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Former Dutch PM tells Ha'aretz: European leaders can't trust Netanyahu

Interview van Akiva Eldar met Dries van Agt, Ha'aretz, 8 maart 2011

Dries van Agt wants the EU to make Israel pay for its policies, but says his own country is one of the main obstacles to recognition for Palestine

The red carpet was not rolled out to greet 80-year-old Dries van Agt upon his arrival at Ben-Gurion International Airport. The man who was prime minister of Holland from 1977 to 1982 is known here as one of the leading delegitimizers of Israel.

This visit, like ones before, is aimed at expressing his support for the Palestinians under the occupation and to give a boost to the Israeli peace camp. Van Agt is one of 26 European personages who called upon the European Union in December to declare that a Palestinian state will spread over an area equal to 100 percent of the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 and that its capital will be East Jerusalem.

The signatories include the previous European foreign affairs and defense policy coordinator Javier Solana, and former leaders of Germany, Spain, Italy and Ireland, among others.

The retired leaders urged EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton to take an active role in thawing the negotiations and freezing settlement construction.

They noted key American figures have hinted to them that the best way to help U.S. President Barack Obama advance the peace process is to make Israel pay a "price tag" for policy contradicting the United States' wishes.

That price would be EU recognition of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, as several South American countries have done.

Last Thursday, shortly before talking to an audience of Palestinians in Bethlehem and before taking off to fly back to Amsterdam, van Agt presented to me a despairing picture of the EU policy regarding the conflict.

True, he says, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's telephone conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shows the EU has woken up from the delusion that the Israeli leader has changed.

Van Agt recounts with relish British Prime Minister David Cameron's reply to a member of Parliament who inquired whether Netanyahu had also phoned London in order to chastise the prime minister for Britain's' vote in the United Nations condemning the settlements.

Cameron said he had not been granted that honor but had Netanyahu complained to him, he would have received a "robust" reply similar to the one he received from Berlin ("How dare you?" ).

"Most of the European leaders, headed by those of the major countries - France, Britain and Germany - are partners to the feeling that it's impossible to trust Netanyahu," van Agt said. "He squandered the credit he received from Europe in the wake of his Bar-Ilan speech and turned it into empty words."

However, van Agt expects the first European country to join the South American states will be Norway, which is not a member of the EU. He says he has reasons to believe Spain will be the first EU country to follow in Oslo's footsteps.

But he doesn't hold out much hope for a domino effect. The retired Dutch statesman, who believes Europe owes a special debt to the Palestinians because they are the victims of victims of the Holocaust, does not believe their salvation will come from the continent.

"The EU is everything but a union," he says.

He calls the members from Central Europe "slaves of the United States" and assesses they will carry out its orders to thwart a consensus - a necessary condition for a resolution by the EU to recognize a Palestinian state in the vote expected at the UN this coming September.

The highest hurdle, says van Agt, is to be found in his home country of Holland. The combination of guilty feelings and Islamophobia has, he says, made Dutch politicians the bastion of the Israeli right in Europe.

As evidence, he pulls out a copy of a resolution passed with a sweeping majority (including their Labor Party ) in the Dutch Parliament on the eve of the vote against the settlements in the UN, which won the support of all the European ambassadors in the Security Council.

The Dutch Parliament called upon the EU to oppose recognition of a Palestinian state. It also demanded of the Palestinians that they return to the negotiating table in order to bring about a just resolution of the conflict and "explicitly" recognize a democratic and Jewish state. Not a word about the settlements.

It is small wonder, then, that no less than 20 Israeli diplomats have vied of late for the position of ambassador to The Hague. The tulips are blooming and the herring - lip-smacking good.

Livni-style democracy

Opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni of Kadima has a new project. She is proposing to the Arab world that it adopt the codes of its democratic sister. In an article published last week in The Washington Post, Livni wrote that the leaders of the free world must exert their influence in order to protect the young democracies in the Middle East from groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.

According to her, Israel fears the democratic revolution in Egypt will bring about the replacement of Hosni Mubarak with a leader who has an extremist worldview and an anti-democratic bent (no doubt she is referring to the Muslim Brotherhood ).

In a letter she appended to the article, Livni explained to me that the role of the leaders of the free world, and especially in Israel, is to harness the world to the future shaping of the region in accordance with those interests shared by Israel and the free world.

Livni claims her initiative "correctly translates the values of democracy in a way that will be acceptable to all the pragmatic and moderate elements in our region."

She proposes banning all parties that uphold violence and/or racism and/or do not respect international agreements. If Netanyahu were to propose "translating" his democratic codes for the Arabs, we would say he is arrogant, colonialist and insensitive.

It is worth remembering that Livni has conducted (and quite probably will conduct ) intense coalition negotiations with an Israeli political party that wants to transfer Arabs out of Israel and incites against minorities.

In fact, she too proposed in the past transferring to a Palestinian state the Israeli inhabitants of divided villages.