Dutch FM Bert Koenders.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders arrived in Israel Monday evening for a threeday visit that will include a trip Wednesday to the Gaza Strip.
He will be followed here on Thursday by British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who will be here for only one day. It is Koenders’s first visit to the area as foreign minister.
Both diplomats are scheduled to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to hold high-level meetings in Ramallah. Neither will meet with Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely.
Hammond has taken part in the negotiations between the world powers and Iran in Vienna, and his trip here will be the first high-level meeting Netanyahu will hold with one of the members of the P5+1 involved in the current intensive efforts in Vienna to reach an accord with Iran.
Netanyahu has blasted those talks and charged that those negotiating with Iran were apparently ready to reach an agreement at any price.
Koenders joins a long list of European foreign ministers visiting Gaza. Last month, Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier paid a brief visit to the coastal strip, joining the foreign ministers of Norway, Ireland and Spain, as well as EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and former Quartet envoy Tony Blair, who have gone there since last year’s Operation Protective Edge.
Like the others, Koenders will not meet any Hamas official, but rather will visit UNRWA projects.
Both the Netherlands and Britain voted against Israel in favor of a resolution in the UN Human Rights Council two weeks ago that welcomed the Council’s’ investigative committee report on the war in Gaza, which blasted Israel for its conduct of that operation.
Aviv Shir-On, deputy director-general for Western Europe in the Foreign Ministry, said it would be a mistake to view that vote as a sign that Israel was “losing” the EU.
Shir-On confirmed reports that Israel made it clear it would rather the eight EU countries on the council vote for a watered-down resolution in the UNHRC – which indeed happened – than vote against a more harshly worded document that would have passed in any event, and which Shir- On said would have then dogged Israel for years.
According to Shir-On, the draft that was approved was the third, and was considerably different than the first two put forward by the Palestinians, which would have created permanent mechanisms to follow up on the UNHRC Gaza investigation committee.
For instance, while the original draft had the UNHRC “endorsing” the report – which would have had practical ramifications regarding the need to follow up the report and establish mechanisms to do so – the resolution that passed only “welcomes” the report, which Shir-On said was a significant difference in the world of diplomacy.
Hammond will be accompanied on his visit by new British Ambassador David Quarrey, who took up his post Monday. Quarrey was most recently the Director for the Near East and North Africa in the British Foreign Office.
Quarrey, who succeeds Matthew Gould, said in a statement it is “a great privilege” to serve as Britain’s ambassador to Israel, calling the job a “fantastic posting.”
“I want to deepen the partnership between our two countries,” he said, “in particular, strengthening our ties in the fields of trade, investment, science, technology and cooperation against shared security threats and work for progress toward peace.”