The Netherlands will continue to finance humanitarian projects in the occupied Palestinian territories if they have received no permit from Israel, Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders told his country’s parliament on Tuesday.
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His speech provided a glimpse into The Netherlands' efforts, as well as those of other countries, to persuade Israel to allow humanitarian aid in Area C, which makes up about 60 percent of the West Bank.
The discussion began with questions posed to Koenders by several parliamentarians about an ecological electricity system The Netherlands had financed in the West Bank village of Jubbet adh-Dhib. The system’s solar panels and other vital parts had been confiscated by Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank the previous Wednesday.
Koenders said this issue has been raised at “the highest level”: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte protested the confiscations to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when they met last weekend (apparently at former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s funeral), and Netanyahu promised to look into the matter.
Moreover, Koenders said, the Dutch Embassy in Israel issued a stiffly worded protest about the confiscations, and the Dutch government has engaged Israeli authorities "at all levels" to have equipment returned.
Koenders reiterated several times that Israel’s conduct on this issue was unacceptable and said the Dutch government had made this “unequivocally” clear.
Raymond de Roon, a parliamentarian from Geert Wilders’ far-right Party of Freedom, expressed confidence in Israel’s rule of law, adding that for The Netherlands to be funding projects which don’t have permits is “stupid.”
“Money is given to a project of which the minister doesn’t know whether it has a permit or will get one,” he said. “Thus, the minister consciously takes the risk that the stuff will be taken and confiscated. I consider this a stupid and unwise way of dealing with our taxpayer’s tax money. I call on the government to stop this.”
But Koenders said that under no circumstances would The Netherlands stop.
“We won’t do that, absolutely not,” he said. “The United Nations, the European Union and various development organizations won’t do so either. It is important that we have an obligation to help people in the occupied territories in the manner in which we currently do.
“Of course, we are in close contact with the Israeli government,” he added. “It’s a friendly country, so we’ll continue discussing it. However, I find this modus operandi [by Israel] unacceptable. This is about people who have been without electricity for 30, 40 years, while the Israeli government doesn’t take its responsibility for them and then refuses all permits.
“The Dutch government has tried, in various ways – and that applies to all international organizations, the UN and EU partners – to work with permits,” Koenders continued. “The Netherlands leaves it to the implementing organizations to coordinate with the Israeli authorities. This is also standard practice of the UN and all development organizations. The implementing organization informed the army beforehand, without getting a response.
“Of course, as the occupying power, Israel has the responsibility to ensure that people can live properly and at the least has to live up to the humanitarian basic conditions,” he added. “That is currently not the case.”
Koenders said that so far, The Netherlands' efforts to improve the situation in Area C haven’t succeeded, and therefore, he considers his government’s reaction in this case to be “sensible.”
“The pattern [of demolitions] hasn’t been stopped, despite regular, highly diplomatic protests by the Dutch side,” he said. “We are in close contact about the matter with other member states. ... Asking support from other member states is also one of the options we are considering. We will also discuss this with our EU allies, because it is of importance that this won’t happen again.”
Koenders said the Dutch government had tried, as an “experiment,” to get permits for another project in Area C from “the highest level” of the Israeli government, but “the experience wasn’t positive. After we had waited for six months, Israel decided negatively.” Therefore, he said, trying to get permits isn’t a viable option, or in his words "an impassable way."
A Dutch source told Haaretz that Koenders was referring to an effort made during Netanyahu’s visit to The Netherlands on September 6, 2016. During that visit, both Rutte and Koenders raised the issue of demolitions of EU- and Dutch-funded projects in Area C, as well as Israel’s refusal to grant permits for such projects.
Netanyahu requested that The Netherlands file an official request for permits before projects are implemented, adding that the chances of it being approved would then be high, the source continued. But six months after the request was filed, it was rejected.