‘Norway should drop Mideast broker role’

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Norway’s Socialist Left party (Sosialistisk Venstreparti, SV) argued over the weekend that the government should accept that its role as a mediator between the Israelis and Palestinians was not yielding results. Claiming that no genuine peace process was underway, SV’s deputy leader Bård Vegar Solhjell said Norway should instead put pressure on Israel to pull out of its illegal settlements on the West Bank, but the government responded it would not abandon its attempts to broker peace.

Bård Vegar Solhjell, Norway's minister of the environment, has a tough time getting other politicians at home to go along with major climate cuts. Now he has to get politicians from all over the world to do the same. PHOTO: Miljøverndepartement/Erik Aasheim

Bård Vegar Solhjell of the Socialist Left Party said Norway was achieving nothing by working as a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and should take a stronger role in pushing Israel back to the negotiating table. He said Prime Minister Erna Solberg was too soft on Israeli President Shimon Peres during an official visit last week. PHOTO: Miljøverndepartement/Erik Aasheim

Solhjell, taking part in a debate Sunday on state broadcaster NRK, said Norway was in a unique position because of its role in the so-called “Oslo process,” a series of accords entered into from 1993 and aimed at establishing a peace treaty between Israel and Palestine. He told NRK the peace process had stalled, though, and Norway should now take a leadership role in pressuring Israel to resume talks.

“Norway is a country which is listened to in the Middle East because of the Oslo process,” Solhjell said. “We give substantial assistance, we talk openly both with Israel and the Palestinians, but that will not put enough pressure on Israel to get the country back to the negotiating table.”

“The problem now is that Israel does not want to make a deal,” he said. “They have a right-leaning government that continues an aggressive settlement policy and conducts systematic human rights violations against the Palestinians.”

Solhjell said Conservative Prime Minister Erna Solberg took the wrong approach during last week’s visit by Israeli President Shimon Peres, when she announced closer ties and more trade between Norway and Israel. He said Norway needs to be tougher, must boycott goods produced in the West Bank settlements and insist Israel resumes peace talks. Solhjell also said Norway’s policy of refusing to sell weapons to Israel must continue.

“She (Solberg) went completely in the wrong direction in her desire for more trade and more cooperation in education and research,” said Solhjell, representing a party that long has urged boycotts against Israel as a means of punishing the country for its occupation of Palestinian territory. “The dumbest thing you can do is reward a country that occupies another’s territory and violates human rights.”

New approach needed
Solhjell called on Foreign Minister Børge Brende to assemble a team of Middle East experts to work out where Norway can most effectively play a role in getting the peace process between Israel and Palestine moving again. “We have some of the most accomplished researchers in Europe in this field,” Solhjell told NRK. “Many of them are critical of Norway’s role in the Middle East, so I think they can provide many useful tips.”

Foreign Ministry State Secretary Bård Glad Pedersen immediately ruled out any question of Norway abandoning its role as a Middle East peace broker. He said Solberg’s approach of being a friend to Israel while making clear demands was the best bet for facilitating an agreement.

“She was very clear on the Norwegian attitude of how illegal settlements damage the peace process,” Pedersen told NRK. “But I do not support a boycott of Israel.” He said the Norwegian government was willing to consider proposals, though, for labeling of goods produced in the occupied territories.

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate