Last updated: 8 December, 2013

Dutch premier’s Israel trip hit by Gaza row

A visit to Israel by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte Sunday was marred by a dispute over a new security scanner on the Gaza border, an Israeli official said.

Rutte was to have inaugurated the scanner on the frontier with the Palestinian Islamist-ruled strip, but the ceremony was put off because of the row.

“Installation of the Dutch scanner, which would have been used to verify the contents of containers from Gaza destined for export, was postponed after the Netherlands made unexpected demands,” the official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Technically, there is no problem about the scanner at the Kerem Shalom crossing through which goods originating in Gaza pass,” the official said.

“But the Dutch suddenly imposed political conditions, notably on the percentage of merchandise destined for the West Bank or abroad.

“These are political issues that need to be resolved at the highest level, which will delay the start-up of the scanner.”

Media reports said the row meant the ceremony at the crossing originally due for Sunday, with Rutte present, was cancelled.

The focus of the dispute is exports from Gaza to the West Bank, which is controlled by the Palestinian Authority under president Mahmud Abbas.

Israel’s defence ministry wants to isolate the two Palestinian regions, while Dutch officials had hoped the scanner might boost commerce between them, the media reports said.

However, at a meeting with Rutte, Netanyahu insisted that Israel’s only motive for screening shipments from Gaza was security.

“We welcome the bringing of scanners to make sure that at least we control the material that goes in and out of Gaza,” Netanyahu’s office quoted him as saying in response to a question from a Dutch journalist.

“It can facilitate right now the screening of goods that go out to the European markets. We want to make sure that goods that go out from there, from Gaza, do not reach the Palestinian Authority areas.”

After one of its soldiers, Gilad Shalit, was captured in 2006 by Gaza-based militants, Israel imposed a blockade on the Palestinian enclave.

It reinforced this in 2007 after Hamas ousted secular Fatah forces loyal to Abbas.

There was also a diplomatic spat Sunday in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, travelling with Rutte, cancelled a planned event rather than accept an Israeli military escort, a Dutch foreign ministry official said.

Timmermans had planned to visit Palestinians in the southern West Bank city of Hebron’s old centre.

“It was the minister himself who decided to cancel that part of the visit,” Ahmed Dadou, a spokesman for Timmermans told AFP in The Hague.

“It’s normal to be accompanied by the Israeli military in the part occupied by settlers but it’s not usual in the Palestinian part,” he said.

“Other foreign ministers have previously visited the city unaccompanied by Israeli soldiers in the Palestinian sector and Mr. Timmermans did not want to accept this new condition in order not to set a precedent.”

Netanyahu said that he had not known of the planned visit.

“These are not political directives,” his office quoted him as saying. “I do not know how we guard foreign dignitaries on visits.”

“We have security details that do what is necessary. Minister Timmermans is a welcome guest.”

Timmermans instead visited a Palestinian dairy in another part of the city, the West Bank’s biggest, where about 700 Jewish settlers live under Israeli army protection surrounded by nearly 200,000 Palestinians.