A political row is developing over the outspoken stance of Labour’s aid minister Bert Koenders on Israel’s blockade of Gaza, with MPs asking the government to clarify its position.
Koenders said on Wednesday that Israel is guilty of collectively punishing the inhabitants of Gaza and says this contravenes international law. His comments followed a meeting with the head of the UN’s Palestinian aid organisation UNWRA.
‘If you collectively punish people, by blocking electricity supplies and so on, then that is not acceptable,’ he is quoted by ANP news agency as saying.
The minister says such actions hit not only the Islamic group Hamas and those responsible for the attacks on Israelis but the population of Gaza as a whole.
His words go much further than those of Christian Democrat foreign affairs minister Maxine Verhagen who last week visited both the Israeli and Palestinian governments to discuss the issue.
Verhagen wants both sides in the conflict to share responsibility for reopening the borders through a plan developed by the Dutch and the UN which would guarantee the safety of Israeli citizens.
Israel cannot be stripped of its right to defend its citizens against the ‘almost daily’ attacks although its reactions must remain ‘in proportion’, said Verhagen. He also said publicly that Hamas is responsible for the worsening situation in the region.
The positions taken by Koenders and Verhagen have split MPs. Labour and the opposition Socialist and GroenLinks parties support the Koenders tougher stance while the ruling Christian Democrats and the third coalition partner, the ChristenUnie, are behind their minister.
MPs from both have asked the cabinet to explain what its official position on the issue.
Meanwhile, Koenders has increased Dutch contributions to UNRWA from nearly €12m to €15m a year. There will also be €3.5m in emergency aid for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and the Palestinian areas.
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