Dutch Government's New Business Initiative Includes Israeli Companies in West Bank

Foreign Ministry in The Hague says it discourages Dutch firms from activity in settlements, but has no control over Israeli ones.

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail

At least five Israeli companies with ties to the settlements and Israeli rule in the West Bank are registered as participants for the launch event of the Netherlands-Israel Cooperation Forum, which will take place in Herzliya next week. The names of the companies appear on the website of the Dutch embassy in Tel Aviv. The participation of these companies contradicts the guidelines set forth by the European Union with regards to cooperation with Israeli companies active in the West Bank, and also runs counter to Holland’s policy of discouraging Dutch firms from having business contacts beyond the Green Line.

A representative from the Netherlands’ Socialist Party is expected to raise the issue today in parliament, and ask that the Dutch government explicitly exclude the “settlements economy” from the economic cooperation agreement with Israel. The wording of the agreement defining the activity of the forum has not yet been finalized, and the outcome is expected to be an important test of the applicability of the EU guidelines, and of the political will behind the Dutch government’s declarations.

Between December 7 and 9, a business mission from the Netherlands, led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, will lead forums in Israel and Ramallah, which will deal with economic cooperation between Holland and Israel, and Holland and the Palestinian Authority, respectively. Rutte and Timmermans’ counterparts, both Israeli and Palestinian, will also be present at the respective forums. Dutch businesspeople from the water management, energy, gas and agriculture sectors will play an important role in the mission, and meet with representatives from Israeli and Palestinian companies from these sectors.

The forums, slated to take place every two years, are meant to strengthen economic ties with Holland, though of course ties with Israeli companies are worth far more to Holland economically and technologically. In 2012, trade between Israel and the Netherlands reached a peak at over $5 billion. The Netherlands’ support budget for the Palestinian Authority between 2012 and 2015 is 65 million euros (35 million of which is spent for security, good governance and rule of law, with 9 million going for water management and sanitation systems).

An official Dutch government statement read, “The Netherlands wants to use its good relations with Israel and the Palestinian Territories to contribute where possible to peace and security in the Middle East.”

In a Dutch parliamentary debate last week, right-wing representatives expressed opposition to the setting of any kind of condition for economic cooperation with Israel. Timmermans, of the Labor Party, stated that on one hand, the forum does not have legal status so there is no reason to include a territorial clause (which would stipulate that the forum only take place in sovereign Israel). On the other hand, Timmermans also said: “For the European Union and the Netherlands, Israel ends at the Green Line. We express this position consistently, also in the context of the forums. We inform all companies participating in the forums with Israel about our policy of discouragement and about the international law implications of trade with and for the benefit of settlements. There should be no more misunderstandings among Dutch companies about what is permitted and what is not. Those seeking to trade with settlements will be excluded from participating in the forums.”

In the same breath, however, Timmermans also stated that the Israeli side is free to determine which companies participate. “We cannot oblige Israeli companies who participate in the forum not to have relations with companies in settlements. We can only do so in the case of Dutch companies,” the foreign minister said.

Businesses in Kiryat Arba, Gush Etzion

The names of 97 Israeli companies and 63 Dutch companies are listed on the embassy’s website, all of which are expected to participate in “business matchmaking” within the framework of the forum next week. Two Israeli companies listed are active in industrial zones in West Bank settlements. Trendlines Agtech Group is listed, and although it is located in Ramat Gan, the address of Mofet B’Yehuda technological incubator, which is owned by Trendlines and also appears on the list, is in Kiryat Arba. Also, the contact person for investors, whose name is also listed on the Dutch embassy website, is located in Gush Etzion’s industrial park.

The address of the other such company, Top Greenhouses, which produces advanced greenhouses, is in Rishon Letzion, but at least one of its main manufacturers is located in Ariel’s industrial park. In addition to these companies, Magal S3 control systems, which supplies security systems for the separation barrier and other settlements, appears on the list along with TreaTec 21, a company that has supplied wastewater treatment plants to the settlements. Also listed is the Lerman architectural firm, which contributed to the master plan for the Jerusalem area, including territory that was conquered in 1967. The Gihon and Mekorot companies, which are also active in the West Bank, and which directly participate in the Israeli policy of unequal distribution of water between Israelis and Palestinians, are on the Dutch embassy’s list of Israeli participants as well.

Asked for comment on the contradiction between the economic forum and Dutch policy toward the settlements, about the appearance of the aforementioned companies on the embassy website, and on how the Dutch government will prevent cooperation with Israeli companies that are active beyond the Green Line, a spokesman for the Dutch Foreign Ministry told Haaretz: “The policy of discouragement means that the Dutch government addresses Dutch companies regarding conducting activities in or in the interest of Israeli settlements. The Dutch government does not have the authority to address or control Israeli companies.

"When companies register for participation in the forum, however, this doesn’t mean that they will be automatically matched with a Dutch company. When the Dutch embassy learns that a Dutch company conducts or intends to conduct activities in settlements, it informs the company about standing Dutch policy. The Dutch companies that participate in the bilateral forum with Israel have been informed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the policy of discouragement. The Israeli government is also aware that the policy of discouragement applies to the bilateral forum.”

The West Bank settlement of Ariel, with 20,000 inhabitants, is not on the list of settlement blocs Israel would never forfeit in a two-state deal. Credit: Tess Scheflan

Comments