Dutch local authorities turn backs on Israeli delegation

Lieberman slams decision made after discovery that settler council heads were group participants, but stresses decision not made by Netherlands government.

311_settlement (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG) withdrew its support from an October trip of Israeli mayors to Holland after it learned that settler council heads were among the group’s participants.
In a letter sent out on Thursday, the association said that the Union of Local Authorities, which had helped organize the trip, had not initially provided information regarding the list of participants when it requested organizational support.
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“Surely you are well aware that the composition proposed is controversial, which places VNG in a very delicate position vis-a-vis different stake holders,” the association said in a letter.
It added that it had informed the Dutch Foreign Ministry and the Israeli Embassy in Holland of its decision. The Association could not be reached for comment.
The Union of Local Authorities and settler leaders publicly attacked the decision on Sunday. Although the letter never explicitly stated an objection to “settlers,” Israelis told The Jerusalem Post that this was in fact the issue.
With this move, “Holland has not helped peace in the region,” Local Authorities head Shlomo Buhbut said in a letter he sent to the Dutch ambassador to Israel Sunday.
In a conversation with the Post he further alleged that the Dutch Foreign Ministry had pressured the Association to withdraw its support from the trip, which he said, was organized under the auspices of the Joint Distribution Committee.
Settler leaders such as Efrat Council head Oded Revivi and Avi Naim of the Beit Aryeh-Ofarim Regional Council, who had planned to travel to the Netherlands, noted that the group was composed of a variety of the country’s leaders including Israeli Arabs.
“They can have what ever opinion they want about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but declaring that some [Israeli] mayors are not acceptable guests is disturbing,” said Revivi.
The Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip said in response that “friends do not boycott friends.” It added that Israel’s response should be, “we’re fighting together against radical Islam. Strengthen us, do not boycott us.”
The council also posted a list of the Dutch parliamentarians’ e-mail addresses to encourage the public to send them letters in protest of the decision.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Sunday that the decision by VNG not to set up meetings for their Israeli counterparts because of the presence of heads of settlement councils underscored the problem with the government’s settlement construction moratorium.
“I think that this only proves how the freeze was not right, because a continuation of the freeze only gives legitimization to boycotts that perhaps start with the heads of municipalities in Judea and Samaria, and then extends to boycotts of products from Judea and Samaria, and then will reach boycotts against all Israeli municipality heads and Israeli products,” Lieberman said in an Army Radio interview.
Lieberman stressed that the decision was not made by the Dutch government, but rather by the association of municipalities which is an independent body.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman added that the Dutch authorities never said the delegation could not come, or that no one would meet with it – only that the local council body would not arrange meetings.
“The foreign minister of Holland is a big friend of Israel, and we have constant contact with him,” Lieberman said of his Dutch colleague, Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen. “The local authority organization is an independent body that is not subordinate to the Foreign Ministry,” he said.
A spokesman for the Dutch Embassy in Tel Aviv confirmed that the decision was made by VNG, and was not a federal government decision. The spokesman said the Dutch government “respects” the decision of that body. He said that Dutch policy on the settlements is in line with that of the EU.
Last Thursday, after a meeting of EU heads of state, the EU put out a declaration saying that “The European Union recalls that settlements are illegal under international law and calls for an extension of the moratorium decided by Israel.”