In Whose Name Are You Speaking? A Response to Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal
AIC | By Rifat Odeh Kassis | 20.02.2011 | NEDERLANDS
In recent weeks and months, a number of Latin American countries have publicly expressed their recognition of Palestinian statehood. Given that a Palestinian state doesn’t yet exist, this recognition also amounts to supporting the Palestinian right to statehood.
Both to Israel and to defenders of its policies around the world, the “snowball effect” of nations recognizing this right is, unsurprisingly, unnerving.
One such defender is the Dutch Foreign Minister, Uri Rosenthal. In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, Mr. Rosenthal argues why he believes international support for a Palestinian declaration of statehood “does no good.” But what strikes me most about the interview is not the straightforwardness of his opposition. Rather, I am struck by what his opposition barely manages to mask: the hypocrisy of his rhetoric on “negotiations” and “democratic values;” a repressive attitude toward what he characterizes as “inflammatory language regarding Israel” within the EU; and, ultimately, a betrayal both of the Netherlands’ strong record of commitment to international law and of his responsibilities as their representative.
It is important not only for Palestinians and Israelis to know exactly what Mr. Rosenthal is defending (inequality, systematic human rights violations, restrictions of free speech and press, the moral bankruptcy of an apartheid state). It is also important for all citizens of the Netherlands to know what their own Foreign Minister is saying and doing in their name.
With this in mind, I’d like to examine a number of the statements made by Mr. Rosenthal in his interview with the Jerusalem Post, as well as the contextual remarks provided by Herb Keinon, his interviewer.
Mr. Rosenthal asserts, “on the one hand, steps should be taken” to advance the diplomatic peace process, but international recognition of a Palestinian unilateral declaration of statehood “does not do any good whatsoever” to “bring the Middle East process to a higher level.” According to the article, “Rosenthal’s comments came before an afternoon meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, during which Netanyahu stressed that a unilateralist track would ‘kill negotiations with the Palestinians.’”
Part of what Mr. Rosenthal clearly opposes is a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. But he doesn’t utter a word of objection to the unilateral steps taken by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt), which are internationally recognized as such. Israel has illegally annexed East Jerusalem, confiscated vast amounts of Palestinian land to build its apartheid wall and protect terrain for illegal settlements, built and encouraged people to inhabit those settlements (which have eaten away at more than 40% of the West Bank), practiced brutal detention policies, restricted freedom of movement and other fundamental liberties, tried children in military courts, put the Gaza Strip under a state of permanent siege, and killed over 1,400 Gazans in a total bombardment in late 2008/early 2009 (mostly civilians, including over 300 children). The list of unilateral acts – the list of crimes – goes on and on. Mr. Rosenthal claims to oppose decisions taken by governments without balanced, negotiated political processes. But if this were really true, he would understand the need to bring Israel before the Hague instead of defending it in the Jerusalem Post.
As for the “negotiations with the Palestinians” in danger of being “killed,” according to Netanyahu, they have taken place for twenty years and accomplished virtually nothing. Perhaps it is such negotiations – tired, redundant, increasingly irrelevant as Israel creates more and more facts on the ground – that must die in order for a just peace to come alive in our region.
The interview informs us that “the Dutch parliament recently passed a resolution calling on the government to work against EU recognition of a Palestinian state….”
Let’s translate. The Dutch government (including Mr. Rosenthal) doesn’t want to take positive steps toward stopping the bloodshed – positive steps in the form of granting Palestinians their inalienable rights as stipulated by numerous UN resolutions and tenets of international law. That would be “unilateral”! That would be wrong. Instead, the Dutch government would rather decide (unilaterally, by the way) to prolong inequality and suffering by prohibiting other nations from taking a positive, proactive, and peaceful stance on ending the conflict altogether.
This is the language of hypocrisy, not of justice.
The article mentions, “Rosenthal, who is Jewish and married to an Israeli, was characterized recently by Czech Foreign Minister Karl Schwartzenberg as one of the two most active supporters of Israel among EU foreign ministers.” And he defines himself as “among the ones” in the EU who ‘regularly try to warn against unnecessary inflammatory language’ on Israel, and says his government has actively worked against efforts to “bash” and “delegitimize” Israel partly through the use and “disproportionate” application of such “inflammatory” language.
The passages quoted above constitute an exercise in euphemisms. Within the Dutch context, Rosenthal’s role is not simply a “supporter” of Israel, one who tries to “warn” against “unnecessary inflammatory language” that aims to “delegitimize” the Israeli state. Rather, it is the role of a censor, a repressor of criticism, and a political blacklister, supported by and supporting the work of Zionist lobbies like NGO Monitor and CIDI. Mr. Rosenthal’s rhetoric and policies go hand-in-hand with those of such organizations, which terrorize NGOs exposing the truth of the Israeli occupation and bully the Dutch public out of hearing it. For instance, NGO Monitor recently slammed ICCO, a Dutch aid organization, for financing the Electronic Intifada, an independent news source focused on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. (ICCO is also under fire from CIDI for supporting the Olive Tree Campaign, “Keep Hope Alive,” realized by the YMCA/YWCA JAI.) NGO Monitor vilified the Electronic Intifada and condemned ICCO by association. Rosenthal’s response? “I will look into the matter personally,” he said. If ICCO’s funding proves to be true, “it will have a serious problem with me.”
Is this the really level that Mr. Rosenthal – not to mention the lobbies who share his tactics of finger-pointing, threats, and repression – has stooped to? Persecuting organizations and publications that support human rights and social justice for Palestinians as “delegitimizing” and “anti-Semitic,” publicly smearing them, and seeking to sabotage not only their work but also their rights to free speech and free press? This is an appalling position for any human being to have. It is all the more appalling to see it in a democratic representative, ostensibly part of an apparatus designed to uphold those rights in the first place.
It is important for Mr. Rosenthal to be confronted by Jewish and Israeli human rights organizations and activists, of which there are many; he must be told “not in our name.” It is equally important for these organizations and activists to condemn NGO Monitor, CIDI, and other repressive lobbies: to remind them that their tactics serve only to prolong the damage done to both Israelis and Palestinians, that everyone suffers when rights are denied and governments are given a blank check to inflict harm without monitoring or criticism.
Mr. Rosenthal says, “We have seen over the last few months some events where some of the EU partners were eager to engage in straightforward initiatives, and I was among those who said ‘Let’s keep a little bit more restrained attitude, and look especially at whether this will be conducive to the Middle East peace process at large.” Later, he denies portrayals of Israel’s image within the EU as “the lowest it has been in decades,” replying, “I think this is an exaggeration. When you look at the conclusions of a series of council of foreign affairs ministers’ meetings, you will see balanced conclusions vis-à-vis the Middle East peace process.”
Mr. Rosenthal advocates being “restrained” in responding to policies that flagrantly violate international law and human rights – a “restraint” that seeks to prohibit other EU countries from taking positive initiatives that might bring the conflict closer to an end. Even worse, he defends these violations through public office, and thus makes his own country a partner in their perpetuation. The Dutch people are well-admired throughout the world as prioritizing human rights and international law; they, then, are being damaged and degraded by Mr. Rosenthal’s audacity. Likewise, his praise for “balanced” views in an utterly imbalanced situation serve to make the EU complicit in Israeli crimes committed against Palestinians. The Dutch people must know that their Foreign Minister is sacrificing the image of the Netherlands for the sake of Israel – that he is working hard to represent Israel’s interests while tarnishing those of his own country – and they should reject this insult, this injury.
He asserts, “If you take a positive stance toward Israel you might expect from Israel something in return. I’m happy to say that in the last few months Israel has taken an open attitude toward the requests made by the Dutch government to be more lenient on exports and goods from Gaza. That is a subtle game.”
It is not subtle, and it is not a game. Economic “leniency,” the mere relaxation of commercial restrictions imposed on Palestinians, solves nothing. The last 43 years have proven to Palestinians that economic band-aids will only prolong our occupation, will only intensify the destructive dependency of the Palestinian economy on the Israeli one, will distract the international community into thinking Israel is taking concrete steps toward meaningful change – when in reality it allows Israel to get away with taking none at all.
As we have read, Mr. Rosenthal urges taking a “positive stance” toward Israel. But showing a “positive stance” toward Israel should never mean sacrificing one’s own principles of justice and dignity, nor should it involve sacrificing Palestinians’ human rights. I urge Mr. Rosenthal to adopt a “positive stance” toward Israel that respects these values – because Israel certainly has not adopted one of its own. The Israeli state is responsible for the deaths of 352 Palestinian children during its 2008/2009 attack on Gaza; between 26 March 2010 and 18 January 2011, its military shot 24 children while collecting gravel near the border between Gaza and Israel; it has demolished Al-Araqib, a Bedouin village in the Naqab (Negev) Desert, 18 times in the past several months; the state continues to build illegal settlements on confiscated land in the oPt, including East Jerusalem. Is this openness? Is this positive? This is devastation; this is violence; these are policies that seek to crush, control, and erase. The only truly “positive stance” toward Israel is one that insists that these crimes must end.
“Rosenthal also dismissed reports that the US was interested in the EU taking a tough stand on Israel, since domestic political constraints prevented Washington from doing so itself – a kind of good cop/bad cop arrangement. ‘I hear that story over and over again,’ he said. ‘I would not like to be placed in the position of the bad cop; I don’t think Europeans like to be placed in the position of bad cops.’”
Mr. Rosenthal may not like to be placed in the position of the bad cop, but he is undeniably putting both the Netherlands and the EU in the position of the bad friend – to Israel. Israel needs good friends to remind her that its treatment of Palestinians, its behavior at home and on the international stage, cannot go on forever. To really understand this, we need only to look toward Egypt: the Mubarak regime, a dictatorship supported by the US and many European countries for the past 30 years, was brought down in a mere 18 days by the nation’s youth and peaceful means. The young people of Egypt managed to do, in 18 days and with tremendous integrity and clarity, what three decades of “positive engagement” by the US and the EU (trying to “convince the regime” of taking democratic steps while continuing to fund its dictator) failed to do. We Palestinians are going to do the same against our occupation – with the support of the EU or without it.
“Rosenthal diplomatically declined to weigh in on the debate whether it was ‘undemocratic’ for the Knesset to establish a committee to investigate where certain NGOs were getting their funds, saying this was ‘for the Knesset to decide.’” With respect to the Knesset panel, he added, “There is no reason to hide anything. I am in favor of transparency,” and “a vivid and lively civil society, where NGOs are a part of it, is very important.”
The contradictions continue. Is it not the role of the Dutch Parliament to also investigate the funding sources of, say, CIDI? How can Rosenthal claim to support transparency, not to mention the vividness and liveliness of civil society, while only acting repressively against groups and individuals he disagrees with? How can he say, free of irony, that the presence of NGOs in civil society is “very important,” when he supports a smear campaign against NGOs in his own civil society? And how can he praise the ideals of civil society in the first place while simultaneously practicing another campaign – silence – when it comes to Israel’s repression of the NGOs whose existence he finds so valuable in abstract?
FM Rosenthal’s pronouncements on the Israeli government are so blind, so brazen, hypocritical, and so unjust that I am sometimes surprised he can utter them comfortably in his own name. But when we consider his vocal and prominent role in the parliament of his own country, and in the political arena of others’, it is especially important for all communities and individuals he attempts to represent (Jewish, Israeli, Dutch, European, etc.) to say, loud and clear:
“Not in ours.”
Rifat Odeh Kassis is the President of Defence of Children-International, the Director of Defence of Children – Palestine Section and a Board Member of the Alternative Information Center (AIC).
 Keinon, Herb. “Dutch FM: Recognition of Palestinian state does no good,” http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?id=207384. 08/02/11
 It is worth mentioning that a CIDI board member, Mr. Doron Livnat, is the director of the Riwal, a European company that produces access equipment and large-scale cranes for construction sites, and which has assisted in building the separation wall and illegal settlements within the oPt. Riwal’s headquarters in Dordrecht, the Netherlands, was raided and searched by the Dutch National Crime Squad after Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights group, levied criminal complaints against its activities.