Mogens Lykketoft, Danish Speaker of the Parliament, on the Israeli Knesset, settlements and establishing a Palestinian state
"Most Danish politicians will have the same kind of understanding as I have of the necessity to help solve this conflict, the necessity to bring an end to the occupation of the Palestinian territories and of course, during the process, to establish what we have mentioned, a viable Palestinian state."
In early February Mogens Lykketoft, speaker of the Danish parliament, scheduled a visit to meet with the Palestinian Leadership and the Israeli Knesset. Having received an invitation from the Palestinian administration in Ramallah he was keen to hear both positions.
"I was also interested in confronting the Israeli side with the experiences of the Palestinian territories," he tells me. Whilst in Palestine he met with NGOs, the United Nations, UNRWA representatives, the Bishop of the Lutheran church in Bethlehem and saw the settlements and outposts that surround the city.
Many of the groups brought to his attention the occupation of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, in particular the refugee camp of Shu'fat: "It is administratively incorporated in Jerusalem, but also surrounded by a wall and provided with no services whatsoever" says Lykketoft, describing the camp.
Former leader of the Social Democrat Party in Denmark, Lykketoft has also has served as Foreign Minister and Finance Minister. Following the 2011 Danish parliamentary election, in September he was voted speaker of the Folketing (parliament.)
But though part of his responsibility is to visit parliaments in other countries, he didn't meet with anyone from the Knesset on this visit. "There was this Israeli reaction from the spokesman in the foreign ministry that it was kind of diplomatically impolite to go to Palestine without having an arrangement with the Israeli side" he tells me.
Lykketoft was told the speaker of the Knesset was unable to meet all of that week, despite the fact that he received other officials. No one else was available. "I must say I was a little surprised by that reaction because we really tried hard, we had said over the whole week at any point of time we were willing to meet with the speaker of the Knesset, or another representative presiding over the Knesset" he says.
On the same trip he was barred from accessing Gaza, based on the supposition that the Danish delegation intended to meet with members of Hamas, though he says this was not the case: "that has been the position of all official delegations in recent years" he confirms, explaining that he co-ordinates with the ministry of foreign affairs in Denmark over such issues.
Whether the refusal of Israeli officials to meet him and his being denied access to Gaza are related or this is "normal procedure" Lykketoft says he is unsure. Four years ago the Danish Foreign Policy Committee were also barred from entering the Strip at short notice.
With or without direct experience of Gaza, Lykketoft says the Israeli Palestinian conflict is of "great concern" in Denmark not only because the threat the current situation carries for its citizens but also the implications the struggle has for peace across the rest of the world.
"Of course it is much more harmful in the present situation for the Palestinians who are living under occupation, or under siege as they are in Gaza, but it's also a situation of concern because it has implications for regional and global stability. So I think for all kinds of reasons we are interested in contributing to a kind of peaceful solution and of course we have no alternative but to try to support the efforts of the American secretary of state right now."
In a meeting with Mahmoud Abbas the Palestinian leader expressed concern over Kerry's efforts in the peace process.
"I think he accepts - as all of us know - that it's impossible to find another broker who can be strong enough to enforce on the parties a kind of solution. But we all know that the problem with the United States as an impartial broker is the domestic political situation in the United States, which is unbalanced towards the Israeli position in Congress."
He believes the biggest problem in the territories is Palestinians living in the West Bank, who are surrounded by expanding Israeli settlements. "The liberty to go where you want and the possibilities to develop economically in the Palestinian territories are limited by all the restrictions of the occupation, especially the total restrictions that exist in the so-called area C, which is a major part of land in the occupied West Bank where no Palestinian activity can take place, no new building, no new economic additions."
In spite of what's happening with the negotiations about the final settlement, Lykketoft believes it is important to lift these restrictions and raise economic possibilities for the Palestinians.
His position on the Israel Palestine conflict, he says, is echoed by most Danish MPs. In late January parliament had a discussion about the Middle East, which led to a statement supported by seven out of the eight parties about how to solve the conflict and find a viable solution. Taking into account security interests the parties agreed on a viable Palestinian state, both covering the West Bank and Gaza, with the 67 borders as the basis for negotiations and with Jerusalem as a common capital for an Israeli and Palestinian state.
"Most Danish politicians will have the same kind of understanding as I have of the necessity to help solve this conflict, the necessity to bring an end to the occupation of the Palestinian territories and of course, during the process, to establish what we have mentioned, a viable Palestinian state. It's of course, from our point of view, very harmful for the possibilities of reaching that goal while you still have the expansion of the settlements and the establishment of new outposts and so on in the occupied territories."
Danish politicians' understanding of the conflict, believes Lykketoft, reflects the general sentiment of the Danish public that was formed gradually during the last two decades. Before there was little knowledge and understanding of Palestinians; instead they were more likely to be identified with terrorist activities whilst there was huge sympathy with Jewish people and the wish for them to establish their own state and live in peace and security.
"There is much more balanced access to information now- also about the sufferings and hardship for the Palestinians. This of course is making its impact on Danish public opinion and the political decisions we take concerning the urging need for an end of occupation and establishment of an independent Palestine."
Published in Middle East Monitor