Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the UN, United States

Foreign Minister Timmermans: this is not a fight between Jews and Muslims

The Palestinian Authority must take the lead in a coalition of national unity in Gaza, writes Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Frans Timmermans.

This article was originally published in Dutch in NRC Handelsblad on 5 August 2014.

The Palestinian Authority must take the lead in a coalition of national unity in Gaza, writes Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Frans Timmermans.

The images of human suffering in Gaza are deeply imprinted on our minds. The number of civilian casualties is almost beyond comprehension. So is the apparent impossibility of putting an end to the situation. This unacceptable tragedy has been repeating itself every few years, without bringing the world a single inch closer to the outcome that Hamas aims at with its rain of missiles or that Israel aims at with its bombing. It does nothing to alleviate the plight of the people of Gaza, or to lastingly safeguard the security of Israel. All it does is feed the flames of hatred, fear and hopelessness.

If not for Israel’s missile defences, the hail of missiles from Gaza would have taken many lives. Israel has the right to defend itself, and acts on the principle that civilian casualties must be kept to a minimum. Despite this, and despite its state-of-the-art weaponry, the number of civilian casualties is very high. As a result of the Israeli attacks on Gaza, UN schools and even a hospital have been hit. This is unacceptable, and contrary to the careful modus operandi that the Israeli army says is its aim. After all these incidents, an independent investigation will have to be conducted. Israel should be held to the standard that it claims to uphold.

The suffering of the people of Gaza can scarcely be alleviated, because the supply of foodstuffs is hampered by obstacles. Even without the war, there would be few prospects for these people. The violence and the toll of over 1,800 deaths seem to have robbed many of them of their last vestige of hope. Israelis are fed up with the missiles and demand security, as we would from our own government. Hamas is prepared to sacrifice the lives of countless innocent civilians in an attempt to attain unattainable political goals. So innocent civilians are caught between the hammer and the anvil. Only a cessation of hostilities will make it possible to tackle the underlying causes of the conflict: the hopelessness, deprivation, oppression and isolation of Gaza’s people, all of which give Hamas its ideological appeal. Imagine that Hamas had invested the many millions it has spent on missiles and tunnels on developing Gaza instead; what would the situation be now? Palestinians above all need to ask themselves this question.

Only if Hamas stops digging tunnels and acquiring missiles, in line with UN Security Council resolutions, is there a chance of Israel’s feeling secure enough to allow Gaza, with UN assistance and under the leadership of a Palestinian unity government, to be integrated with the West Bank and take advantage of the economic opportunities that its favourable location offers. Gaza’s geography and human capital make it a resource for the development of a future Palestinian state. There must be absolutely no question that Israel’s security must be guaranteed.

Acceptance of these principles will require concessions from all the parties. That will be difficult, because the conflict has indelibly marked all the people of the region and the world. In our country, too, the demonstrations in Rotterdam, Amsterdam and The Hague have made clear that people in the Netherlands feel deeply involved in what is happening in Gaza. But no matter how fierce the conflict there may be, irreconcilable antagonism must not be allowed to take root here. Expressions of anti-Semitism during demonstrations are unacceptable. There can be no place for them in the Netherlands.

This is not a fight between Jews and Muslims. Anyone in the Netherlands who sees it that way is not only falling into the extremists’ trap, but depriving us of the opportunity to exert positive influence in the region. We can only put an end to this human tragedy if we are prepared to take the call for security from one side as seriously as the plea for an end to a hopeless situation on the other side. This will require patience and perseverance.

To return to Gaza: the Palestinian Authority must take the lead in a coalition of national unity there. With solid support from the UN, it must be given responsibility for Gaza, including the area’s security and border controls. Our key task is to give the PA the capacity to do this, and to persuade Hamas to allow it to take on this role. This calls for readiness on the part of the entire international community to support the Palestinian government and to judge it by its deeds.

Peace need not remain a dream. Peace requires determination and an open outlook, even in considering solutions that one party or the other still dismisses as ‘unthinkable’. This will be hard to accept, not only for the parties to the conflict but also for their supporters in the Netherlands. But there is no alternative. Or rather: the only alternative is the certainty that the human suffering we are witnessing today will repeat itself again and again. And that we cannot accept.