Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte on Thursday urged Israel to stop building new settlements in order to kick-start the Middle East peace protest.
Rutte made the comments to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu who is on a two-day visit to the Netherlands.
A construction freeze would be ‘extremely beneficial’ for the discussions, Rutte said, before going on to plead for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Netanyahu denied the settlements are being expanded, arguing that building is only continuing in areas that have already been settled, news agency Novum reported.
The official aim of the visit, the first by an Israeli prime minister in 15 years, is to cement the relationship between the countries. The Netherlands is widely regarded as one of Israel’s biggest supporters.
A close relationship with Israel is central to the minority government’s foreign policy and Israel is the only country to be named in the coalition agreement.
The Netherlands has a history of being a major supporter of Israel. It was one of five countries to veto Palestinian membership of Unesco. Last September, magazine Spiegel claimed the EU was unable to reach a common position on the Middle East conflict because of the Netherlands’ pro-Israel stance.
Earlier on Thursday, Netanyahu also held meetings with parliamentary leaders and MPs.
In particular, left-wing MPs were critical of Israel, with Socialist MP Harry Bommel accusing Netanyahu of ‘standing in the way of the peace process’ in the Middle East, Nos television said.
But Gerard van Roon, MP for the anti-Islam PVV said Israel should continue on its present path and keep building new settlements in the West Bank, Nos said.
Meanwhile, economic affairs minister Maxime Verhagen has announced that the Netherlands is sending a trade mission to Israel later this year. Dutch exports to Israel total some €1bn on an annual basis, mainly electrical equipment and cars.
The Netherlands, in turn, is Israel’s second biggest European export destination, importing goods to the value of €2.1bn, largely medicine, computers, fruit and vegetables, the ministry said.