Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre says his government is once again willing to seek a truce in the Middle East and talk with the militant Palestinian organization Hamas, to help halt the fighting in Israel and Gaza. Støre has condemned Hamas’ attacks on Israel but still won’t call Hamas a “terrorist organization” like both the EU and US do.
Instead, Støre told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Monday, Hamas is “an organization that has conducted terror.” He stressed that Norway adheres to the UN’s list of terror organizations, but thinks it’s sufficient “to call Hamas (which launched surprise attacks over the weekend against Israeli civilians) an organization that’s responsible for having carried out terrorist acts.”
Støre’s foreign minister Anniken Huitfeldt has also refrained from calling Hamas a “terrorist organization” but Støre said his government’s position is nonetheless clear: “Hamas is responsible for terrorist acts and violated the rules of war.” As a political organization that won an election in the Palestinian areas in 2006, Hamas has also worked to provide services for nearly 2 million Palestinians now said to be living in “the world’s largest outdoor prison” after Israel imposed a blockade of the area following the election.
Støre has a long diplomatic career that has involved him in attempts to broker peace in the Middle East since the 1990s, when his Norwegian Labour Party-led governments achieved breakthroughs that resulted in the Oslo Agreement. It aimed to set up a two-state solution, but that still hasn’t happened. Norway has long objected to Israeli settlements in Palestinian areas of the West Bank and Israel’s blockade of Gaza.
Now the ongoing tension has literally exploded, with Hamas’ attacks and Israel responding with a declaration of war and vowing revenge. Støre, emerging on Monday from a meeting with business and industrial organizations over his government’s proposed state budget for next year, acknowledged how the war in the Middle East overshadowed the budget talks and affect the entire world. Oil and gas prices are already rising again, as they did when Russia launched its war on Ukraine last year. That can benefit Norway but also creates economic uncertainty and a higher cost of living.
Støre thus thinks it’s critical to achieve a ceasefire in the Middle East as quickly as possible. “We have had a broad contact network for many years and can speak with many,” Støre told NRK. “In a situation like this, speaking with both sides is an opportunity we can use.”
Asked if that means also speaking with Hamas, Støre quickly replied “If necessary.” He referred to Hamas as “a movement that’s conducting brutal attacks against civilians in Israel, that we knew would unleash a reaction from Israel. Our clear message is that both sides must respect the fundamental rules of war, to protect civilians, not target civilians. Now Israel is under attack and Israel has a right to defend itself, but in a situation like this, it’s possible to speak in several directions.”
Several other Norwegian politicians were urging Støre to move forward with any peace talk proposals possible. Ingrid Fiskaa of the Socialist Left Party (SV) told newspaper Klassekampen that Norway needs to engage itself again and promote an ongoing international presence in or around Gaza. Fiskaa, a former state secretary in Norway’s foreign ministry, called for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian areas and the blockade of Gaza while stressing there’s “no justification” for the attacks on civilians by either side.
Ine Eriksen Søreide, a former defense- and foreign minister from the Conservative Party, was calling for a “thorough evaluation” of all Norwegian financial aid to the Palestinians. Søreide, who now leads the Parliament’s foreign relations committee, wants to make sure Norway isn’t funding support for Hamas’ terrorist acts. “At the same time, Norway must continue to provide acute emergency aid through international humanitarian organizations to the many civilians on both sides of the conflict.”
Israel’s ambassador to Norway broke his silence on Monday. Avi Nir-Feldklein said Israel “appreciates the support from the prime minister and foreign minister in Norway” but made a clear differentiation between the Palestinian people and Hamas. He claimed Hamas “doesn’t think about the Palestinian people. They support Iran and their interests in the Middle East.”
The envoy in Oslo said Israel is in the process of “normalizing” relations with its neighbours” but will not “let Hamas and Iran take control over the Middle East again. Will will not allow that.” The Wall Street Journal has reported that Iran was part of planning Hamas’ attacks on Israel that began early Saturday morning, but US officials claimed that hasn’t been confirmed.
The Israeli ambassador claimed his country “wants peaceful co-existence with the Palestinian people,” a claim widely disputed because of Israel’s controversial occupation of Palestinian areas and often brutal control of both Gaza and the West Bank. He would have preferred that Støre called Hamas “a terrorist organization” and told newspaper Aftenposten that he expects a long and bloody war with Hamas. Norwegian police were boosting security around both the Israeli embassy in Oslo and synagogues in both Oslo and Trondheim.
As of midday Monday, as many as 700 Israelis and 500 Palestinians had been killed and thousands wounded in just the past two days. Israel was cutting off supplies of food, electricity and fuel to Gaza, where the roughly 2 million Palestinians live in an area the size of Drammen in Norway.