Dutch legal experts write to Dutch foreign minister on cooperation forum with Israel
On 4 December 2013, 13 Professors of International Law sent a letter to Dutch Foreign Minister Timmermans concerning the Netherlands-Israel Cooperation Forum.
Therein, the Professors urged the Dutch government to formally and explicitly restrict the territorial scope of this forum to Israel within its internationally recognized pre-1967 borders, to ensure that settlement companies cannot and won’t participate in activities under this forum.
If the Netherlands would not do so, this may amount to supporting illegal settlements, in contravention of the declared policy of the Dutch government to discourage economic relations of Dutch firms with settlements firms. In a letter to parliament dated 22 July 2013, Foreign Minister Timmermans summarized this policy:
“The Dutch government discourages economic relations between Dutch firms and businesses in settlements in the occupied territories. Dutch government institutions do not provide services to any businesses established in Israeli settlements. The Netherlands Embassy in Tel Aviv advises Dutch firms on the international law implications of doing business in occupied territories. Dutch firms are where necessary called to account.”
The letter of the 13 Professors of International Law follows below.
Mr. F.C.G.M. Timmermans
Minister for Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands
Re: territorial scope of the Netherlands-Israel Cooperation Forum
Dear Minister Timmermans,
This letter from 13 professors of international law in or from The Netherlands has been prompted by the recent debate concerning the budget of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in which the issue of the relationship between the forthcoming Netherlands-Israel Cooperation Forum and Israeli settlements was raised.
In that debate you stated that the Dutch government would continue to adhere to its policy of discouraging Dutch firms from establishing economic relations with the Israeli settlements. As professors of international law we welcome that policy, which we regard as crucially important.
The responsibility of the Dutch government does not, however, end with the discouragement policy. We point this out in response to your assertion that the government can focus only on the Dutch participants in the Netherlands-Israel Cooperation Forum.
It was the Dutch government that initiated the intensification of the bilateral relations with Israel, which resulted in the creation of the Netherlands-Israel Cooperation Forum. The government formalises, supports, and is a co-organiser of this forum and it therefore bears responsibility for the forum as a whole.
It is beyond dispute that the Israeli settlement policy constitutes a continuing breach of international law applicable also to The Netherlands, as established by the UN Security Council. The settlements violate the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination – a right which, as confirmed by the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 2004, is erga omnes and hence involves binding obligations for all countries. As temporary president of the EU, The Netherlands played a crucial role in the coming about and acceptance, by 150 votes to 6, of the resolution of 20 July 2004 adopted by the UN General Assembly with respect to the ruling issued by the International Court Justice on 9 July 2004.
The Dutch government is obligated to promote the realisation of the Palestinian erga omnes right to self-determination and to refrain from facilitating the Israeli settlement policy. In that context the government is required, in accordance with international law, to define and spell out in advance the territorial scope of the Netherlands-Israel Cooperation Forum, preferably in conjunction with the Israeli government, but if necessary unilaterally.
The fact that the Cooperation Forum will not have any formal legal status and will not come into being by way of a treaty does not form an obstacle in this regard. Even if the forum comes into being through a Memorandum of Understanding or a Joint Statement, it is open to The Netherlands to specify its interpretation of the territorial scope of the forum and to formalise that appropriately in accordance with contemporary state practice.
If that does not happen, The Netherlands will not have acted adequately under clear and norm-based rules that also apply to the Cooperation Forum. This would enhance the risk that entities from the Israeli settlements could become involved in the forum and would reduce the ability to counter such a development effectively. Since the Dutch government is directly responsible for the forum, this could amount to facilitating and supporting the settlements that are illegal under international law, which could engage the international responsibility of The Netherlands. After all, the stated goal of the forum is to promote cooperation.
The government must not allow this to happen, not least because The Netherlands is at the forefront of international law and must preserve its reputation with The Hague as the international Capital of Law and Peace. We therefore urge you to ensure, prior to the launch of the Netherlands-Israel Cooperation Forum, that The Netherlands will formally make it clear in an appropriate manner that the territorial scope of this forum will not extend to the occupied Palestinian territories (including East Jerusalem) and the Israeli settlements located therein and accordingly will notify the Israeli authorities both officially and in public.
Prof. mr dr. K. Arts - Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam
Prof. mr dr. P.H.F. Bekker - University of Dundee (UK)
Prof. mr. Th. C. van Boven - Maastricht University
Prof. dr. M.M.T.A. Brus - Rijksuniversiteit Groningen
Prof. mr I. Dekker - Universiteit Utrecht
Prof. dr. J. Dugard - Universiteit Leiden
Prof. mr. C. Flinterman - Universiteit Utrecht
Prof. dr. M.T. Kamminga - Maastricht University
Prof. mr B.E.P. Myjer - Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (emeritus)
Prof. dr. P. de Waart -Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (emeritus)
Prof. dr. W.G. Werner - Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Prof. dr. R.A. Wessel - Universiteit Twente
Prof. dr. L. Zegveld - Universiteit van Amsterdam
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