Swap Aid for Trade

Dutchnews, 10 December 2013

The Dutch trade mission to Israel is an opportunity to urge Israel to apply international law and swap aid for trade in Gaza and the West Bank, writes Jan Pronk.

Prime minister Mark Rutte is currently on a trade mission to Israel, a country with which the Netherlands traditionally maintains close ties. It’s a trade mission to a country which for decades has occupied and is colonising one part of another country (the West Bank) while completely isolating another part of that country (Gaza) from the rest of the world.

Trade relations between Israel and the Netherlands should be based on mutual respect as well as on generally recognised principles of international law. It seems the Netherlands is making an exception to the rule when it comes to Israel. The country benefits from income gained from illegally acquired raw materials and goods which, in addition, come with trade preferences.

Surely the Netherlands can’t condone Israel gaining a competitive advantage from illegal activities? The Dutch mission must make clear that, in accordance with the  European Union’s decision, products manufactured in occupied Palestinian territory must be labelled as such and that the Netherlands will not import these products.

Dutch firms must also act responsibly when they are asked for products or services connected with the occupied territories, including East-Jerusalem. Travel organisations should tell their clients they are travelling to occupied Palestinian territory.

Investment in Gaza

The mission to Israel offers an excellent opportunity to act on this cabinet’s principles on aid and trade. The Netherlands has been contributing generously to the UN organisation UNWRA which is responsible for the refugees in the region, including Gaza. The Dutch EU contribution also represents a considerable chunk of the Palestinian Authority’s budget. It would be much more in line with the cabinet’s principles to replace this contribution with trade. But in that case much needs to change about the way trade can take place with the occupied and isolated territories.

The Netherlands has made some hefty investments in the Gaza economy over the years; the construction of a port and an airport among them.  Both port and airport were bombed to oblivion by Israel. A flourishing agrarian sector, also helped along by Dutch investment, was strangled when Israel closed the border: no more trade, a sprinkling of humanitarian help, in short too much to die and too little to live, let alone live decently. The way Israel polices all entries and exits into both the West Bank and Gaza is the death of any initiative to swap aid for trade.

Stateless

Another cabinet principle is that refugees should, where possible, be accommodated in the region. This has been happening to Palestinian refugees since 1948, ie, four generations. Unfortunately they have not been able to build a life there. To be stateless in a refugee camp on the West Bank is obviously not a good start.  Israel can do much to help the refugees of the West Bank and Gaza to build an independent life with a future. The Dutch can help by tackling the problem of statelessness.

The prospect of a thriving trade between Israel and the Netherlands can be the motor that drives the necessary changes. The Netherlands, as a trusted long-time partner, should make clear to the Israeli authorities that good trade relations require the unrestricted application of international law, both within the state of Israel itself and in relation to the Palestinians.

Jan Pronk is a former aid minister.

This article was published earlier in Trouw.

See 'original version': http://www.dutchnews.nl/columns/2013/12/swap_aid_for_trade.php