Europe judges Israel by a different standard than other countries in the region because it is seen as a “European country” that should be judged by European standards, Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said Monday.
“There is no way we can disentangle the destiny of Europe from that of Israel, and we better face that fact,” said Timmermans during a lecture at Beit Hatfutsot, sponsored by the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, which operates under the auspices of the World Jewish Congress.
Timmermans said that it was hard for some in Europe to deal with a strong Israel. “It is easy to be Israel’s friend as an underdog,” he said, adding that was something “cultural, part of our heritage.”
What is harder for some Europeans, he said, is to be Israel’s friend when it is “top dog,” and perceived as “not relenting, not giving in to the requests of other people.”
Timmermans, who caused a minor brouhaha on Sunday when he refused an IDF security escort while touring parts of Hebron, said that “Europe needs to devise a more sophisticated diplomacy [when] working with Israel.”
Israeli diplomatic officials were taken aback both by Timmerman’s refusal of the IDF escort as well as the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s decision to demonstratively cancel the inauguration of a Dutch-donated scanner to the Kerem Shalom crossing with Gaza.
This is because the Netherlands is considered among Israel’s strongest supporters, inside the EU.
The officials said that both these incidents made headlines in Holland, and suspected that they were driven by domestic Dutch politics.
Timmermans name has been mentioned as a possible candidate to replace Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief, when she is scheduled to step down next year.
There was some speculation that his actions in Hebron may be connected to his possibly eying that position.
Timmerman’s said that the EU should currently be fully supporting the diplomatic process driven by US Secretary of State John Kerry, and not hold out for an alternative offer.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would “jump at an opportunity to say I could get a better deal if I stall,” he said, indicating that the EU should not give him that chance.
Timmermans said he has done everything to convince his colleagues to support Kerry’s efforts, and that if this effort fails “we are all in deep trouble, and it will take many, many years for a solution.”
He said he hoped that this was understood in Israeli society.
In a direct reference to Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, he said that although there were those who may think the status quo was comfortable today, it is “not good” for the future.
The Dutch Foreign Minister, who left Israel Monday for South Africa and the funeral of Nelson Mandela, said that what was currently happening in the Arab world will not “quiet down in a couple of years,” and would likely continue “for generations.”
Everyone, he said, would benefit from a “closer cooperation” with Israel given its position in the region, its intelligence information and security analysis.
Asked about a recent Dutch government recommendation to the giant Royal Haskoning DHV engineering company to cancel its participation in building a sewage treatment plant, because it was across the Green Line, Timmermans said that “all territories beyond the Green Line don’t belong to Israel, and if you start a project, you need the agreement of local [Palestinian] authorities.”
He said that the Palestinians were not involved in the project, and as a result the government discouraged the Dutch company’s participation.
He said the Dutch government discourages companies from economic involvement beyond the Green Line.
The Dutch are not alone.
The British government last week, on the Foreign Office’s Trade and Investment website, wrote that the UK has a “clear position” on Israeli settlements: “The West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights are territories which have been occupied by Israel since 1967. Settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict impossible.”
The website reads that “there are therefore clear risks related to economic and financial activities in the settlements, and we do not encourage or offer support to such activity. Financial transactions, investments, purchases, procurements as well as other economic activities (including in services like tourism) in Israeli settlements or benefiting Israeli settlements, entail legal and economic risks stemming from the fact that the Israeli settlements, according to international law, are built on occupied land and are not recognized as a legitimate part of Israel’s territory. This may result in disputed titles to the land, water, mineral or other natural resources which might be the subject of purchase or investment.”
Furthermore, it said, “EU citizens and businesses should also be aware of the potential reputational implications of getting involved in economic and financial activities in settlements, as well as possible abuses of the rights of individuals. Those contemplating any economic or financial involvement in settlements should seek appropriate legal advice.”
A spokesman at the British embassy said that these guidelines were “voluntary guidance” and not a boycott.
“The British Government firmly opposes calls to boycott Israel,” the spokesman said.
“We are deeply committed to promoting the UK’s trade and business ties with Israel, a vital element of the flourishing partnership between the two countries. We do not recognize the Occupied Territories, including the settlements, as part of Israel.”
The Trade and Investment website explained Israel’s presence in the West Bank as follows: “Israel’s armed forces occupied the West Bank, the Syrian Golan Heights and the Gaza Strip (along with the Sinai Peninsula) in 1967.” It provided no context whatsoever as to why or how this occurred, or what prompted the Six Day War.