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Middle East Peace Programs

Dutch Diplomat Calls for Building Trust

The son of a Dutch father who wouldn’t buy German-made products after World War II became foreign minister of The Netherlands now proposes the growing European unity as a model of how people in the Middle East might live together.

The most valuable thing that Europe could do to help resolve the Israel/Palestine division, according to Dr. Willem F. van Eekelen, is to set a good example: France and Germany had a long history of conflict but now have found the way to live together. “If they could achieve this, why not others?”

Dr. Van Eekelen, who attended a Middle East Peace Initiative (MEPI) trip organized by UPF-Europe in October, gave a talk entitled “The European Union and the Middle East,” at a UPF symposium on Leadership and Good Governance at Hotel Huize Glory December 2, 2006, in Bergen aan Zee, The Netherlands.

The symposium was attended by some 25 participants from Finland, Serbia, Bulgaria, Norway, Denmark, Estonia, and France, as well as The Netherlands.

Dr. Van Eekelen had a very distinguished career as Dutch Ambassador to India and Minister of Defense. He has also been Secretary General of the Western European Union and now chairs the European Movement in The Netherlands. He compared the task of a diplomat to “raising the ladder for others to climb down on,” meaning to assist parties to find common ground for meeting, discussion and possible reconciliation.

He felt the best way for the EU to succeed was through collective leadership and finding a voting system that would prevent the big nations from dominating and one small nation from vetoing developments. More important than resolving difficulties within Europe was the creation of a common foreign policy, in particular regarding the threat of terrorism, the possible proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and “failed states.”

The discussion of European dilemmas led to a discussion of the Middle East. The situation is very complicated there, he said, and both the US and Israel find it “easier to win the war than win the peace.” The first aim should be to create economic stability and publicize such activities. It does not help to report that 40 Taliban had been killed, because the resentment could lead to 80 more recruits. It would be better to report that a cement factory had been rebuilt and it would create jobs for the local population.

Europe also needs to be seen as trustworthy, he said. When Mr. Van Eekelen was in the Dutch government, he called Israeli Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin and asked “Can we help?” Rabin had said no, and candidly added, “We don’t trust you.”

While solving the Israeli/Palestinian problem would be very significant, Mr. Van Eekelen said it would not solve everything in the Middle East. He suggested that security and development went hand in hand, but put an emphasis on security and then establishment of good governance. Overall, he was quite positive, but admitted it was sometimes hard to stay that way, in particular because “both sides” were trying to manipulate everyone.

In the discussion that followed, one participant opined that Israel had no right to exist. Mr. Van Eekelen observed that there has been so much history of conflict but urged people to look to the future.

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