Some people already used to speak of Uri Rosenthal, the Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs, as the Dutch minister of Israeli affairs. That was a joke, of course. But it no longer sounds like one. Just read what the German magazine Der Spiegel (28.9.11) reports. According to the magazine a draft had been prepared, in the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, for a joint position of the member states of the European Union on human rights in Israel and the occupied territories. The chances for a European agreement seemed good on Monday, Der Spiegel writes, 'particularly because the last version of the text had a balanced tone. Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip was condemned, as were the most recent Palestinian terrorist attacks on the Israelis. The document also pilloried executions carried out by Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the violence of Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank.
But this turned out to be too much for some of Israel's friends in Europe. Just one hour before the official debate began in Geneva, the Netherlands representative reported that his country could not back such a resolution. In a quickly arranged emergency meeting the Dutchman whipped out his iPhone, reading off a number of required revisions, without which he said his country would unfortunately be unable to approve the document.
The corrections obviously came directly from the Dutch ambassador's boss, Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal, known for his pro-Israeli policies. The member of the conservative People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) is himself Jewish, though not religious, and is married to an Israeli woman.
Netherlands Steps Away From EU Position
He instructed his diplomats in Geneva to strike a number of formulations from the statement, among them numerous references to a "two-state solution" -- that is, the foundation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The foreign minister also didn't want any mention of Israel's arrests of peacefully demonstrating human rights activists or their destruction of homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that forced the affected Palestinians to resettle elsewhere.
And this despite the fact that a report for the UN Human Rights Council confirms that the Israeli government has increased orders for the destruction of homes since the beginning of the year. According to the report, some 387 buildings have been destroyed since January, among them 140 residential buildings, turning out 755 Palestinians. Furthermore, more Palestinians have been displaced in the first half of 2011 than all of last year, the report adds.
The changes from The Hague were not well-received by the other European diplomats. Though some had been prepared to negotiate individual questions such as the Israeli arrests of demonstrators, the refusal to acknowledge a need for a two-state solution -- already a key European position for years -- went too far.
Most of those present at the meeting protested, at the same time expressing wonderment that some member countries agreed to the Netherlands' last-minute wishes. Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic all declared they were ready to accept the demands, in order to enable a unified European position. Meanwhile Sweden, Austria, Romania and Slovenia declared this was unacceptable. Thus just before the start of the council meeting, the EU representative leading the crisis meeting could do nothing but declare the debate had failed. '
End of quote. So in the end there was no joint-EU-position at all. Rosenthal spoiled the - rare - opportunity that Europe could have spoken with one voice. But much more worrisome is that Holland seems to have a minister of Foreign Affairs who does not want to speak out out against human rights violations in the occupied Palestinain territories like house demolitions, or arrests of people who peacefully protest such violations, and who apparently also has some trouble to accept a declaration that voices support for a two-state solution (Which by the way is strange, because this is since years an official position of the Dutch government. Could it have been the wording? Were maybe references made to East-Jerusalem? Has anybody seen the text of the draft?)
As Der Spiegel mentions, one reason for the behavior of the Dutch minister could be that he is known for his his pro-Israel feelings. It's also true that he is married to an Israeli wife.What Der Spielgel fails to mention, however, is that the liberal Rosenthal also rearranged the priorities of Dutch foreign policy somewhat. He moved 'action in favour of human rights' from the forefront it traditionally used to occupy in Dutch foreign policy, to a third place after international stability and Dutch national interests - (see de Volkskrant 15.12.10, Dutch)
What is also missing from the Spiegel-report is that Rosenthal is minister in a coalition (christian democrats and liberals) which could only master a majority in parliament because of the active support it obtained from the parliamentary faction of the islamophobe-and-friend-of-the-extreme-right-in-Israel, Geert Wilders. Wilders' support was probably the main reason that this coalition, in the Declaration of Policy which it issued at the moment it took office, in the paragraph that described foreign policy mentioned only one country by name. That was Israel. The paragraph in question said that the Netherlands intended to ínvest more in the ties with this country. Which is, as it seems, exactly what Rosenthal is doing. To the detriment of human rights.
PS The leader of the left liberal D66 party, Alexander Pechtold, has asked parliamentary questions about Rosenthal's behavior. It will be interesting to see what the minister is going to answer.