The short version
- Nearly 27,000 people have been killed in Gaza after three months of war.
- 18 countries have cut their support to the UN organization UNRWA, which helps Palestinian refugees.
- Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide says one of the most important things for Norway is to work for Western countries to resume support. He disagrees with a boycott of Israeli goods and services, and wants to continue dialogue with Israel.
– I support that we must do more. But we must first make sure that what we do is wise, and think through what we do. If we do something “more” that is stupid and undermines what else we do, then it is a very bad idea, says Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide to VG.
After almost three months of war, almost 27,000 people have been killed in Gaza. Many suffer from hunger and lack of water. This week, 18 countries have also cut their support to the UN organisation UNRWA,The UN organization responsible for Palestinian refugees which helps Palestinian refugees.
Many demand that Norway do more. There have been several large demonstrations, and on Thursday there was a debate in the Storting on a number of proposals
There, the foreign minister received a lot of criticism from both Rødt, SV, MDG and Venstre, which was about this very thing.
But Barth Eide reacts strongly to the parts of the criticism that are about the government not doing anything:
– It is fraudulent
– There is broad agreement in the Norwegian Parliament, where all but the FRP actually want us to do more, to maintain support for UNRWAThe UN organization responsible for Palestinian refugees, and liaise with everyone – including non-governmental groups. I don’t know of any other country where people agree so much, says Barth Eide, and continues:
– And then they tell committed, nice people on the street who are demonstrating that “the government does nothing”. I think that is fraudulent, because it is wrong.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs primarily directs this reprimand against SV and Rødt. See what they answer at the bottom of the case.
– They may well think that the government should do something else, but it is not possible to say something that is directly wrong in such an important matter. Here we are talking about war and peace, about people dying – then I think that you should be a little serious when you are a representative of the Storting.
– Terribly dangerous signal
Barth Eide says he believes one of the most important things Norway is working on right now is trying to get the other western countries that have cut support UNRWA The UN organization responsible for Palestinian refugeesto resume it.
– We are starting to get quite clear signals that many of the countries that have announced that they are suspending support now realize that this was a bit violent, and are looking for a way out so that they can resume it.
The 18 cut support following allegations that 12 of UNRWA’s 13,000 staff in Gaza were involved in the Hamas attack on 7 October.
These countries have stopped their support to UNRWA
The countries that have so far suspended support for UNRWA are:
- Great Britain
- The Netherlands
- New Zealand
– It is a violent overreaction from many donors, and a terribly dangerous signal that goes into an experience in Palestine, the Arab world and the global south that Palestinian lives are worth less, says Barth Eide.
He has also appeared in a wide range of international media and emphasized how dependent the Palestinians are on the support.
– I think we took that role because someone had to do it.
At the same time, he says it is something to be expected from Norway as leader of the donor country group AHLC, and with the historical background for the Oslo agreement.
– Norway’s name is associated with a country that is particularly involved in the Palestine issue. It gives both a voice and a binding responsibility. If you have a lectern, it is sometimes the case that you have to use it too.
– Couldn’t that apply to the other issues that many want Norway to do something about, such as boycotts and sanctions?
– Yes, it certainly could. If we thought it was right we would have done it, but we don’t think it’s right.
Out of the question with a boycott
One of the demands from those who believe Norway should do more, and for which there have been several proposals in the Storting, is a boycott of Israeli goods and services.
Barth Eide says it is out of the question.
– I deeply disagree with what Israel is doing in Gaza, and have expressed this clearly throughout. But I think the boycott supporters greatly exaggerate the effect it will actually have.
Still, he says he understands the argument that it might be the morally right thing to do.
– In that case, you have to ask yourself whether it destroys something else. Then my personal reasoning is very clear, which I strongly support as Minister for Foreign Affairs, he says:
– If we take the lead in demanding a boycott, we will in practice withdraw from the leadership role in the donor country group. Then we cannot continue with what we are doing these days, where we contribute with a concrete solution to freeing a large sum of money that Israel has withheld from the Palestinians. Then we are also not as relevant a partner for peace solutions and support for the Palestinians.
Challenging the critics
Barth Eide says the Palestinian Authority believes it is important that Norway also has contact with Israel, and has not asked Norway for a boycott.
– If we advocated a boycott, we would be challenging the role we have. Those who think we should do it must answer whether it is worth it, against what we lose at the same time. They say that “yes, but people die” – that is not an answer to the question. It’s terrible that people die, but then we have to do the right things.
Open to some changes
At the same time, not all proposals go as far as a full boycott:
The oil fund is currently invested in several companies that are on the UN’s list of companies involved in Israel’s illegal settlements.
Several LO leaders have previously come out to VG and demanded a tightening of the rules for the oil fund, in order to avoid this.
– Is this an example of a field where it is possible to do more, without going so far as to sit on the sidelines?
– Maybe – and I wouldn’t rule it out. After ICJ’s The UN International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Haguedecision, we look at whether there is anything in our interaction with Israel that could potentially lead to us being complicit, if Israel is caught later in time for violating the Genocide Convention. So we go through those types of issues, he says.
The ICJ decided last week to hear the case in which Israel is accused of genocide. It may take several years.
At the same time, he emphasizes:
– I don’t see this as a main track. We are in an acute crisis in Gaza. I am quite sure that it is much less significant than what we are doing now, trying to get a humanitarian conference, supporting the Arab foreign ministers’ work on a road map towards a Palestinian state and helping to transfer money confiscated by Israel to Palestine.
– Time for a line change
– Rødt is not saying that the government is not doing anything, we are saying that they must do more, former Rødt leader Bjørnar Moxnes responds to the criticism from the foreign minister.
He says it is not true that the Palestinians are not asking for a boycott.
– BDSboycott, divestment and sanctions– the movement comes from the Palestinians themselves. The PLO and the Ministry of Justice of the self-governing authorities just joined a declaration calling on all other countries to “cut all trade ties and financial agreements” with Israel and “ban products from companies that contribute to occupation, colonization and apartheid”. It is clear speech.
He says Norway is being pressured by Israel, and that they are using promises upon promises about diplomatic processes as protection against all punitive measures.
– Norway has followed Barth Eide’s line of dialogue with Israel without sanctions for 30 years. And we have led the donor country group for just as long. During those years, Israel has built several illegal settlements in the West Bank and locked up the civilian population in Gaza. And when Netanyahu himself says that the two-state solution is dead, while 86 percent of Palestinians and almost every second Norwegian support a boycott, Barth Eide should realize that it is high time for a change of line.
Ingrid Fiskaa in SV replies that a unified Palestinian civil society is asking for sanctions against Israel.
– What we are witnessing is ethnic cleansing, and the court in The Hague has opened a case following accusations of genocide. It is good that the foreign minister also sees the need to do more, but he has an explanation problem when he and the governing parties consistently vote no to all proposals that could put pressure on Israel.