last many more weeks or even longer. So this deepening should be suspended.

Transit of arms through the Netherlands

Lastly, the Netherlands has long acted as an entrepôt for arms going to Israel. At the end of last year , an end was put to this, fortunately. In the SP's view all transit of arms through EU airports would be banned in cases where the country of destination is in an area marked by tension or conflict.

Germany and the UK even continue to supply Israel with weapons, in conflict with EU export criteria. The Netherlands should raise this point at European level.

Next Tuesday the debate will continue, and the SP plans to bring forward three motions:

  • The government must argue at the UN for an independent enquiry into the proportionality of Israel's actions.
  • The government must argue for a suspension of the intensification of economic relations between the EU and Israel.
  • Any EU observer mission must not limit itself to the border between Egypt and Gaza but must also supervise the opening of the border between Israel and Gaza.

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