Contempt for Palestinian rights in ‘city of peace and justice’

Wrote this op-ed in summer 2011, several days before Abbas vited the Netherlands.

When President Mahmoud Abbas visits the Netherlands this week he will face a hostile crowd. Although the Dutch pride themselves as a beacon of democracy, equality and justice, Palestinian rights count less than Israeli rights in this tiny country.

Every Dutch government since 1948 – left or right – has strongly supported the Jewish state. Seldom have Dutch Ministers of Foreign Affairs dared to officially discuss the ‘Nakba’, for instance. This part of Israel’s history is preferably ignored or even denied, as if the involuntary expulsion of hundreds of thousands of refugees never occurred.

It does seem odd that it is the Netherlands, hosting the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court and holder of the self-proclaimed ‘city of peace and justice’ (The Hague) is Israel’s most staunch supporter in Europe.

After all, when addressing this conflict from an international legal perspective, it becomes clear that Israel has severely and repeatedly violated international law. Not just in times of military operations, but also in its vision of peace Israel seeks to override existing legal boundaries and resolutions – and the Netherlands continues to support Israel in this regard and thus effectively shows contempt for the international legal framework that it proclaims to bolster.

The core of the conflict has always centred on control over land and who is allowed to live where. UN resolution 242 – following the invasion of the East-Jerusalem, West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and Sinai desert by the IDF – calls for the “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict”.

Yet for the last decades the Netherlands has always turned a blind eye to the persistent settlement activity in the occupied territories; every time Benjamin Netanyahu demonstrates his refusal to share Jerusalem or give up illegal settlements in the West Bank, The Hague remains silent.

Another pressing issue that hinders peace is the unwillingness of Israel to accept both democracy and plurality. As it seeks to be a Jewish state first and foremost, it endangers its democratic values by categorically denying the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel.

The Geneva Convention clearly supports the right of return of refugees, including their offspring born in exile.

This inalienable right is also strongly supported by UN resolution 194, which states that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date”. In case refugees do not want to return, they should be compensated for their loss of property.

The Dutch government, however, refuses to side with the existing international legal framework and UN resolutions in case of the occupation of Palestine. Even when the advisory panel of The Hague-based International Court of Justice declared the West Bank separation barrier and its accompanying regime illegal in 2004, the Dutch government stood firm in support of “Israel’s right to defend itself”.

The Netherlands used to be a pioneer of human rights. It has a long tradition of envisioning itself as a beacon of democracy, peace and justice. Respect for human rights, argued by many a Dutch politician over the years, will be the pillars of a just world and needs to be defended globally. This is all but words from the past, as the current government prefers ‘security’ and ‘strategic alliances’ over human rights and justice – especially concerning its ally in the Middle East.

This turn in priorities is partly explained by the Dutch government, currently formed by the Liberal (VVD) and Christian (CDA) party, which rely on the support of the extreme right-wing Party for Freedom (PVV) by Geert Wilders, who has this week been acquitted of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims. Wilders is a long-standing supporter of Israel and his solution for Mid East peace is the completion of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. He has repeatedly argued that all of the land belongs to the Jews and Palestinians should be “transferred to Jordan”.

But it is not just the embodiment of anti-Muslim sentiment that explains the appeasement of Israeli occupation in this tiny country. The Liberal and Christian party also tend to speak of Palestinians in condescending terms, and the coalition agreement stated that “the Netherlands wants to invest in its relationship with the state of Israel”.

When President Abbas visits the Netherlands this week he will indeed enter the ‘city of peace and justice’. However, the politicians that currently live there have little time or understanding for international law – let alone his vision of peace, or justice.

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