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Van Bommel: ‘It has to be about the victims, and about finding a solution’

14 January 2009

Van Bommel: ‘It has to be about the victims, and about finding a solution’

The explosion of violence in the Gaza Strip has launched a wave of emotion across the world. The conflict provoked strong reactions on all sides. The Dutch government, however, is keeping its options open. That cannot be said of Harry van Bommel, foreign affairs spokesman for the SP. On his initiative Parliament came back early from recess, meeting last Friday to discuss the situation. But at the same time, a row has broken out which focuses on Van Bommel and his alleged views on the situation.

Harry van BommelA great deal of attention has been paid to your participation in last week's demonstration against the Israeli offensive in Gaza. Why?

Van Bommel: “I addressed the demonstration and called on both parties to put an end to their violence. Israel and Hamas must stop their rocket attacks, because the vicious circle of violence brings no-one any closer to peace. Beyond that, the two sides must work on a lasting solution, to which an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is crucial. I also marched in the demonstration and joined in the chant of "Intifada, Free Palestine". Free from occupation is what I of course meant. The Palestinians have a right to as much, as is recognised by the entire international community. Intifada means revolt or rebellion, and people also have the right to rebel against the illegal occupation. But it was an unfortunate choice of words, because intifada is interpreted by too many people as violent rebellion, and that wasn't what I meant. I am in favour of non-violent actions, and I think that these could bring the Palestinians a great deal further than violence. Rebellion, resistance as advocated by Gandhi and by Martin Luther King, not the destructive rebellion of a group such as Hamas. But it was also unfortunate in that it gave other people the opportunity to draw attention away from the consequences of the Israeli invasion.”

You've had a fair amount of criticism about this. Some columnists have gone so far as to call you a supporter of Hamas. What is your view of that organisation?

“I have absolutely no affinity with them. I don't think that fundamentalist political Islam has much to offer the Palestinian people. Not only that, but the organisation is saturated with anti-Semitism. But it's always the case in any conflict that peace negotiations have to be conducted with the enemy and not with friends. For that reason dialogue must indeed be sought. Just look at the peace processes in Northern Ireland and in Yugoslavia. In those cases too enemies came to the table, despite the terrible suffering that all sides had brought about."

As a result of the furore you have decided not to attend the commemoration of Auschwitz. Why, if you did nothing wrong?

“Once again I don't want to draw attention away from the main issue, which in this case is the commemoration of the horrors of Auschwitz. We should not connect the Israeli-Palestine conflict with the Holocaust, but if others intend to seize upon my attendance to do just that, it's better if I stay away, however sad I might find that.”

The lawyer, Mr Moszkowicz, has lodged a legal complaint against you on the grounds of advocating violence, and of discrimination. Are you shocked by this?

“No, I'm convinced that I broke no law. I don't endorse violence or discrimination. That goes against everything I stand for. And I can't be held responsible for hurtful slogans uttered by others, which I didn't even hear. If I had heard them, I'd have left. I have already said this in Parliament, I find it above all a shame that this again draws attention from the real problem: an armed conflict because of which a thousand people have died and thousands have been wounded, most of them civilians: old people, women and children, according to aid organisations. The Red Cross and the UN are sounding the alarm, and that's what we should be talking about. But unfortunately attention is more easily paid to side issues.”

Can the Netherlands really do anything to contribute to a solution?

“The Netherlands can exert pressure both in its own right and via the European Union. We can exert pressure on all parties to put an end to the violence and negotiate. We can put Israel under pressure because the EU is an important trading partner, and we can suspend the Association Agreement. We can put the Palestinians under pressure by demanding a constructive approach in exchange for the aid we are offering."

And what is the solution that the SP foresees in the long term?

"That is what is known as the 'two state solution'. Both Israel and Palestine have the right to self-determination and security. And for this reason an end must be put to the occupation of the Palestinian regions, as well as to Israel's settlement policy and to the terror tactics of, for example, Hamas. The European Union must contribute to a solution by arguing consistently for a viable Palestinian state and secure, internationally recognised borders for both Israel and Palestine."

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