Center Party (Senterpartiet, Sp) deputy Ola Borten Moe proposed a radical new suggestion to deal with the ongoing Middle East conflict on Tuesday – inviting Israel to join NATO. He said rather than boycott Israeli goods, Norway should build stronger relationships with Israel, and help integrate the country into safe and economically stable European communities.
“It is no more difficult to imagine Israel as a part of NATO than Ukraine,” Moe wrote in a piece for weekly newspaper Morgenbladet.
He said Norway’s relations with Israel had dwindled to an unnaturally low level, and the countries should cooperate more, not less. “That has been reflected too little in Norwegian Middle East policy,” he elaborated to newspaper Dagsavisen. “I believe there must be room to ask the question. To be a credible partner, and have the level of ambition Norway has in the Middle East, you must have an agenda which is more than a checkbook.”
He argued the way to achieve a lasting two-state solution between Israel and Palestine was to be more inclusive of Israel. “NATO also has many partnerships with countries outside NATO,” Moe said. “Many of those countries also have security challenges. Just now the EU was down in Israel. José Manuel Barroso (the EU Commission president) was there as well, and gave EU funds. It is clear that in the rest of Europe this idea is not totally foreign.”
Against the tide
The proposal is in stark contrast to the prevailing opinion in Norwegian politics. Last week pro-Palestinian former Conservative (Høyre) prime minister Kåre Willoch slammed Israel’s ongoing attacks and blockade of the Gaza Strip, while Foreign Minister Børge Brende who has been part of the ceasefire-brokering process said Israel’s ground offensive was “unacceptable.” Palestinian support groups have rallied in Oslo, and called for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and sanctions against Israel.
Earlier this month, former foreign minister and Labour (Arbeiderpartiet, Ap) leader Jonas Gahr Støre said Brende had been too weak in his response to Israel’s military attacks, and Norway must be harsher in its criticism. There has been wide political support for a trade boycott of Israeli products, especially wares produced in the occupied West Bank, which 17 other European countries have implemented.
Moe said a boycott would be both “pointless and an expression of Norwegian double standards,” because Norway usually went to great lengths to build relationships with countries it disagreed with. He said new oil and gas discoveries in Israel could form the basis for a deeper strategic partnership between Norway and Israel.
Time to re-think Middle East policy
Moe said Norway had been part of peacekeeping efforts between Israel and Palestine since 1956, and it had been about 20 years since the Oslo Accords were negotiated. Since then, Norway had consistently tried to mediate and facilitate a peace process. Norway currently leads the donor coordination group to Palestine, but has struggled to get contributions from wealthy countries.
Moe argued condemning one side and pouring funds into the other had not led to a solution, and Norway risked looking naive and easily hostile. “I believe what is important now is to think about whether what we’re doing makes sense,” he told Dagsavisen. “The other thing is that we are helping to build infrastructure which Israel repeatedly bombs to pieces. It is possible to argue that Israel should have taken that cost.”
Ceasefire and peace work still ongoing
Brende meanwhile was continuing work to broker peace in the Middle East, and raise more funds for Palestine. Over the weekend he took a call from US Secretary of State John Kerry, where the pair agreed more pressure had to be put on the parties to reach a ceasefire. “We discussed the spiral of violence in the Middle East generally and the deterioration we’re seeing hour by hour, in Gaza especially,” Brende told news bureau NTB. “The USA is very concerned with getting a ceasefire in place, and we discussed how we can best help with this.”
He then traveled to Doha in Qatar for an important meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon; the Middle East Quartet’s special Envoy, former UK prime minister Tony Blair; and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Brende said he would not personally be meeting with Hamas as both the EU and US had put the organization on its terrorist lists, but Norwegian diplomat Jon Hanssen-Bauer would hold discussions with Hamas representatives. “To reach a ceasefire you must have good contacts and confidence with all parties,” Brende said. “Most of those killed are civilians, and many of them are children. In such a situation you must actually have a dialogue with Hamas to try to get them and Israel to agree on a ceasefire.”
He told NTB on Monday it may be time to hold a new donor conference in Oslo for the Palestinian territories.
By Tuesday, health authorities reported more than 500 people had been killed in the Gaza Strip since the new conflict broke out on July 8. In Israel, 18 soldiers and two civilians had been killed by rocket attacks.