15/02/2017

A tumultuous visit for Charles Michel in Israel

by Chloé de Radzitzky

Last Monday, the Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel left for a visit of three days in Israel.  Were scheduled: official visits with Benyamin Netanyahu and Reuven Rivlin; meetings with potential investors, as well as visits of projects supported by the Belgian Cooperation. Everything would have taken place without incident if the Israeli president had not denounced in a press release, the meeting between Charles Michel and two Israeli organizations, B’ tselem and Breaking the silence, opposing the colonization[1]. Netanyahu declared:  » the Belgian government has to decide if he wants to change direction or to continue on an anti-Israeli line « [2]. This statement echoes the ambiguous position that the Kingdom maintains towards Israel.

Belgium considers itself as a friend of Israel, as indicated on the website of the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Indeed, it voted for the UN Resolution in 1947 organizing the partition of Palestine, and recognized three years later the existence of the State of Israel. The kingdom also benefits from good economic relations with the Jewish State, which is its 22nd economic importing partner (with 2,325.3 million euros of exports)[3].

Nevertheless, relationships between Belgium and Israel, although good, were not always cordial. It evolved over the years. At the beginning of the creation of Israel, Belgium certainly voted for the partition of Palestine, the Prime Minister of the time Paul-Henri Spaak was at first side opposed to the creation of a new State in Palestine.  In 1948, he declared in front of the senate « I am  deeply convinced (…) that the creation of a Jewish state with an unlimited Jewish immigration represents a threat for the Arab world. Because It is certain that once the Jewish Palestine will be overpopulated, a first pattern will arise: the one to start colonizing the Arab part of Palestine; then a second pattern that will be to extend to the other Arab states »[4]. Brussels was afterward closer to Israel during the Suez crisis, before distancing itself at the end of the Yom Kippur War because of the occupation of some territories. It however supported in parallel the security and the existence of the Jewish State.

Further to the creation of the European Union, Belgium came to frame its foreign policy towards the Middle East on that of the EU. The EU says to be a fervent defender of the two-state solution, and condemns  the settlements policies. It nevertheless maintains good relations with Israel, especially on the economic plan. These elements did not prevent Belgium from having some setbacks with Tel Aviv. Indeed, in the early 2000s Belgium undertakes prosecution against Ariel Sharon for its implication of the massacres of Sabra and Chatila. Belgium also made an investigation concerning war crimes, which would have been committed during the operation « Lead hardened » between 2008 and 2009[5]. Those investigations were made under the scope of the universal law, that have been abandoned ever since.

From an economic point of view, Belgium has an ambiguous position towards Israel. Indeed, it recommends the labeling of products coming from occupied territories, but does not impose it. Those measures are consequently quite useless in reality. Furthermore, it does not discourage the establishment of business in occupied territories. Also, Belgium wants the respect for the international law, but opposes the imposition of sanctions on Israel[6].

To conclude, the Belgian foreign policy towards Israel is ambiguous as it was demonstrated in the above paragraphs. On one hand, it violently condemns settlements while wanting to maintain good relationships with Israel, especially at the economic level. In a changing political context, the position of Belgium, and more generally of the European Union with regard to Israel and to the Palestinian question seems to crack, especially since the holding of the Paris Peace Conference few weeks ago[7].

[1] http://www.rtl.be/info/belgique/politique/ca-chauffe-entre-netanyahu-etcharles-michel-lepremier-ministre-israelien-n-est-pas-content-et-le-fait-savoir-889878.aspx

 

[2] http://www.rtl.be/info/belgique/politique/ca-chauffe-entre-netanyahu-etcharles-michel-lepremier-ministre-israelien-n-est-pas-content-et-le-fait-savoir-889878.aspx

[3] http://israel.diplomatie.belgium.be/en/belgium-and-israel/diplomatic-relations

http://www.cncd.be/IMG/pdf/2015_rapport_liensbel-israel_web.pdf

 

[4] Lemanska, K., 2014,  « Les liens entre la Belgique et l’occupation israélienne »,  p.17. Consulté le 13 fevrier 2017 sur http://www.cncd.be/IMG/pdf/2015_rapport_liensbel-israel_web.pdf

 

[5]http://www.lemonde.fr/proche-orient/article/2017/02/09/netanyahou-en-colere-contre-la-belgique_5077088_3218.html

 

[6] Lemanska, K., 2014,  « Les liens entre la Belgique et l’occupation israélienne »,  pp.19. Consulté le 13 fevrier 2017 sur http://www.cncd.be/IMG/pdf/2015_rapport_liensbel-israel_web.pdf

 

[7] https://www.rtbf.be/info/monde/detail_charles-michel-entame-sa-visite-en-israel-et-en-palestine-lundi?id=9522024