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Catastrophic Dutch State Visit to Israel

mark rutte bibi netanyahu

Smiles were pasted on faces as Israel and Holland faced off in a tense drama that torpedoed a state trade delegation.

Bibi Netanyahu’s tenure as prime minister has displayed a remarkable number of diplomatic gaffes including forcing a Turkish ambassador to sit on a kindergarten chair during an official meeting, refusing to attend the funeral of one of the greatest world leaders of the past half century–and now this.  Holland sent its senior leadership including the prime minister and foreign minister on an official state visit to Israel and Palestine.  The purpose of the trip was to expand Dutch trade opportunities.  Its PM planned to attend the dedication of a sophisticated new container security scanner to be used to expand the goods exported from Gaza, including to the West Bank.

At the last minute, a major row broke out when the Dutch discovered the scanner would not be used for exports from Gaza to the West Bank, which was its original purpose.  Bibi disingenuously claimed his refusal to allow the scanner to be used for exports was a security matter:

“Our concern is security. It is not to prevent prosperity. It’s to enable prosperity without undertaking impossible security challenges.”

This claim reminds me of Bibi’s equally fatuous claim that he didn’t go to South Africa because of budgetary considerations.  And to those Israel supporters who claim there is no Israeli siege of Gaza, Bibi himself refutes it:

“…We control the material that goes in and out of Gaza.”

Defense Minister Bogie Yaalon also got into the act with disingenuousness of his own concerning the siege:

Defense Ministry officials explained that for security reasons, Israel wants to isolate the West Bank from the Gaza Strip…

I cannot think of a single incident, especially lately, of weapons exported from Gaza to the West Bank for use in a terror attack.  That makes the claim a fraud.  Clearly, the reason for prohibiting Gaza exports to the West Bank is to prevent any commerce or contact that might strengthen ties between the two parts of Palestine torn asunder by the Israeli Occupation and siege.  The Dutch too saw this as a punitive political, rather than security decision.  As the foreign ministry said:

“The Dutch government strongly feels that positive, practical measures are needed to stimulate the ailing Gazan economy and to alleviate the worsening humanitarian situation for the people in Gaza,” the Dutch Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “We were given to understand that the accompanying easing of export procedures that we would like to see in this regard are subject of unfinished internal policy deliberations by various parties, including the government of Israel…”

From there, the entire visit collapsed into a round of recrimination and finger-pointing.  The minister for foreign trade abruptly cancelled a meeting with the Israeli water distributor, Mekorot.  Subsequently, the Dutch cancelled a major business deal with the Israeli company citing its distribution of water to Israeli settlements as a political impediment to business collaboration.

The Dutch foreign minister visited Hebron and refused an IDF security escort.  The military told him he could not visit without them accompanying him.  As a result he was forced to cancel his visit to that part of the city.  The Dutch felt it was designed to intimidate them and their Palestinian interlocutors, rather than offer security.  Frankly, Yaalon is precisely the sort of person who’d fire a shot across the bow of anyone, even a prime minister, who butts heads with him, as they did regarding the scanner.  This was the defense ministry’s payback.

What’s shocking about this is that Holland is a staunch Israeli ally.  Barely critical of any Israeli policies.  For Israel to lose the Dutch indicates how low it has fallen.  Further, in cancelling the water deal with Mekorot, the Dutch used the terms advanced by the BDS movement embracing the argument that decisions about trade with Israel should have a moral dimension related to Occupation.  On a related note, Romania has recently refused to sign a deal with Israel regarding importation of Romanian workers unless it guarantees they will not work on West Bank settlements.  In response, Israel has sought out European partners with laxer ethical standards in Bulgaria.

Though the European Union haven’t exactly been lions about voicing their opposition to Occupation, this new flare-up with a key European member doesn’t bode well for Israel’s future relations with the Union.  I think we can expect a further toughening of positions between the two entities.

Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev has, almost in spite of his liberal Zionist inclinations, penned a brilliant account of the success of the BDS campaign in which he compares it favorably to the anti-apartheid efforts of decades ago.  This is one of those rare instances when someone with whom you profoundly disagree actually analyzes the situation correctly and gets it (almost all) right.  It’s happened a few times with Tom Friedman, but never before with Shalev.


{ 21 comments… add one }

  • Marta December 12, 2013, 12:41 AM

    Netanyahu is the bull in the world’s very fragile china shop

  • Oui December 12, 2013, 12:51 AM

    PM Netanyahu and FM Liberman must be frustrated not to find a Geert Wilders and Uri Rosenthal setting Dutch foreign policy vs Israel. Dutch PM Rutte, a right-wing liberal from VVD, has embarrassed himself by promising Shimon Peres he would block EU labeling provisions on Israeli goods coming from Palestinian territory. Rutte and FM Timmermans (PvdA) are on a three-day visit to Israel and the West-Bank. Major conflicts with Israel are spoiling the Dutch agenda for an even-handed approach to the occupied territories.

    Dutch cabinet isn’t united in its approach towards the I-P issue and Rutte stated as such. He doesn’t want a proxy-war in his cabinet between pro-Israel (VVD) and pro-Palestinian (Labor-PvdA) ministers.

    Post from my diary “Israel Rejects Dutch Balanced I-P Policy .”

  • Oui December 12, 2013, 1:33 AM

    Photo is from happier times in a previous cabinet Balkenende IV of Christian Democrats (CDA), Labor (PvdA) and small Christian parties. Bibi Netanyhau shakes hands with former Dutch FM Maxime Verhagen (2007-2010). In 2010 the first cabinet Rutte was installed and Verhagen became deputy PM and minister of economic affairs. This VVD and CDA minority cabinet had parliamentary support of Geert Wilders’ PVV. The populist party of Geert Wilders is doing well in today’s poll numbers and virtually would be the largest party in The Netherlands!

    The last FM was Uri Rosenthal, I considered his foreign policy conform the Likud doctrine and his veto blocked EU human rights policy towards Israel. There are plenty of voices in support of the Palestinian cause, however strange, many persons involved are retired Dutch diplomats, cabinet members and a former Dutch PM Dries van Agt.

    • Oui December 12, 2013, 6:33 AM

      Your photo was taken during BN’s visit to the Netherlands in January 2012. At the time Rosenthal was FM in cabinet Rutte I with PVV giving support.

    • Richard Silverstein December 12, 2013, 9:24 PM

      @ Oui: Thanks for clarifying the origin of the photo. Using Google Images as a source is sometimes chancy.

  • Philos December 12, 2013, 3:10 AM

    Richard, you forgot to mention in your catalogue of recent Israeli blunders how they fluffed it when they were supposed to be greeting France as the saviours from a “bad deal” with Iran. France’s most senior government members (interior minister, finance minister, etc) were supposed to meet their Israeli counterparts for a gala dinner but the Israelis didn’t show. They all cancelled at the last minute. Even after Yair Lapid said he wanted to meet his French counterpart a couple of days previously. Steinitz had to show up an hour late (he wasn’t invited) to try to smooth things over. I don’t know how it was reported in France but only haaretz really gave it any front page coverage in Israel. These guys are so arrogant they think they can just fob France off

    • Deïr Yassin December 12, 2013, 9:42 AM

      I live in France, and I haven’t heard anything about that. It comes after Bibi asked the French Jews to ‘join their homeland’ in front of Hollande and the press last year. Hollande was pretty polite, but afterwards he ‘leaked’ that Bibi wasn’t ‘correct’.
      Don’t ever expect the French to say anything: if they do, they’ll get ‘Vichy’, ‘Pétain’ and ‘Drancy’ smacked back in their head.
      By the way, happy to read you here, Philos. Don’t know if you remember, I used to comment on 972mag, Kaufman ‘exiled’ me for calling Ben Israel/Xyz/I_like_Joe1952 a pathetic liar more than once on the same file :-)
      You really would be a great contribution as a Mizrahi left-winger expat. Ahlan wa sahlan.

      • Richard Silverstein December 12, 2013, 12:56 PM

        @ Deir Yassin: 972 is useful at times. But one of their columnists, Dimi Reider wrote there that I was allowing myself to be “used” as an intelligence asset (presumably by the Mossad). Noam Sheizaf’s response to me when I complained was entirely unsatisfactory & even contained lies. Lisa Goldman also refused to include my work in Global Voices Israel when she edited it. A bunch of lib Zios with some leftist tendencies.

        I’ve never taken them very seriously since then.

        • Deïr Yassin December 13, 2013, 4:09 AM

          @ Richard
          I’d say that 972mag is a variety of people, I mean even Derfner is writing there….. He just had a spin about Mandela admiring Begin. We know from back “Israel Reconsidered” that to Derfner there was no Nakba and nothing that Israel should eventually apologize for.
          I love Mya Guarnieri’s articles, she’s got a beautiful pen, comes close to poetry sometimes, she has real empathy, and a Palestinian partner :-), but the empathy was there before. By the way, she’s teaching at al-Quds University and was interviewed by Maan concerning the military raid. And Yossi Gurvitz’s articles for Yesh Din are valuable too. And Yuval Ben Ami. But no Palestinians write there regularly, Aziz Abu Sarah hasn’t written there for ages, and Omar Rahman didn’t last long. There are some external writers that are good, and I like Café Gibraltar because it gives some insight into Mizrahi culture, even when this is singing a well-known Arabic song in so bad Arabic that I wasn’t sure whether it was Hebrew or not.
          And the comment section is occupied by Jewish Home-voters, and even worse.

          • Richard Silverstein December 13, 2013, 2:14 PM

            I too like Mya Guarnieri & Yossi is invaluable. But the rest are hit or miss. The lack of Palestinian voices is also characteristic of Open Zion. It’s inexcusable. Even Haaretz does a better job, though not by much.

    • Richard Silverstein December 12, 2013, 1:03 PM

      @ Philos: I hadn’t read or heard about that one! Good catch!

  • Oui December 12, 2013, 3:39 AM

    Holland has long historic ties with with European Jews, especially those who fled Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition. Antwerp and Amsterdam were well known as haven for refugees and all who suffered religious persecution (Sephardi Jews, Huguenots and Pilgrim Fathers). The Dutch benefited from its multi-culturist society, craftsmen and enjoyed an economic boom during the Golden Age and its policy of colonization, naval power and trade without scruples by the Dutch East-Indies Company (VOC). Concentrated wealth within Dutch families has endured to the present day.

    Worthwhile to visit in Amsterdam, the Portuguese synagogue. PM Netanyahu has visited the synagogue during his two-day visit in 2012, thanking the Dutch for its objection to a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood.

  • ilan December 12, 2013, 5:09 AM


    Your post are so, how to say, not having relationship with the truth. If you write this “Bibi…..Turkish ambassador to sit on a kindergarten chair during an official meeting,”. This is not correct at all. Bibi was not involved in this case, it was Dani Ayalon. The Turkish ambassador was sitting in a sofa, not a chair, just that the chair of Dani Ayalon was a bit higher.
    Maybe it is in your interest to put the blame of this case on Bibi and hide Ayalon from his responsibility, but you would be misleading you readers…as always.

    • Richard Silverstein December 12, 2013, 9:22 PM

      @ ilan: Are you claiming that as prime minister he had no responsibility for this insult? Are you claiming that Bibi disapproved of it? If so, can you prove that? Clearly, a PM is responsible for the actions of his ministers, in this case Ayalon. As for how low the seat was, it was quite low & Maariv or Yediot even posted a front page photo with a line marking how much higher Ayalon was from the ambassador. Further, the foreign ministry was so proud of this little trick that they boasted to the press about it, which began an imbroglio that ended with the ambassador recalled to Ankara. If you’re trying to argue that all this was much ado about nothing, clearly the Turks didn’t feel that way.

      As for “misleading,” I’m afraid it’s you with your head in the Israeli cloud miasma who is midled.

  • Oui December 12, 2013, 5:14 AM

    Uri Rosenthal Lambasted On His Visit to Israel

    Dutch Jews suffered to the extreme during the Nazi occupation of Holland as towns and cities had kept a perfect registration of all its citizens including religious beliefs. There were many protests in Amsterdam, the strike of February 1941, and at the University of Leiden (film Soldier of Orange). The Dutch have been recognized for their heroism and have many persons listed amongst the Righteous at Yad Vashem.

    There are no voices of reason amongst the commenters to the Jerusalem Post …

    Former Dutch FM: Israel needs to show concern for J’lem-EU relationship

    TEL AVIV (JPost) – Israel could improve the atmosphere of its relations with the EU if it shows it is genuinely concerned with Israeli-European relations, former Dutch foreign minister Uri Rosenthal has told The Jerusalem Post.

    “I am sometimes amazed by the automatic, one-sided orientation of Israel toward the US,” said Rosenthal, in the country this week to deliver the Cleveringa Lecture in Tel Aviv.

    “I am a fierce trans-Atlantic protagonist. I am always defending a strong in-depth relationship between western Europe and the US, Australia and Canada. But that doesn’t prevent me from advocating for a more balanced Israeli approach between the Anglo-Saxon countries and Europe.”

    The Cleveringa Lecture is named after Rudolph Cleveringa, who was dean of the law faculty at Leiden University in the Netherlands and on November 26, 1940, protested against the Nazi-ordered dismissal of Jewish colleagues. As a result, he was arrested and imprisoned.

    The lecture is sponsored by the Dutch immigrant organization Irgun Olei Holland and the Dutch embassy. When asked whether he felt Israel received a fair shake in Europe, Rosenthal, who is Jewish and married to an Israeli, said it would be incorrect to say Israel had been “cornered” in the EU, as it had been at the UN.

    [Must read the comments section, Uri Rosenthal declared the enemy of the State of Israel – enjoy!]

  • Oui December 12, 2013, 5:33 AM

    And the debate goes on and becomes even more viscious …

    Foreign ministry summons Dutch ambassador over ‘pro-boycott atmosphere’ in Holland

    (JPost) – The Foreign Ministry summoned Dutch Ambassador Casper Veldkamp to protest what it said were “ambiguous” statements by the Dutch Foreign Ministry creating a pro-boycott atmosphere of Israel in the Netherlands. The protest came a day after the Dutch water-giant, Vitens, canceled cooperation with Israel’s water corporation Mekorot because of alleged infractions of international law.

    Israel said vague statements warning of possible legal problems stemming from doing business with Israeli companies working beyond the Green Line – even though there is no legal precedent for that claim – were scaring away companies, who do not want to take any chances.

    A spokesperson for the Dutch foreign minister in The Hague said the ministry did not insist on the termination of the Vitens-Mekorot cooperation, and that the decision was taken by Vitens itself.

    A similar problem is likely to erupt with Britain. As it too issued written guidelines last week warning businesses that economic activity in the settlements entails “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.”

    Love those comments again! Emotions and ignorance make a combustible compound. Where’s Avigdor Liberman when you need him?

  • yankel December 12, 2013, 9:24 AM

    The decades long tolerance of European governments to Israeli excesses had more to do with the perceived unconditional American backing to Israel than with the severity of these transgressions. There was the occasional critical lip-service, but the clout of the almighty poodlewagging tail made sure such rare criticisms would always be well-qualified. This attitude — nuclear-capable submarines included — went often against local public opinion but seemed an unquestioned given necessity.

    Bibi could keep lying when he ought to be truthing — and get away with it — but as the song went “You keep losing when you ought to not bet” and last fall he seemed to have gone one bet too far.

    The current visible cracks in what for long seemed a seamless American-Israeli front enables European growing impatience to be a bit more practically expressed.

  • Jafar December 12, 2013, 7:11 PM

    I suppose arrogance is an aspect of stupidity and Israel has a super-abundancde of arrogance, but some elements of stupidity would be too much even for Israel. I think they were quite smart to miss out on Mandela’s funeral, can you imagine the ONLY Apartheid regime in the world, attending th funeral of the man who brought down Apartheid in Africa? As for the European countries being “Shocked, shocked” that materials to help Palestinians become self-sufficiennt are not getting there, you decide which party is the greater hypocrite.

  • Clif Brown December 12, 2013, 10:37 PM

    Surely there is a maintenance/support part of the scanner system contract. The next step for the Dutch would be to refuse parts and service.

  • Elisabeth December 13, 2013, 1:06 AM

    The scanner IS being used….but only to scan containers going INTO the Gaza strip, making life even easier for the Israeli’s. Poor, poor bewildered Mark Rutte “But we had the agreement with the Israeli’s in WRITING…” he muttered.
    I enjoyed the whole affair. It pulled the rug from under the Dutch policy of ‘even-handedness’. I am usually not an advocate of Verelendung, but in a way those scanners, even when used, would have functioned to facilitate continued occupation.

  • Oui December 14, 2013, 11:23 AM

    Then you have Abbas speaking in South Africa: “Don’t Boycott Israel.”

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