I’m not saying that the Dutch are a cynical people, all I’m saying is that when I was taught the meaning of ‘tautology’ in school for the first time, they used the example “lying politician”. Complaining about politicians screwing up – be it by mistake or intentionally – is our second most popular past-time, right after complaining about the weather. So in light of the recent bribe scandal surrounding the VVD party member Offermanns, I might just not be willing and able to see our political leader’s best intentions in what follows.
Currently, our prime minister Mark Rutte is treading on thin ice (or dancing in a political minefield, as you would have it) as he is on a state visit to Israel and Palestine. A controversial diplomatic mission from the start, and with no shortage of alleged incidents. Depending on what source you believe, the Dutch were either in a rage, or just mildly disappointed over Israel not using the container scanners that would allow safe trade between the Palestinian territories and their neighbors. The Dutch have spend millions of euros on these scanners in an effort to aid the Palestinian economy, but Israel refuses to allow economic trade because they fear that Hamas will use these trade routes to smuggle arms.
Perhaps the most pressing issue is the controversy over commercial trade between the Dutch and the Israeli companies that operate in the occupied Palestinian areas, companies that we call nederzettingsbedrijven (literally: ‘settlement companies’). Ever since the stunning Israeli victory against the Arab nations in the Six-Day War of 1967, more and more settlements have been built in the occupied territories. This violation of international rights has continued to inhibit peace talks between both sides.
Concerning these sensitive trade connections, Rutte made the politically safe and down-playing statements that you expect: repeating the truism that it is often difficult to tell exactly where companies are operating. After that, he made an awkward comparison, stating that if we want to stop doing business with, say, the Israeli company Merkorot, which pumps clean drinking water into the settlements, Dutch tourists would also not be able to take a shower when on vacation in Israel. Pardon me for being obvious here, but isn’t this simply stating that if we don’t want to aid corruption in one way, we shouldn’t aid corruption in another? The only logical next step that Rutte could take is to simply state that if we don’t want to support what we perceive as violations of international law, we shouldn’t spend our vacation money in Israel altogether.
Moving on. Following another storm in a tea cup: our minister of Foreign Affairs Timmermans was not allowed to stroll over a market in Hebron without Israeli soldiers escorting him. Timmermans then elected not to go outside at all, causing yet more speculation about tensions in the news reports. With the robust soberness that you’d expect from a Dutchman, he put the final word on the matter as he was quoted as saying: “Als je serene rust wil, dan moet je naar Zwitserland gaan”, which translates as: “If you’re looking for serene peace, you’d better go to Switzerland.”