Koenders presses for new peace initiative between Israel and Palestinians

‘Current developments in the Middle East make it extra important for the Israelis and Palestinians to find some common ground,’ foreign minister Bert Koenders remarked today following his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Citing the rise of ISIS, the situation in Syria and concerns about Hamas, the minister observed that ‘Israel and the Palestinian territories are located in a tumultuous region’.

‘These developments are not only a threat to the region, but to the rest of the world,’ Mr Koenders remarked. In his view Israel and the Palestinian Authority should join with Arab countries in addressing these challenges. ‘This is in everybody’s best interests.’

In his conversation with Mr Netanyahu, Mr Koenders urged a freeze on further Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory. ‘Israel must stop expanding its settlements,’ said Mr Koenders. ‘The settlements are not only illegal; they undermine Israel’s credibility as a partner in the pursuit of a two-state solution.’

For the Netherlands a two-state solution is the only way of resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. ‘There’s no realistic alternative,’ said the minister. ‘We badly need a favourable climate that allows the parties to breathe new life into the peace talks.’

‘This is not only a matter for Israel. In order for negotiations to be effective, we also need a Palestinian unity government that can exercise genuine authority in both Gaza and the West Bank. I will stress this point during my visits to Ramallah and Gaza.’

In Ramallah Mr Koenders will speak with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Riad Al-Malki. In these talks he will emphasise the need for reconciliation between the Palestinians and urge the Palestinians to continue strengthening their institutions. ‘They need to put their own affairs in order,’ the minister affirmed.

In his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu the foreign minister welcomed Israel’s new stance towards Gaza, though he urged Israel to do more to help the Gazan economy. ‘Thanks to the easing of Israeli measures against Gaza, there has been a small resurgence in exports,’ said the minister. ‘But more needs to be done. It must be made easier for Palestinians to boost their exports and trade more freely, without undermining Israel’s security.’

Mr Koenders and Mr Netanyahu also discussed Israeli concerns about the movement to boycott Israel. The foreign minister stressed that the Netherlands is opposed to a boycott. ‘We have good relations with Israel,’ Mr Koenders said. ‘My visit today shows that. I’m looking forward to working more closely with Israel, within the 1967 borders.’

Another item on the agenda was the nuclear talks with Iran. Mr Koenders expressed understanding for Israel’s concerns about the Iranian nuclear programme. But at the same time, he believes that a nuclear agreement will help prevent the Iranians from developing a nuclear weapon, thereby contributing to overall regional security. ‘An agreement is a positive step,’ Mr Koenders said. He added that its value will depend on its actual contribution to greater security. ‘Compliance and verification therefore remain essential. The Netherlands will follow this process closely,’ said the minister.