Speech by Verhagen at the opening of the joint training of Palestinian and Israeli diplomats

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning to you all. It is a pleasure for me to address you today and welcome you personally to the Netherlands. I hope you have enjoyed your stay so far.

I would like to thank the Clingendael Institute for organising this joint Palestinian-Israeli diplomatic training programme, in cooperation with the Israeli Peres Centre for Peace and the Palestinian Panorama Centre. The idea for this programme was brought to my attention during my visit to Israel in January. I am very glad that the Netherlands can contribute to its realisation. This programme offers a great opportunity for Israeli and Palestinian diplomats to talk with one another, get to know one another and build mutual trust, in a setting distant from their everyday cares.

The art of diplomacy

Diplomacy has a long record as a key instrument of foreign policy. However, diplomacy as we know it today is relatively new. The founding of the United Nations following World War II and the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – sixty years ago this year – laid the basis for a new, much more multifaceted diplomacy. Today’s diplomacy deals with a complex and interrelated set of global issues, ranging from peace and stability, international security and human rights to environmental issues, climate change, international terrorism, financial crises – and the list goes on.

Dutch foreign policy is based on a comprehensive approach, which for the sake of convenience we often refer to as 3D – Defence, Development and Diplomacy – although it involves other elements as well. As Minister of Foreign Affairs, I am responsible for the diplomacy pillar of our 3D approach. Diplomacy may not be the most visible part of 3D, but it is the umbrella that covers all the other pillars. It involves much more than the traditional meetings between representatives of two or more countries.

For me, diplomacy entails engaging in a political dialogue aimed at reaching political solutions and rapprochement, improving the human rights situation worldwide, strengthening the rule of law, promoting good governance, using the international framework to influence other countries’ actions, effecting change through cooperation, and so on.

The importance of public support

Today’s global issues arise from an ever warmer, flatter and more crowded planet – to paraphrase Thomas Friedman. They have a far-reaching impact on us all and evoke great public concern.

So it is important to win support from all segments of society for what we do internationally, and understanding of why we do it and how our decisions are made. Foreign policy is no longer effective if it is only top-down. It needs support and active involvement from different societal levels, from below. We need to build grassroots support for our actions on the international stage.

Effective foreign policy requires coalitions of different actors – the public, civil society organisations, the private sector, governments – acting in concert. For me, this is of paramount importance. To act politically in our rapidly changing world, I need to know what matters to the people I represent, how they feel about certain developments, what appeals to them and what worries them. With this in mind, the Dutch foreign ministry recently launched a ‘Rent an Ambassador’ programme, in which our ambassadors go discuss the ins and outs of foreign policy with a wide range of Dutch people. I am very much in favour of this initiative. Public support for foreign policy and a better understanding of how we get results are indispensable in today’s interdependent world.

The public peace process

Public support is definitely indispensable to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the end, Israelis and Palestinians need to find ways to live together peacefully, in mutual respect. I believe that official negotiations can lead to a genuinely peaceful relationship between Israelis and Palestinians only if they are embedded in a broader process involving both peoples. A public peace process can sustain, support and intensify the political peace process. Because the peace process requires a solid commitment from Israelis and Palestinians to mutual recognition and a just and lasting peace with full self-determination and security for both nations.

Distorted perceptions, fear and mistrust are making it difficult to work for a peace settlement. While political leaders and diplomats are seeking ways to reach a compromise, citizens on both sides must take the lead to work for a stronger culture of peace. This demands an effort on the part of both Israelis and Palestinians to recognise each others’ suffering, overcome misperceptions, build trust and raise awareness of each others’ needs, concerns and fears. And to persuade each other of the necessity and benefits of a two-state solution. This requires leadership: the ability to listen, connect and unite – on all levels. That’s why I encourage you, as diplomats and role models, to share the fruits of dialogue and peace with your fellow citizens, for a truly public peace process.

The political peace process

Ladies and gentlemen,

In November 2007, Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas breathed new life into the peace process, after a deadlock that had lasted seven years. Negotiations are – and will be – difficult and complex; no doubt about that. Inevitably concessions will have to be made, by both sides. Finding the political will to accept and defend compromise for the sake of a peace agreement is key – and this is where diplomats come in. Because diplomacy inherently entails compromising on some points without giving up fundamental principles. Without compromise there will be no consensus. Without consensus there will be no lasting peace settlement. And without lasting peace, there will be no brighter future for either side to look forward to. Finding common ground in the search for peace requires great effort, energy and perseverance from today’s diplomats. It also requires a cool head and a logical mind as you assess demands and expectations.

As today’s young and promising diplomats, you bear the historical responsibility for shaping the relations between your countries, once the peace process has led to the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel. You, more than anyone present here today, are aware of what’s at stake. In shaping peaceful relations between yourselves as Israeli and Palestinian professionals, you make your own contribution to the creation of a public foundation on which an eventual peace agreement can safely rest.

Current political changes

The implications of current domestic political transitions in the region are uncertain – to say the least. They run the risk of diverting attention from the peace talks. But domestic transitions should not jeopardise the peace process. There is simply too much at stake to let domestic political changes block progress in the negotiations and undermine the momentum for a peace deal.

So I urge both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to stay committed to the conclusion of the peace negotiations. Time is not on anyone’s side except the fanatics within Israeli and Palestinian society, who are continuing to do everything they can to derail any meaningful peace process. They demonstrate, as Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit has said, a total lack of readiness for compromise. Moderates, by contrast, have deep sense of the necessity of living together peacefully, and take an approach that leaves room for compromise.1

Not only domestic politics in the region are in motion; there is also a major transition going on in the White House. I will definitely urge the new US president to seize the opportunity to press ahead with peace negotiations. He will need to earn enough respect from both sides to play a substantive role. American leadership is necessary, as history has shown.

The Dutch effort

The Dutch government remains committed to actively supporting both the political and the public peace process where it can, multilaterally through the European Union and UN as well as bilaterally. To lay the groundwork for lasting peace, I strongly encourage dialogue and practical cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians on all levels. This is an area in which the Netherlands is well equipped to help; this week’s joint diplomatic training programme is a good example.

I also focus on encouraging different governments in the region to cooperate on practical issues of common interest, such as sustainable water management. Water is a high priority for Israelis and Palestinians alike. It is an issue that requires cross-border cooperation and solutions with many countries in the region. The Netherlands is already active in joint water cooperation projects between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Territories. I want to broaden this effort, for example through water projects via the Union for the Mediterranean.

Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen, I wish you a fascinating week here in the Netherlands, with ample opportunities to learn, share experiences, get to know one another and build bridges.

Henry Kissinger ends his impressive, well-known book Diplomacy with a Spanish proverb: ‘Traveller, there are no roads. Roads are made by walking.’ I would like to propose a slight amendment: the road to peace between Israelis and Palestinians is made by walking. And the diplomats are walking in front.

Thank you.

1: Avishai Margalit, ‘Sectarianism as a state of mind: reflections on a phenomenon in politics and religion’, Thomas More Lecture 2008, 24 October 2008, Amsterdam.