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.