Verbal questions about the Israel/Palestine conflict

Only the spoken word shall count

Dear Members of Parliament,

I would like to thank you for your numerous questions regarding the dramatic developments in the Middle East. A situation that has touched everybody.

Our thoughts are with all the innocent civilian victims and their families and the populations who are currently living in anxiety and uncertainty.

Last week, during the plenary meeting, I comprehensively covered the context of the escalation in tension and violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian regions.

As you know, Belgium unremittingly condemns the illegal occupation of, the demolition of houses and infrastructure in, and also the expulsion of Palestinians from East Jerusalem and the West Bank. These practices contravene international law, international humanitarian law and human rights. The colonies threaten the feasibility of the two-state solution. Respecting the Status Quo at the holy sites is also of fundamental importance.

Additionally, I also referred to the rockets that have been fired by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad on Israeli citizens, which now number in the thousands. I made it clear that this is unacceptable and in contravention of international humanitarian law.

Israel responded to these attacks and there were civilian victims as a consequence. This is something we cannot accept, notwithstanding the right of Israel to defend itself and protect its population.

I have said it before and shall say it again. It makes no difference where the victims fall,   the death of civilians, and primarily children, is always a tragedy.

In any armed conflict, international humanitarian law functions as the compass. The principles of caution, differentiating between civilians and fighters, and proportionality are fundamental.

The situation and circumstances are grave. For this reason, our country shall exploit every opportunity to demand a de-escalation and an end to the hostilities.

The question regarding differentiation was also asked. I remember that our country, for many years, distinguished between Israel on the one hand and the settlements in the occupied territories on the other. The application of this differentiation principle can, however, be improved. This is also the case in many other EU countries.

That is why, in my policy document from November last year, I set out my intention to improve the application of the differentiation principle, in accordance with the coalition agreement.

The services of FPS Foreign Affairs, in collaboration with other federal government services, were tasked with investigating the application of the differentiation policy in Belgium.

Next week, a technical meeting shall take place to evaluate the situation and verify how the application of the European community law and jurisprudence can be improved. This is a coordinating task for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, given the fact that it is implemented by various governmental departments.

This point must also be discussed with like-minded individuals at a European level.

Which different actions have been taken this week at diplomatic level?

Last Saturday, I contacted High Representative Borrell and requested further action by the EU as I genuinely believe that they must do more.

Thereafter, an extraordinary EU Foreign Affairs Council was held.

All members of the EU, with the exception of Hungary, agreed to demand an immediate cessation of hostilities. Many of us also called for the creation of a humanitarian corridor to Gaza.

As announced in the plenary meeting last week, I also called for concrete results in the form of new impetus for the Quartet and a road map.

Let’s first focus on the Quartet.

The Quartet comprises the United States, the EU, the UN and Russia, and the role of the EU herein is prioritised. The international community must take its responsibilities.

The Quartet met on 16 May at the Special Envoy level. The EU also decided that European Special Envoy Koopmans should depart for Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories as quickly as possible.

Crisis diplomacy is now required.

Once the de-escalation becomes a reality, the Quartet must ensure effective peace negotiations resume. The objective is a two-state solution, based on the 1967 borders, in line with international law.

Now, I come to the road map.

As Israel’s biggest trading partner and the largest donor to the Palestinian Authority, the EU is committed to taking its corresponding responsibilities.

Europe can and must contribute towards resolving the conflict. In order to bring about peace and guarantee safety for all.

That is why I concluded my intervention in the Council with a call to draw up an analysis, road map, stimuli and/or restrictions for the two parties in the conflict, with the aim of guiding them towards genuine peace negotiations.

We would therefore like to champion this approach among other, like-minded countries.

Finally, our country shall continue to urge an immediate end to the hostilities and compliance with international humanitarian law, international law and human rights, both at the United Nations in New York and in Geneva.

There were also two questions about contact with the regions to assess the extent to which, within their own authority, they could contribute towards a de-escalation and the creation of peace. I shall focus on these.

Some also talked about humanitarian aid. As you know, Belgium has urged the creation of access routes. I shall address my colleague, Minister Kitir, to see what she is planning in relation to this issue.