Time for Norway’s accountability to the Palestinian people

Documents in the State Archives in Israel that have been declassified in recent years, reveal that between the years 1948-1967, the State of Israel sold weapons and military training to dictatorships and non-democratic regimes or which were in a state of civil war, in order to buy votes in international forums on the issue of the Palestinian refugees.

Text: Eitay Mack

For Norwegian version, click here

According to the documents in the archive, beginning in 1967, the State of Israel began selling weapons to regimes that committed atrocities and crimes under international law, in order to buy votes in international forums against proposals for Israeli unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel’s position was that it should not be required to make a unilateral withdrawal, but that any withdrawal should be within the framework of negotiations on comprehensive peace agreements.

It so happened that from 1948 until today, Israeli weapons, surveillance systems and military know-how have been used in genocides, crimes against humanity, war crimes and serious violations of human rights all over the world.

While most of the world understood that Israel’s refusal to unilaterally withdraw from occupied Palestinian territories is an excuse designed to produce endless negotiations for peace agreements and thus maintain the status quo forever, there were some countries that preferred to ignore it. Among the most prominent of them are the USA, Germany and Norway, each with its own interests.

Norway didn´t want to hold Israel responsible

According to the documents in the archives in Israel, the relations between Norway and Israel were built in the 1950s and 1960s. Among other things, similar to non-democratic regimes in Africa and Southeast Asia, Norway was also fascinated by the Israeli Labor Party and saw it as sharing the same socialist values. Norway didn’t want to hold Israel responsible for the Nakba, ignored the urgent need to solve the Palestinian refugee problem, and ignored the fact that the Palestinians within the 1948 borders of Israel lived until 1966 under a military regime that seriously violated all their human and civil rights.

Important leap in relations was a few months after the massacre in Sabra and Shatila, in mid-1983, when Norway agreed for the first time to purchase weapons’ compartments from Israel and to sell oil to it.

The second important leap in relations was in the 90s, when Norway decided to be one of the main sponsors of the Oslo negotiation and accords. The Oslo Accords had two major meanings from the point of view of the Palestinian people – one, an informal waiver of the right of the Palestinian refugees to return. Norway had no problem with this, because according to the documents in the archives in Israel, for decades, the position of the Norwegian governments was support for reaching a peace agreement on the basis of two states, on condition that the State of Israel will be able to continue to exist without changes. The second condition, physical and political organization of the territory so that there will be a permanent Israeli military regime in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, while the freedom of movement between them will be managed by Israel, and within the West Bank Bantustans will be established under some control of the new Palestinian Authority.

A big part of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s investigation and report was about the role of Bantustans in the apartheid system and repression.  The Bantustans were at the heart of Pretoria’s policy of racial political-territorial separation. Since the 1960s, millions of Africans have been forcibly transferred into the territories of the Bantustans and between the Bantustans (by changing the boundaries between the Bantustans themselves). The apartheid regime succeeded in realizing its plan for racial and ethnic segregation physically, but of course from a political-economic-security point of view the Bantustans were not separate entities, but puppet semi-states of Pretoria. In the Bantustans of the Palestinian Authority in Areas A and B, live some 90% of the Palestinians of the West Bank.

Donor countries, such as Germany and Norway, would have political difficulty transferring money directly to the Israeli military regime. The Palestinian Authority solves this problem – through it, the Israeli apartheid regime can be indirectly financed; Palestinian Authority security forces are not only supposed to prevent an outbreak of widespread popular uprising as happened in South Africa in the 1980s, but are also meant to prevent the growth of competing political forces that might want to leave the Oslo Accords and demand a different way to end the dispossession and injustice suffered by the Palestinian people, and especially by the Palestinian refugees.

Blind faith in the Oslo Accords

To understand how Norway has become a firm believer in the Oslo Accords and by that, one of the main supporters of the Israeli apartheid regime, to the point that it seems that even if there are no more Palestinians left in Palestine, Norway would continue to support the Oslo Accords, one needs to understand the interests.

The negotiations and the signing of the Oslo Accords were held at the same time as the discussion in Norway on the question of joining the European Union, when in November 1994 it was rejected in a referendum. In addition, according to the documents in the archives in Israel, Norway’s foreign policy was based on its understanding that as a country with a small population and few capabilities, it should work to strengthen its ties with the US, establish its leadership in the North Atlantic Alliance and in the competition with the other Scandinavian countries, and also should maintain an independent oil policy without international interference. According to documents from the State Archives in Israel, during the years of the discussions and the signing of the Oslo Accords, the Norwegian government realized that oil caused the degeneration of the Norwegian industry, and even the shipyards, that were the flagship industry of the Norwegians, were moved to Eastern Europe for economic reasons.

To sum it all up, the Oslo agreements allowed Norway an opportunity, on the back of the Palestinian people, to upgrade its independent international status, disproportionately to its population size and capabilities, without joining the EU, thus achieving diplomatic and economic gains.

Therefore, it is not at all surprising that Norway’s Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt arrived in Israel and Palestine in March 2022 to talk about the peace talks that have not existed for years. Embarrassingly, a month earlier, Switzerland decided to stop supporting the «Geneva Initiative» project, which was a major collaboration between Israeli and Palestinian activists who promoted the two-state solution. The Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs explained that it «regularly reviews its engagements to ensure that taxpayers’ money is used in a targeted and optimal way. An external evaluation brought clear conclusions: while the initiative was important and effective at the beginning, its effectiveness and impact have diminished. It should also be noted the limited relevance of the initiative in the political climate… some stakeholders feel that the initiative’s rationale is disconnected from current reality. It also lacks political support both in Israel and in the Palestinian Territory.»

Why does Switzerland understand what Norway fails to understand? Since the Oslo Accords and the peace talks are in Norway’s self-interest, the Norwegian government will continue to support them even if Norway’s Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt will need to sit in a room by herself and talk to herself.

Since Norway established a neo-colonialist system in Palestine that serves its diplomatic and economic interests, it is not at all surprising that in the 2023 budget proposal the government proposes not to fund organizations that support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

Regardless of one’s stance on the BDS movement, this indicates the danger of a colonialist worldview. It is not enough for Norway to help Israel to physically control the Palestinian people, now Norway also wants to control the minds of the Palestinian people and to determine what is allowed and what is not allowed for them to think and express.

Norway needs to be part of the solution

In order for Norway to be part of the solution in Palestine, we first need to understand how much Norway is part of the problem. Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of the Oslo Accords, and it is fitting that a commission of inquiry be set up in Norway to investigate all of Norway’s involvement in Palestine. The investigative committee should check all of its security, diplomatic and economic ties with Israel, the understandings between the two countries behind the scenes, and also regarding what was actually done with the funds of the Norwegian taxpayers in Palestine and if they did or did not help oppression and apartheid.

The Palestinian people should not be a victim of the egocentric interests of other nations and countries, especially not of countries that see themselves as enlightened.

Eitay Mack is an Israeli human rights lawyer and activist

Publisert: 16. desember 2022