11 October Tuesday, 2011
On September 30, 2011, a leading Dutch newspaper, the NRC, published an article entitled “The Netherlands Endangers the EU Consensus on the Middle East.” In this article, the Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal is accused of preventing the European Union from putting forward a joint statement in the United Nations Human Rights Council regarding human rights violations by Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The Foreign Minister sought to have references to a two-state solution, the arrest of human rights activists by Israel; and the destruction of Palestinian homes removed from the statement.
His counterpart from Luxembourg, Jean Asselborn, strongly criticized Rosenthal for the Dutch move. “By introducing some amendments, and above all the amendment of not having the two-state solution in the text; it was no longer possible to have a general consensus and that's catastrophic the European Union,” he said. Rosenthal's defense of the Dutch objections was based on the belief that the declaration was “unbalanced.”
Connected to this interview, a series of questions were asked by the Dutch opposition party, Democrats 66. In response to one of the questions concerning the news that the Netherlands is blocking a common EU position on the Middle East, the Foreign Minister goes on to say that the “way in which the position of human rights-defenders in Israel and the Palestinian Territories was presented did not find justification for the possibilities within the Israeli judicial system. Also the wording concerning the unlawful destruction of homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem was unbalanced.”
The position of the Dutch government, which is very hesitant of being critical toward Israel, might find some of its roots in the composition of the Dutch cabinet. First of all, the coalition is a minority cabinet formed by two parties, the VVD (People's Party for Freedom and Democracy) and CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal), and supported by the PVV (Party for Freedom). The latter is not in the executive branch but its consent is needed for decision-making.
Before the 2010 elections the party suffered from a major internal crisis, having been very divided over entering into a coalition with the VVD and PVV. The VVD was the big winner of the June 2010 elections, they seemed very eager to govern. Ideologically, it seeks a minimum role of the government and it is a free-market advocate. It also focused on maintaining a strong position on immigration policy. Third, the PVV is a party which has a political agenda that is very much focused on national interests. Wilders turned out to be successful at gaining popular support through his nationalist, anti-immigrant policies himself, playing on the fears of a loss of the Dutch identity and Muslim vandalism in the vox populi. In the official party program of the PVV in 2010, in the chapter on “combating Islam and against mass immigration,” it states that “Islam is primarily a political ideology; a totalitarian school of thought centered around domination, violence and suppression.” Beyond that, Geert Wilders unconditionally supports the State of Israel. On many occasions, in speeches, articles, and interviews, he highlights his support. During a speech in a church in the United States on the violence against Christians in the Middle East, Wilders stated that “Israel is a safe haven for everyone, whatever their belief and opinions. Israel is a beacon of light in a region of total darkness. Israel is fighting our fight. ...We should always support Israel!”
Lastly, The Hague turned out to be one of the fiercest opponents of Palestinian statehood. “The unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state would decrease the chances of new negotiations.”
Rosenthal repeatedly reiterates the Dutch government's emphasis on giving balanced judgments and constructive criticisms to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. However, very striking is the fact that Israel is the only country that the foreign affairs section of the Dutch government coalition agreement explicitly refers to. When a journalist asked why Israel was the only state mentioned in the agreement, Rosenthal responded that: “that is true, but there is nothing wrong with stating that you want to intensify the cooperation with Israel.” He defended the Dutch position by saying that it is and was one of the largest donors to the Palestinian Authority. “In short, balanced and constructive in both ways, that is the position of the Dutch government,” he continued.
The Hague should indeed seek an expansion of its cooperation with Israel, very much so. However, should not the Netherlands seek to intensify its cooperation with the remaining 191 member states of the United Nations as well? Would not a less narrow approach, by not only focusing on Israel, strengthen the Dutch position as a state which seeks the “promotion of international stability and safety, energy and resource security, the promotion of the international legal order … and the protection of human rights”?
The Dutch government's protection of Israel in light of human rights violations, illegal destruction of Palestinian homes, and the construction of settlements in East Jerusalem, runs counter to the emphasis on the “protection of human rights worldwide” and on the “promotion of the international legal order.” The radical and unbalanced voice of Geert Wilders seems to reinforce the Dutch position and might lead to an isolation of the Netherlands in the EU. Rosenthal calling the plans to construct 1100 new settlements in East Jerusalem merely “regrettable” does not do justice to the severity of the violation of international law that Israel is committing, as well as the very negative impact it will have on the position of the Palestinian Authority on renewing negotiations.
The European Union has had great difficulty in formulating common policy statements, on all fields. This is to the detriment of the Union's international political influence. The current Dutch government, with its radical elements, is counter-productive in the process. The media coverage of the Israel-Palestine crisis, when comparing it, for example, to the existential humanitarian crisis in sub-Saharan Africa, is pulled out of proportion. A swift resolution of the crisis should have priority. Therefore, pressing EU member states to act for the sake of unity is of utmost importance. The Dutch government's objections to the text of the joint EU statement find no justification in the current international political climate.
*All the translations made by the author are as literal as possible, for the sake of objectivity.
 Partij voor de Vrijheid. 2010. Party Program: The agenda of hope and optimism. [Dutch] Available at: http://www.pvv.nl/images/stories/Webversie_VerkiezingsProgrammaPVV.pdf
 Geert Wilders. 2011. A Warning to America – Speech Geert Wilders, Cornerstone Church, Nashville, 12 May 2011. Available at: http://www.geertwilders.nl/index.php/in-english-mainmenu-98/in-the-press-mainmenu-101/77-in-the-press/1750-a-warning-to-america-speech-geert-wilders-cornerstone-church-nashville-12-may-2011
 De Pers, September 2, 2011
 Freedom and Responsibility. Government Agreement VVD-CDA.
 Freedom and Responsibility. Government Agreement VVD-CDA.