Neither Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre nor Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt, both from the Labour Party, had wanted to call the militant Palestinian group Hamas “a terror organization.” On Wednesday, after pressure from both the opposition and his own government coalition partner, he changed his mind.
“The Center Party (which shares government power with Labour) has no problem declaring that Hamas is a terror organization,” said Marit Arnstad, leader of Center’s delegation in Parliament, from the podium of Norway’s national assembly. She said she could understand that Støre, as government leader, preferred to merely adhere to the UN’s list of terror organizations instead.
Støre has indicated that he rather wanted to keep the door open for talks with Hamas if that could help bring an end to the war Israel declared after Hamas launched a series of brutal attacks against Israeli civilians on Saturday morning. He quickly condemned the attacks and was in Parliament himself on Wednesday to deliver an account of his government’s views on the new war in the Middle East and all the repercussions it can have.
The opposition Progress Party, the most conservative party represented in the Norwegian Parliament, had put forth a proposal in which it asked Støre to define Hamas as a terror organization. Most of Norway’s closest allies including the US and many European countries already have.
“The terror organization Hamas’ slaughter of innocent victims in Israel is the worst attack on Jews since the Holocaust during World War II,” said Progress’ leader Sylvi Listhaug. She noted that children and even babies had been killed and entire families wiped out. “Yet still the Norwegian government won’t call Hamas a terror organization, like the EU, the US, Canada and Great Britain have done,” Listhaug said. “I can’t understand how that’s possible.”
Støre ultimated caved in on the issue, claiming that “I have said from the very beginning that this (Hamas’ attacks on Israel) was terror against Israel. Let me make myself perfectly clear: An organization that has planned, carried out and taken responsibility for such terrorist acts must qualify to be characterized as a terror organization. Period. End of discussion.”
Calls for an audit of aid to the Palestinians
Støre’s predecessor as prime minister, Conservatives’ leader Erna Solberg, meanwhile, called on the government to conduct “a critical and thorough audit” of all of Norway’s financial aid to the Palestinians. “It’s especially important to make sure that Norway has not financed those who support Hamas’ terrorist acts,” Solberg said in Parliament.
The Christian Democrats called for the same on state broadcaster NRK’s morning debate program Politisk kvarter, after several other countries including Denmark have raised concerns about how international aid to the Palestinians has been spent.
Solberg stressed that she doesn’t want to cut off aid to Palestinian authorities on the West Bank, noting that much of it is directed at health and education services for the civilian population. “It’s important to not lump all the Palestinians together,” Solberg said. “Hamas does not represent all Palestinians, and the authorities (on the West Bank) are not tied to Hamas either.”
Støre had asked to speak in Parliament on Wednesday to orient its members on the current situation in the Middle East. In his remarks he described Hamas’ attacks as terror and war crimes, but had still refrained from calling Hamas a terror organization.
“Like so many in Norway and the entire world, I’m shaken by Hamas’ grusome terrorist attacks in Israel,” Støre said. He referred to how Hamas attacked “innocent civilians, from small babies to the eldest,” killing, wounding or taking them prisoner “in violation of all aspects of the rule of law.” He called the extent of the violence “shocking, extremely dramatic and frightening,” noting that it will leave “deep scars” and have lasting effects on Israeli policy and national unity.
“Norway extends its deepest sympathy to the Israeli people,” Støre said. “Israel is not standing alone. We stand with them.” He stressed, however, that Israel’s response to the terror “must be necessary and in proportion” to Hamas’ attacks. “They must be carried out in line with the rules of war and they must make a distinction between military targets and the civilian population.”
Støre further stressed that Hamas is reponsible for its attacks, not the Palestinian civilian population or other Palestinian authorities. He worried that Israel’s attacks against Hamas on the Gaza Strip have “widespread consequences in the form of people being killed, injured and buildings and infrastructure being destroyed.”
He further claimed that “under no circumstances will Norwegian foreign aid be sent to Hamas or via Hamas-controlled institutions.” As current leader of the international donor group for Palestine, he said it was important for Norway to stress that support for institution-building and a two-state solution continues. He said it was also important that humanitarian aid gets through to civilians in Gaza who have “no place to go” in the overcrowded, blockaded region with a population of more than 2 million. “We are trying to get an overview of the needs, and who is best suited to help,” Støre said. He said he had been in contact with Israel’s president and has spoken with Palestinian President Abbas (who’s not based in Gaza), along with officials at the UN and the EU.
The new war in the Middle East “worsens the international conflict situation further” and will continue to demand attention and resources, Store said. Norway, he added, “still stands for a political situation between Israel and the Palestinians” and still seeks a two-state solution.