Swiss Parliamentary Members Change Their Tone Towards Israel
by Sarah Ann Haves
Switzerland, a country that prides itself at being “neutral”, has not always been so neutral when it comes to foreign policy concerning Israel. But, that may be changing now.
Five members of the Swiss Parliament, as part of a 13 member delegation, are on a five day information tour to Israel. According to Andreas Bronnimann, head of the Swiss-Israel Friendship Caucus, the delegation is here to discuss the current diplomatic situation with members of the Israeli Knesset and Foreign Ministry. They want to find out for themselves, how Israel’s democracy functions, as well as listen to government officials talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They have also met with the Palestinian Authority and members of Fatah. The delegation claims that the Swiss media gives a biased one-sided negative view of Israel, so they are interested in learning the facts first-hand.
Switzerland’s head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Micheline Calmy-Rey, is not on tour in Israel with the Swiss delegation. She has been a controversial figure in the Swiss Parliament, taking an anti-Israel stance on political matters. According to media reports, Calmy-Rey was behind a $20 billion natural gas deal between Switzerland and Iran in 2008. She also reportedly encouraged Switzerland to vote in favor of a one-sided anti-Israel resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Council that same year.
Calmy-Rey has embraced members of Hamas, including Mahmoud al-Zahar, who she met in Bern in July 2009. The Israeli government was angry with her decision to meet with a Hamas delegation, but she responded that Switzerland would continue to engage in dialogue with all those involved in the Middle East conflict, stating that Hamas was a “major player”.
Meeting recently in Geneva with Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, Calmy-Rey discussed the Middle East peace process and bilateral issues. She reiterated her concern that Israel’s settlement projects would infringe on international law.
While Calmy-Rey is willing to wear the traditional Moslem hijab when talking to Islamic leaders like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; and, while she is expected to continue to dialogue with Iran and Hamas; others in the Swiss Parliament are expressing a different approach to Swiss foreign policy, especially in relationship to Israel.
According to Yves Nidegger, one of the members of the Swiss Parliament on tour to Israel, “Calmy-Rey has clearly chosen a pro-Palestinian line. And, she is a member of the socialist party, and belongs to the thinking that it is politically correct to blame Israel for everything and, of course, excuse the Palestinian side and the Arab world. That is a position she has.... We want to hear the other side, because our media stands in a similar position as our foreign affairs minister.”
After a few days touring, Nidegger’s first impressions are that neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis are ready for peace based on a “two-state solution”.
When asked whether he believed that Israel had a right to secure borders, Nidegger responded, “Of course one cannot demand for someone to live with borders that do not provide a minimum of security. Everybody has the right to survive, and of course, it includes borders that one can defend. I don’t think that the international community can expect Israel to survive, defensively, giving up all positions.” But, he added, “Both sides mistrust each other and neither recognizes the other’s right to exist.”
Two of the political parties represented in the delegation to Israel (the Swiss People’s Party and the Federal Democratic Union Party) were responsible for introducing the initiative against building minarets in Switzerland. The initiative, which got worldwide media coverage, was adapted by Swiss voters in 2009, and is now law, as written into the basic constitution. Over 57% of the Swiss people voted in favor of the minaret ban.
Calmy-Rey was against the ban, and felt it was provocative and could inflame extremism. But, Andreas Bronnimann says he felt that the minarets represented an attempt by the Islamic movement to gain control in his country. He and other delegates on the Israeli tour believe that Islam should remain a minority movement within Switzerland.
Some of the Swiss delegation officials have stated that they want to see the Swiss Embassy move its headquarters from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In the future, they hope more Israeli and Swiss parliamentary members will meet together, as is already being done in other European nations. One of the officials went so far as to say he believed that Jerusalem should remain the sole capital of Israel.
Israel is Switzerland’s most important export market in the Middle East and North Africa. There are approximately 20,000 Swiss Jews that live in Israel; another 20,000 live in Switzerland.
Switzerland has also established on-going military cooperation with Israel. The Israeli defense establishment has supplied unmanned drones to the Swiss military. Further cooperation is expected.
As for the Israeli-Swiss diplomatic relationship, this current Swiss delegation to Israel seems intent on showing citizens here another side of Switzerland’s “neutral” policy. They want to prove the point that there are those within the Swiss Parliament that have an interest in Israelis as well as Palestinians; care about Israel’s need for defensible borders; believe in Israel’s survival; and, want to see a secure peace in the region.
“I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and, in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:3
Ms. Haves is a news analyst, reporting from Israel on political, diplomatic, military and spiritual issues affecting the nation.
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