Former Dutch Prime Minister Dries van Agt expressed regret of his defense of the Israeli army in front of the Dutch parliament after the massacre of Palestinian civilians in Sabra and Shatila. “At that time I couldn’t believe that under the eyes of the Israeli army such atrocities could have taken place as later was revealed,” Van Agt (72) told the Dutch daily newspaper Reformatorisch Dagblad on Saturday.
When between 16 and 18 September 1982, the Palestinian refugee camps were surrounded by the Israeli army and the massacre, killing, rape and disappearance of at least 1,000 Palestinian civilians took place, Van Agt’s cabinet refused to fulfill the leftwing’s demand to take appropriate measures against Israel.
The former Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs admitted that he had access to accurate information. “Perhaps I have read that information selectively,” he said. “Don’t forget that politicians from various colors had a profound conviction that Israel couldn’t possibly do such atrocities. We wouldn’t allow that thought.”
After the massacre in Sabra and Shatila, the Dutch Labour Party and smaller leftwing parties demanded action against Israel and called Van Agt, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, to the parliament. “I remember that I have defended Israel. Today, I wouldn’t have done that.”
Van Agt regrets that his political party, the Christian Democrats, takes a pro-Israel approach. Several weeks ago, the Christian Democrats affirmed this approach in a report. “This also reflects government policy. It shows a devotion to an outmoded point of view. I will continue to pay my contribution to the party. Whether I still fit the party? That is not relevant. People of my age do not play a role in this.”
Earlier this months, the foreign affairs committee of the Christian Democrats produced a policy paper entitled: A just approach, a christian-democratic position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this pro-Israel policy paper, the Christian Democrats expect the Netherlands to operate within the EU and the Quartet where it comes to its foreign policy towards the Middle East.