New Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre was Norway’s foreign minister for seven years and knows how frustrating it is to deal with Israel and the Palestinians. He nonetheless lashed out as his successor Børge Brende of the Conservatives over the weekend, claiming that the new government isn’t criticizing Israel nearly enough over its attacks on Gaza. Brende lashed back by calling Støre’s criticism “undignified.”
As the world watched Israel pound Palestinian territory in Gaza with bombs over the weekend that killed more women, children and other victims, and the Palestinians’ Hamas organization fought back by firing more rockets, top Norwegian politicians lunged into an unusually harsh verbal war themselves. Foreign policy is normally one area where there’s broad consensus among Norway’s political parties, but things got nasty on Saturday.
Støre, who spent much of his weekend addressing the next generation of Labour politicians at their annual summer camp, claimed that his successor at the foreign ministry must make it much clear that Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestinian territory is at the heart of the latest deadly conflict that’s flared up. Støre further claimed that Brende must be much more clear that Israel’s military response to the kidnappings and deaths of three young Israelis in occupied areas is way out of proportion. An estimated 160 Palestinians had been killed by Sunday night.
Støre claimed that Foreign Minister Børge Brende’s “weak” response to Israel’s military attacks on Gaza and his failure to more harshly criticize Israel is a direct result of the Conservative Party’s cooperation with the more conservative Progress Party. And Støre claimed the Norwegian government should follow the European Union’s lead and boycott Israeli products that come from occupied Palestinian land.
“As long as the nearly 50-year-old occupation continues … as long as more Israeli settlements are built on occupied land, as long as all efforts for reconciliation with the Palestinians are torpedoed, there will be no peace,” Støre told newspaper Aftenposten.
Støre, who just took over as the Labour Party’s new leader and prime minister candidate succeeding Jens Stoltenberg, who’s poised to become NATO’s new secretary general, said he was reacting to his impression that Brende was clear in his criticism of Hamas’ rockets against Israel but not clear in his criticism of Israel’s attacks on Gaza.
Brende, who was at the UN in New York over the weekend, was clearly angered by Støre’s criticism, calling it “unreasonable” and claiming that Støre was trying “to stir up disagreement that doesn’t exist.”
Brende told Aftenposten that “Labour’s new leader is using a form of political tactics that I never experienced when Jens Stoltenberg was Labour leaders. This is undignified. Støre is making himself small.”
As Norwegians held demonstrations in support of the Palestinians in Oslo and other cities on Saturday, Brende claimed that Norway’s Mid-East policies remain firm, stressing that “in a European context, Norway is at the forefront of being clear towards both sides, that it’s unacceptable to shoot rockets and that Israel’s response is out of proportion.”
He noted that neither Støre nor Labour’s Espen Barth Eide, who took over as foreign minister when Støre was made health minister, focused on the occupation at the start of Gaza conflicts in 2009 and 2011.
Brende also announced over the weekend that Norway is sending NOK 30 million in emergency aid to Gaza through the UN and the Red Cross.