Climate Justice Doesn’t Start With Politicians. It Starts In The Streets

Jennifer Morgan, Executive director of Greenpeace International – Photo: Greenpeace

The outcomes of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) continue to be debated across the globe, although a clear consensus has emerged among activists that it was largely a failure. There may be some hope down the road, however, as coal appears to be on its way out and grassroots pressure to transform climate policy is on the upsurge.

Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, attended COP26 and witnessed personally the power of protests in the streets, which, she says, was the real leadership on display in Glasgow. In this exclusive interview with Truthout, Morgan shares what transpired in Glasgow, what mechanisms can be implemented to end fossil fuel use, and how the end of the fossil fuel economy has the potential to challenge capitalism.

C.J. Polychroniou: I want to start by asking for your thoughts on COP26. What did it accomplish, and is there any reason to believe that leaders will make good on the pledges made?

Jennifer Morgan: Glasgow was meant to deliver on firmly closing the gap to 1.5°C and that didn’t happen. The final text was meek, weak and the 1.5°C goal is only just alive, but a signal has been sent that the era of coal is ending. And that matters. While the deal recognizes the need for deep emissions cuts this decade, those commitments have been delayed again until next year.

There was progress on adaptation, with the developed countries finally beginning to respond to the calls of developing countries for funding and resources to cope with rising temperatures. There was a recognition that vulnerable countries are suffering real loss and damage from the climate crisis now, but what was promised was nothing close to what’s needed on the ground, and this issue must be at the top of the agenda for developed countries.

Even though the mention of phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies is weak and compromised, its very existence is a breakthrough. The call for emissions reductions of 45 percent by the end of this decade is in line with what we need to do to stay under 1.5°C and brings science firmly into this deal. But what we actually need is for companies and governments to take meaningful and tangible action toward it.

Unfortunately, while some of the worst bits have been removed, the offsets scam still got a boost in Glasgow, and there are still risks that this deal will support a greenwashing scam for the biggest polluters, with loopholes that are too big to tolerate, endangering nature, Indigenous Peoples and the 1.5°C goal itself. The UN Secretary General announced that a group of experts will bring vital scrutiny to offset markets, but much work still needs to be done to stop the greenwashing, cheating and loopholes giving big emitters and corporations a pass.

What COP26 showed was where real leadership is. The only reason we got where we did in Glasgow was because the youth, Indigenous leaders, activists and countries on the climate frontline forced concessions that were grudgingly given. Without them, these climate talks would have flopped completely. Young people who’ve come of age in the climate crisis won’t tolerate many more outcomes like this. We need to urgently mobilize to create irrepressible pressure for world leaders to act.

Those at the forefront of the fight against the climate emergency say we have to stop with the further expansion or exploitation of fossil fuels. Through what policy mechanisms can this be realized, and what is the role of Greenpeace International in helping to make this happen?

The breakup with fossil fuels is not only a necessity but also inevitable. Case in point, the compromise in the Glasgow Climate Pact on phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies is definitely not where we want it to be, but we have to acknowledge that it is a small victory in the sense that it’s the first time a call for coal reduction appeared on a COP final text.

But as this is a fundamental systemic change, we need all of the governments to be on board to make sure that this extractive and exploitative business of fossil fuels is well and truly choked off, and we transition as quickly as we can to sustainable sources of energy — in other words, no more money should be allowed for dirty investments.

Between the adoption of the Paris agreement in 2015 and 2019, 33 major global banks collectively poured $1.9 trillion into fossil fuels. The world needs $90 trillion in the next decade to achieve the goals set by the Paris agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Fossil fuel supply still attracts nearly three times more investments and subsidies than the solutions. Just 10 percent of these regressive subsidies could pay for the transition to a clean energy revolution — only 10 percent of the money we are dumping into outdated fossil fuels. This is why the governments must create, then properly and effectively implement policies so that no amount of money — subsidy, funding or bailout should ever reach the fossil fuel companies again.

Fortunately, as more governments are realizing the true gravity of our climate situation, they are taking more action. In East Asia and Southeast Asia, we’ve been running campaigns against state-backed public development banks (PDBs) in China, Japan and South Korea to shift their overseas energy investments, and all three countries have announced [they will] either end or phase out overseas coal investments by the end of the year.

And through our latest Money for Change campaign, we’ve been targeting the European Investment Bank — the biggest public lender still financing fossil gas projects and some of the dirtiest companies in Europe while funding motorway expansion — by denouncing their hypocrisy and greenwashing.

But most importantly, we need to ensure that all policies have just transition at heart, and make sure we’re moving toward a more sustainable economy in a way that’s fair and inclusive for everyone. So, just as we’ve always done, Greenpeace will continue to put unyielding pressure on leaders all around the world to quit putting profit over people and the planet, as there is no money in a dead world.

A recently conducted survey reveals that the majority of people from China (93 percent), the European Union (81 percent), the U.K. (74 percent), and U.S. (59 percent) identified the climate crisis as the biggest challenge facing the world, but do not trust government officials to enact the necessary policies to combat global warming. From your own experience with the work at Greenpeace International, does strong grassroots activism increase the likelihood that governments will prioritize climate action?

The short answer is yes…. Just to reiterate what I said earlier about the real leadership at COP26, the youth, Indigenous Peoples, nations bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, and all other activists were critical to the small victory we saw. At the end of the day, there is power in numbers, and governments can only ignore truth for so long.

There are many examples that show the power people have. Movement-led climate court cases are bringing justice to those most impacted. In just three years, climate litigation cases have nearly doubled, and only last year, an unprecedented number of key judgments with potentially far-reaching impacts were issued, including the cases against Shell and against Germany.

In 2015, the world’s first investigation into corporate responsibility for the climate crisis, The Climate Change and Human Rights Inquiry, was launched in the Philippines to probe into the possible human rights violations of the 47 “Carbon Majors” — the biggest fossil fuel and cement companies. Originating from a complaint filed by typhoon survivors and civil society groups, depending on the outcome, this inquiry could have a monumental impact by rightfully placing the responsibilities of protecting human rights and achieving climate justice on the Carbon Majors and other corporations as we relentlessly face the climate crisis they have hugely contributed to.

You can also see how Indigenous-led movements are going against all odds and putting everything on the line in countries like Brazil, where the government is actively threatening Indigenous Peoples’ rights, to demand their lands and lives be protected. And [successful efforts] stopping pipelines in the United States and Canada — where 21 fossil fuel projects have been prevented or delayed — were all due to Indigenous-led resistance. This pressure works. It puts the struggles and efforts of those affected and impacted front and center, all the while exposing the systemic injustices of our current system.

Greenpeace just turned 50 this year, and for 50 years, we have been using peaceful protest and activism to bring about change. Our nonviolent direct actions have proved critical to the success of our campaigns, and we know we will continue to see bold and courageous activism beyond our work and in the wider global climate movement.

It is assumed by many analysts, commentators and even some policymakers that the end of the fossil fuel economy could bring about a transformation of capitalism. How so?

For many people today, everyday life is more often about survival, not progress. After centuries of exploitation, the same colonialistic mindset and practices continue today, threatening biodiversity, the lives of Indigenous People and vulnerable communities, and the global climate.

It’s the dark, sad truth that today’s profit-driven, extractive economic model works for the profit of corporations and the wealthy, urges destructive infinite growth, and is completely reliant on limitless extraction of natural resources.

The chaos and confusion of the COVID-19 outbreak has truly exposed some inescapable truths about how we live. It’s shown us how vulnerable, interdependent and interconnected we are. It’s clear that we can no longer continue to let a handful of the rich, including the extractive fossil fuel industry, become richer at the expense of the rest of the planet. Fortunately, we have been given a rare opportunity to reset and reimagine our future. By finally pulling away from the monocultural Western growth and development lens, we can have a future where life is not commodified, and where well-being, empowerment of people and communities are at its core, [as] opposed to infinite growth and the profit of the wealthy few. This would be a world shaped by cooperation, collaboration, solidarity, equality, dignity, adaptation and resilience.

But in order to inherently gut our current neoliberal model and start prioritizing people, planetary health and international collaboration, we need a new socio-ecologically centered system that will put all living beings at the heart of it. We must stop chasing short-term economic growth for a few, which is well exemplified by the current fossil fuel industry. Environmentalism cannot be separated from people, politics and the economy.

Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

C.J. Polychroniou is a political scientist/political economist, author, and journalist who has taught and worked in numerous universities and research centers in Europe and the United States. Currently, his main research interests are in U.S. politics and the political economy of the United States, European economic integration, globalization, climate change and environmental economics, and the deconstruction of neoliberalism’s politico-economic project. He is a regular contributor to Truthout as well as a member of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project. He has published scores of books and over 1,000 articles which have appeared in a variety of journals, magazines, newspapers and popular news websites. Many of his publications have been translated into a multitude of different languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Croatian, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Turkish. His latest books are Optimism Over DespairNoam Chomsky On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change (2017); Climate Crisis and the Global Green New DealThe Political Economy of Saving the Planet (with Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin as primary authors, 2020); The PrecipiceNeoliberalism, the Pandemic, and the Urgent Need for Radical Change (an anthology of interviews with Noam Chomsky, 2021); and Economics and the LeftInterviews with Progressive Economists (2021).




Besame Mucho – Een saxofonist verstript

De muziek van de film Ascenseur pour l’échafaud uit 1958 – regie Louis Malle – is bekender dan de film zelf. Miles Davis maakte de soundtrack, die niet alleen bij jazzliefhebbers bekend is. Vaak is de muziek te horen als achtergrond bij documentaires of televisiereportages. Het onmiskenbare trompetspel van Davis wordt afgewisseld met melancholische saxofoonklanken. Er ontstaat een serie lang uitgesponnen saxofoon- en trompetsolo’s met een simpel, telkens terugkerend thema, zonder echte melodie, wat zich eindeloos lijkt te herhalen.
Filmkijkers herinneren zich vooral deze muziek bij de scènes waarin een wanhopige Jeanne Moreau, op hakjes, verdwaasd over de beregende kinderhoofdjes van straten in Parijs beweegt. Het zijn ook de enige beelden uit de film die blijven hangen. Zonder de muziek van Miles Davis zou de film waarschijnlijk al lang in de vergetelheid zou zijn geraakt.

Film noir
Ascenseur pour l’échafaud is de eerste lange speelfilm van regisseur Louis Malle (1932-1995). Het is een in zwart/wit gedraaide film noir die bij vlagen hitchcock-achtig aandoet.
Een vrouw – Jeanne Moreau in de rol die haar doorbraak zou betekenen – en haar minnaar zijn van plan haar echtgenoot te vermoorden. Het plan dreigt te mislukken wanneer de minnaar opgesloten raakt in een lift in een verder verlaten kantoorgebouw en zo zijn afspraak met de vrouw misloopt. Wanhopig dwaalt ze ’s nachts door een uitgaanswijk van Parijs, in café’s en nachtclubs op zoek naar haar minnaar.

Nouvelle Vague
Hoewel Ascenseur pour l’échafaud niet door alle filmhistorici gerekend wordt tot de Nouvelle Vague, de Franse filmstroming die brak met de traditionele wijze van filmen, geldt de film wel als voorloper ervan. Zeker is dat de film een belangrijke inspiratiebron was voor regisseurs als François Truffaut en Jean-Luc Godard, toonaangevende vertegenwoordigers van de Nouvelle Vague.
Eind jaren vijftig en in het begin van de jaren zestig weken Truffaut en Godard, maar ook regisseurs als Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer en Agnès Varda, met hun werkwijze fundamenteel af van de tot dan toe heersende filmtradities. Hun aanpak was niet gebaseerd op van te voren geprogrammeerde scènes en dichtgetimmerde scenario’s, maar ging uit van experiment en improvisatie tijdens de opnames, in camerawerk, chronologie en editing, net als de soundtrack.

Jean Seberg en Jean-Paul Belmondo

Straatscènes
Als een van de eersten nam Louis Malle – later de regisseur van onder meer Zazie dans le Metro (1960), Pretty Baby (1978) en My Dinner with André (1981) – de camera mee de straat op. Niet om vanuit een vast standpunt te filmen, maar juist om op straat met personages mee te kunnen bewegen. Om Jeanne Moreau lopend door straten te kunnen filmen, werd de camera op een kinderwagen gemonteerd zodat ze overal gevolgd kon worden. François Truffaut filmde later op soortgelijke wijze straatscènes in Parijs voor zijn debuutfilm Le Quatre Cents Coup (1959). Truffaut liet de camera op een 2CV zonder dak monteren om de jonge Antoine Doinel te kunnen volgen op zijn zwerftochten door Parijs.

Schatplichtig aan Ascenseur pour l’échafaud is ook de beroemde straatscène in Godards A Bout de Souffle (1959), waarin Jean Seberg de Herald Tribune verkoopt op de Avenue des Champs- Élysées en door Jean-Paul Belmondo wordt aangesproken. Door – op de openingsscène na – de hele film op locatie te draaien in plaats van in een studio, doorbrak Godard fundamenteel de bestaande filmtraditie en baande hij de weg voor een nieuwe manier van film maken.

Jeanne Moreau en Miles Davis

Jazz in Parijs
In november 1957 was Miles Davis voor enkele optredens geboekt in de Club Saint-Germain in Parijs, een bekende jazzclub in de Rue Saint-Benoît. Franse jazzmusici als Barney Wilen, Stéphane Grapelli, René Urtreger en Boris Vian traden er frequent op, maar ook voor Amerikaanse jazzmuzikanten als Art Blakey, Kenny Dorham, Bud Powell en Kenny Clarke was het een geliefde plek. Parijs was een stad waar Amerikaanse musici graag verbleven.
Trompettist Chet Baker nam in Parijs een aantal van zijn beste platen op (op cd als Chet in Paris vol. 1-4).
In de jaren vijftig werd Parijs de stad ‘waar het gebeurde’. Europa herstelde zich van de Tweede Wereldoorlog, en Parijs was de stad waar de voorhoede van een nieuwe toekomst zich leek te kunnen manifesteren. Nieuwe stromingen in kunst, mode, cultuur en filosofie kondigden zich aan. Hoogwaardige journalistiek – de International Herald Tribune vindt zijn oorsprong in Parijs – en literaire tijdschriften als The Paris Review en Les Temps Modernes (onder redactie van Jean-Paul Sartre en Simone de Beauvoir) bepaalden mede het sociaal-culturele klimaat.

Drugs
Zwarte musici hadden er nauwelijks last van racistische vooroordelen en discriminatie zoals ze dat in de Verenigde Staten meemaakten. Bovendien heerste er een gunstiger klimaat ten opzichte van drugsgebruik. Heroïne was een veel gebruikte drug onder musici. In Parijs was het niet al te problematisch om in die behoefte te kunnen voorzien. Bovendien was het Franse rechtssysteem aanzienlijk minder streng ten opzichte van het gebruik van harddrugs in vergelijking met de Verenigde Staten, waar de criminalisering en segregatie hand in hand gingen.

Juliette Greco en Miles Davis

Saint-Germain
Het was niet het eerste bezoek van Miles Davis aan Parijs. Al in 1949 had hij in Parijse clubs gespeeld. De Amerikaanse bebop was in Parijs ongekend populair, met name in de jazzcafé’s in Saint-Germain-des-Près. In Parijs werd Davis verliefd op chanteuse en actrice Juliette Gréco, die in bohemienachtige, existentialistische kringen rondom Jean-Paul Sartre verkeerde. In 1957 hernieuwde hij in Parijs zijn relatie met Gréco. Inmiddels was hij wereldberoemd, na het uitbrengen van de legendarische serie platen Cookin’-, Relaxin’-, Workin’- and Steamin’ with The Miles Davis Quintet.
Jean-Paul Rappeneau, jazzfan en assistent van Malle, kwam met de suggestie Davis te vragen voor de filmmuziek. Voor Louis Malle een uitgelezen kans zijn film publicitair een stuk aantrekkelijker te maken.

Improvisatie
De opnames vonden plaats op 4 en 5 december 1957 in de Le Poste Parisien Studio in Parijs, 116bis Avenue Champs-Élysées. Behalve Miles Davis, bestond de band uit de Amerikaan Kenny Clarke op drums, en de Franse musici Barney Wilen op tenorsax, René Urtreger op piano en Pierre Michelot, bass. Davis gaf de andere bandleden slechts wat globale aanwijzingen over de harmoniestructuur en volgorde van akkoorden. Terwijl scènes uit de film in de studio op een doek werden geprojecteerd, improviseerden de bandleden op de beelden.
Het samenspel met de bandleden en de ingetogen, trage soundtrack inspireerden Davis vervolgens tot het maken van de plaat Milestones (1958) en van Kind of Blue (1959), volgens velen de beste jazzplaat ooit gemaakt.
In Europa werd de soundtrack door Fontana uitgebracht op een ten-inch elpee. De eind jaren tachtig verschenen cd bevat ook de alternate takes.

Barney Wilen

Filmmuziek
Voor saxofonist Barney Wilen (1937-1996) geldt Ascenseur pour l’échafaud als de start van zijn carrière. Direct werd hij gevraagd de filmmuziek voor een tweetal Franse films te componeren: Un témoin dans le ville (1958) en Jazz sur scène (1958), waaraan Kenny Clarke meewerkte. Ook maakte hij de muziek bij Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1959) van regisseur Roger Vadim, met medewerking van Thelonius Monk. Ook trad hij op het Newport Jazz Festival op.
In de jaren zestig experimenteerde hij met free jazz en ging zich oriënteren op niet-westerse muziek. In 1968 bracht hij de plaat Dear Prof. Leary uit, een eerbetoon aan lsd-profeet Timothy Leary. In de jaren zeventig en tachtig maakte hij muzikale uitstapjes naar de rock en punk en bracht hij lange tijd in Afrika door, waar hij speelde en toerde met Afrikaanse musici.
Uit het Franse clubcircuit was hij verdwenen. Zo nu en dan maakte hij nog een plaat en produceerde hij muziek van anderen.

Stripverhaal
Wilen moet stomverbaasd zijn geweest toen hij in 1987 in een Franse kiosk exemplaren aantrof van het striptijdschrift (A Suivre), met daarin het stripverhaal Barney et la note bleue.
Overduidelijk hadden scenarist Phillipe Paringaux en tekenaar Jacques Loustal zich voor de strip laten inspireren door het leven van Barney Wilen. Het verhaal: een jonge tenorsaxofonist genaamd Barney, die een opmerkelijke gelijkenis vertoont met Barney Wilen, speelt in de jaren vijftig met jazzmusici als Art Blakey en Kenny Clark, raakt verslaafd aan heroïne en beleeft meerdere tragische affaires met vrouwen. Hij moet in zijn onderhoud voorzien door te spelen in tweederangs jazzorkestjes, die een weinig indrukwekkend repertoire van uitgemolken jazzstandards spelen. Tegen wil en dank wordt het nummer Besame Mucho zijn handelsmerk. Het trieste bestaan van Barney speelt zich af in troosteloze casino’s, verlaten Franse badplaatsen en derderangs clubs, om vervolgens iedere dag op een haveloze hotelkamer een spuit met heroïne in zijn arm te kunnen zetten. Vergeten door jazzliefhebbers en zonder vrienden sterft hij in alle eenzaamheid.

Barney Wilen bekijkt de tentoonstelling met tekeningen uit La Note Bleue

Comeback
Waarheidsgetrouw was het verhaal zeker niet, want Barney Wilen was springlevend, en ook Wilens levensloop had zich duidelijk anders voltrokken. Juist vanwege deze verschillen meende Wilen bij de makers van de strip verhaal te moeten halen. Er volgden pittige gesprekken tussen Wilen, Paringaux en Loustal. Het verhaal – inmiddels als stripalbum gepubliceerd – was wel degelijk bedoeld als eerbetoon aan Wilen, zo was de verklaring van de makers, maar hun research was niet al te nauwkeurig geweest. Onterecht hadden ze gemeend dat Barney reeds was overleden.
Er kwam een compromis, die zowel voor Wilen als de makers publicitair een gouden vondst bleek te zijn. Wilen nam een nieuwe cd op getiteld La Note Bleue, met nieuwe nummers en enkele standards, inclusief Besame Mucho. De nummers kregen de titels van de hoofdstukken in het stripalbum, Loustal maakte het hoesontwerp. Wilen maakte met de cd een comeback, Loustal kreeg een tentoonstelling met zijn werk en zou later furore maken als striptekenaar en illustrator. Het stripalbum moest meerdere malen worden herdrukt.
In 1987 kreeg de cd de prijs voor het beste Franse jazzalbum van dat jaar. In de herfst van datzelfde jaar speelde Wilen avond aan avond in de Parijse jazzclub Le Petit Opportun nummers van de cd. Dankzij de strip voor een opvallend jong publiek. Vaste prik iedere avond is een enthousiast gespeelde versie van Besame Mucho.

Soundtrack Ascenseur pour l’échafaud

Barney Wilen, Bud Powell, Kenny Clark e.a, Club Saint-German, 6 November 1959

Barney Wilen Quartet, Antibes Jazz Festival, Juli 1961




Multatuli online

Lithografie naar portret van Multatuli door César Mitkiewicz

Multatuli – pseudoniem van Eduard Douwes Dekker (1820-1887) – wordt beschouwd als de belangrijkste schrijver uit het Nederlands taalgebied. Zijn invloed op de Nederlandse literatuur, de koloniale politiek, het feminisme en de arbeidersbeweging is baanbrekend geweest. Het Multatuli Genootschap/Stichting Multatuli Huis wil de belangstelling voor deze schrijver en denker levend houden door op multatuli.online zijn volledige werk en correspondentie en alle documenten (zoals teksten, afbeeldingen, archivalia) die op hem betrekking hebben digitaal en in samenhang te publiceren. De website is bestemd voor belangstellenden en onderzoekers maar ook voor wie hier kennismaakt met Multatuli.

De realisering van dit project zal stapsgewijs plaatsvinden. Op dit moment zijn alle zelfstandige publicaties van Multatuli aanwezig, alle bewaard gebleven correspondentie (ca. 5000 brieven), een biografie (door Dik van der Meulen) en het complete voor deze website gedigitaliseerde Multatuli Archief (eigendom van het Multatuli Genootschap en bewaard door Allard Pierson, De Collecties van de Universiteit van Amsterdam).

Daarnaast bevat de website een Multatuli Encyclopedie, een Multatuli Atlas, een Multatuli Lexicon en toegang tot een ruime hoeveelheid secundaire literatuur. Waar mogelijk wordt gewezen naar eerder gedigitaliseerde werken en documentatie, zoals te vinden bij de Koninklijke Bibliotheek (de Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren en Delpher) en het Huygens Instituut.

Het colofon vermeldt alle personen en instellingen die tot nu toe een bijdrage hebben geleverd. Om een zo compleet mogelijk beeld van Multatuli’s werk en levensloop tot stand te brengen kunnen we de hulp van kenners en geïnteresseerden gebruiken. Wie over documenten – brieven, beeldmateriaal of secundaire literatuur – beschikt die hier niet mogen ontbreken of wie anderszins een bijdrage wil leveren aan multatuli.online (financieel of in natura), wordt van harte uitgenodigd om zich te melden bij de redactie van de website. Ook onjuistheden of suggesties voor verbetering kunnen aan de redactie worden doorgegeven.

Deze website is een initiatief van het Multatuli Genootschap en de Stichting Multatuli Huis. Door (fiscaal vriendelijk) donateur te worden ondersteunt u het werk van het genootschap en de stichting en verzekert u de instandhouding van deze website.

Bovenaan iedere pagina van deze website worden delen van de Multatuli Collectie getoond – brieven, documenten, manuscripten, foto’s, afbeeldingen en meer – om een indruk te geven van de rijkdom en de verscheidenheid van die collectie.

Bezoek de site: https://multatuli.online/home




Auke van der Berg ~ Ikki’s eiland. De horzel van het koninkrijk I. Het gesprek

Rozenberg Publishers – ikkiseiland.com
ISBN 90 978 3610 495 1
216 pagina’s – November 2017
Tweede druk mei 2018

Derde druk september 2020
Euro 19,50
$ 20,00
Omslag & DTP: Ingrid Bouws

Inhoudsopgave

Interviews:
Boi Antoin – Wat van ons is, is niet goed
Ben Oleana – Je moet eerst naar jezelf kijken
Michiel Bijkerk – Advocatuur als sacrale kuunst
Claudette Martijn-Reed – Ik was niet van plan de politiek in te gaan
Johan Giskus – Nederlanders houden niet van dansers
Larry Gerharts – Alles draait om enen en nullen
Norwin Willem – De knuppel is vervangen door woorden
Rignald Saragoza – Ik ben zo geboren, dat heeft een voordeel
Abilio Martis – Door hard te werken hoopte ik dat we het beter zouden krijgen
Misoyla Winklaar – Als je de hoop verliest, is er niets meer
Valerio Balentien & Aixa Abrahams – Alles gaat langzaam beter
Sidney Josepha – Op den duur kom je toch in Rome
Rachit Alberto & Sigmar Marchena – Er gebeuren dingen die je stil laten staan bij je leven
Giovanni Frans – Mijn wensen hebben niets met gezondheidszorg te maken
Kevin Thodé – Ik luister goed en hoor wat de mensen zeggen
James Finies – Er zijn veel mensen om me heen en ergens is het verhaal wel gelukt
Max Suart – Er is geen baby die als crimineel geboren wordt

Plus een veertigtal stukkies.

 




Religiously Based Political Parties In Democracies. The Case Of The Netherlands

Foto: tweedekamer.nl

Since the Netherlands became a full-fledged democracy in 1848 political parties of diverse ideological backgrounds competed for the vote of the electorate, be they Christian parties, liberal parties, socialist parties, and more recently populist parties. Religions claim that their values are God given and therefore immutable. In a democracy with several ideological streams seeking representation in Parliament, it is in most cases difficult if not impossible for one party to obtain more than 50% of the votes, and that poses a challenge to those religious parties that claim to base themselves on ‘universal’ God given values[i]. They have either the choice to stay in an oppositional role in Parliament and continue giving voice to their opinions. The other option is that they seek alliances with parties to which they resemble in order to form a government. But that last strategy implies that they must be prepared to reach compromises with other parties, thus possibly renouncing in cases the ‘eternal’ values the parties claim to represent. The preparedness to compromise goes by the way as well for secular parties that claim ‘universal truths’, but the difference between religious parties and secular parties is of course that religious parties claim that their values are of a higher nature, i.e. coming from God.

This article treats how the mechanisms of compromise work in the Dutch political system, focusing in particular on religious, in the Dutch case, mostly Christian political parties that enter coalition governments with other -often- secular parties. The article first presents a description of the Dutch political system and its Constitution, and the coming to being of the Dutch Nation State. Then it goes into the subject of how governments are formed in the Kingdom. Following, the article treats the specific case of how the 2017 Dutch coalition government was formed and how it treated the highly sensitive issue of euthanasia law in its coalition agreement, where an orthodox Christian party and a secular party had to come to terms on this issue. I use this case as to show how a religious party can function in a democracy with, in the Dutch case, mostly non-religious parties.

1 The Dutch Political System and Constitution
The Netherlands form since 1848 a constitutional Monarchy in which the King functions as a symbol of the unity of the people of the Netherlands but he does not hold any political power. The government, consisting of the Prime Minister and the Ministers, exercise power and are held responsible for their acts in Parliament. The Dutch Parliament consists of two Chambers. The Second Chamber is elected directly by the people and consists of 150 seats. The electoral system is of a representative nature, implying that the total number of valid votes in elections is divided by 150. The Netherlands does not have constituencies like the United Kingdom and France have. The First Chamber consists of 75 seats and is elected indirectly by the representatives of the 12 provinces the country counts. The country has a tradition that in elections no party ever obtained an absolute majority in Parliament and therefore coalition governments always ruled the country[ii].

The first article of the Dutch Constitution reads as follows[iii]:
‘All persons in the Netherlands shall be treated equally in equal circumstances. Discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race or sex or on any other grounds whatsoever shall not be permitted’.

This first article stipulates that all persons that live in the Netherlands are to be treated equally in equal circumstances. The fact that one is a man or a woman, that a person has Dutch roots or German, Chinese or any other root, that a person has conservative political opinions or progressive opinions, that a person is heterosexual, homosexual or transgender and that a person is a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim or an atheist, does not make a difference in their treatment.

Article 6 of the Constitution concerns the freedom of religion or belief and it is formulated as follows, in two parts[iv]:

– Everyone shall have the right to profess freely his religion or belief, either individually or in community with others, without prejudice to his responsibility under the law.
– Rules concerning the exercise of this right other than in buildings and enclosed places may be laid down by Act of Parliament for the protection of health, in the interest of traffic and to combat or prevent disorders.

Interesting in article 6 is that it mentions not only the right to profess freely one’s religion, but also one’s conviction (my italics). Conviction explicitly refers to non-religious beliefs, not necessarily religious ones. So, people with religious and non-religious, or secular, convictions have the right to profess these in Dutch society.

The present Constitution of the Netherlands is based on its first draft that dates to 1848.

2 The genesis of the Dutch nation state
In 1789 the French revolution took place. The world would soon learn to know the new French regime based as it was on the principles of the Enlightenment. The French revolution would be the cradle of modern democracy and France would soon spread the revolution over Europe. French revolutionary troops occupied the Netherlands in 1795 causing the ruling prince Willem V to flee to Germany[v]. In the Netherlands there were at that time already citizens, referred to as ‘patriots’, who supported the principles of the Enlightenment, opposing the prince and the nobles that wanted to stick to the old rule. The Netherlands knew until 1795 a decentralized government in which the several provinces enjoyed great autonomy. With the French and patriots taking over, the country formed a National Assembly that set itself in making a Constitution based on the principles of the French Revolution: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. This was though no so simple. The Netherlands was until 1795 basically a country where the Protestant church was dominant and where the two other religious denominations, i.e. the Catholics and the Jews, were second rang citizens that never got positions in the local and provincial boards. The 80-year war against Spain (from 1568-1648) led to throwing of the yoke of the Spanish (and Catholic) occupier and although the Dutch Republic was at that time a relatively tolerant power in Europe when it comes to religious freedom, the Protestant church was dominant, and all other religions were subordinate to it. And now the new State had to develop a constitution that would guarantee liberty and equality to all citizens, including the Catholics and the Jews. It took a long time before the debates in the National Assembly led to a Constitution and laws that foresaw in the principle of equality for all but in the end, it managed to do so[vi][vii].

The French occupation ended in 1813. The French troops left the country to assist Emperor Napoleon in the last battles he fought and which he ultimately lost. The country looked back at 18 years of French presence. From 1806-1810 Napoleon had changed the country into a Kingdom with his own brother Louis Napoleon on the throne. Louis Napoleon was not a bad king. He tried to develop the country as much as possible in the spirit of the French revolutionary principles. When the French left, the country had a constitution that foresaw in the equality of all its citizens. The paradox of the period after the French left is that the Dutch nation state remained built on the principles of Enlightenment. There were voices in society that called for a retour to the situation before 1795 but the enlightenment ideology was stronger than the conservative forces. The Netherlands kept a constitution based on the enlightenment. The son of the late prince Willem V came back to the country to become the future King Willem I, and he as well submitted to the new order. The country wet itself in developing as a modern nation state, centrally governed, investing a lot in infrastructure and education.

In 1848 a reform of the constitution took place making the country more democratic than before. One of the major changes was that the King lost the political power he still had. A government that was democratically elected without any interference of a hereditary sovereign should rule the country. The King protested but accepted his limited role as head of state only.  The principles of liberty, equality and fraternity had in the end led to a society, which not only legally foresaw in equal chances for all, but also in reality[viii].

3 A country of coalitions
The Parliamentary elections in the Netherlands of March 2017 shattered the political landscape more than ever with 28 parties participating in it and having 13 of them obtaining seats in parliament that does not know a threshold. Four parties have a religious background. It concerns the CDA (Christian Democrats; 19 seats), Christian Union (Orthodox Protestants; 5 seats), SGP (Fundamentalist Protestants; 2 seats), and newcomer DENK (Muslims; 3 seats). I treat the party programs of SGP and DENK first, followed by CDA and Christian Union further below as the two last ones would become part of the new coalition government.

The SGP represents the most orthodox or fundamentalist Christians in the country. The party was established in 1918 and has been represented in Parliament since 1946, never with more than 2 or 3 seats. They are part of an old tradition and its members are very conservative, supporting the Monarchy and, more importantly, believing that Christian Values are eternal. From this conviction, the SGP states on its website that that the government, as ‘God’s servant’, has the task of promoting justice and righteousness in line with what God tells the people in His Holy Word, the Bible[ix]. There must, they claim furthermore, be ‘strong action against radical Islamic ideas’. However, this struggle ‘should not be used to curtail the freedom of organization of churches’.

DENK is the most recent religious party entering the Parliament with three seats. It originally split from the Labor Party and it bases itself on ‘universal human values’ but in practice its members are quite ardent supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan and his AK Party, while claiming as well to represent the Muslim community in the Netherlands.[x] When it comes to the freedom of religion they are, as stated on their website, in favor of supporting and funding Islamic educational initiatives and in favor of offering training to Muslim spiritual leaders and imams.[xi] According to DENK, there are more people in the Netherlands who must accept integrated people than people who still need to integrate. The party program of DENK stipulates that integration applies to newcomers, not to people who are born and / or raised in the country. DENK is in favor of appointing a ‘Minister for Mutual Acceptance’ in the government. Both SGP and DENK are in an oppositional role in the Parliament, being therefore no part of the coalition government that was formed in 2017.

The government that was formed after the 2017 elections consists of a coalition of four political parties that had together a minimal majority of 76 seats in the 150 seats Parliament. The biggest party furnished the Prime Minister, in this case the Liberal Party (VVD), possessing 33 seats. The other coalition parties were the Christian Democrats (CDA) with 19 seats, the Liberal Democrats (D66) as well with 19 seats and the earlier mentioned Christian Union with 5 seats.

In the Dutch political tradition, parties negotiate the conditions on which they form a new government. These negotiations can take a long time; in the case of the 2017 government, it was a record period of 225 days. The fact that in this government four parties participated made it a complex exercise as, and that is also part of the Dutch traditions, the agreement that is made between the ruling parties, is always very much detailed. Subjects of all possible nature are they social, economic, national, international, moral, or ethical, are discussed and in the end agreed upon, by compromises. It is impossible that one specific party completely gets what he wants as often interests are contradictory and parties must find the path to compromises, which is sometimes very hard. In what follows I discuss an example of how the 2017 government dealt with a subject on which two of the four coalition parties hold diametrical opinions. It concerns the issue of euthanasia law. The Liberal Democrats are basically in favor of a very liberal policy on this issue while the Christian Unionists are principally against it.

4 Euthanasia: a thorny issue
The Netherlands has laws and regulations concerning euthanasia[xii]. The euthanasia law states that a doctor may assist in life termination or suicide. He must in such cases comply with the care requirements as stipulated by the law. The law also describes how the physician’s actions must be reported and assessed. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are only legal if the following six requirements in the euthanasia law are met with:

– The doctor is convinced that the patient’s request for euthanasia is voluntary and well considered.
– The situation of the patient is hopeless, and he suffers unbearably.
– The doctor informed the patient about his situation and his prospects.
– The doctor and the patient concluded that there was no reasonable other solution.
– The doctor has consulted at least one other independent doctor who has seen the patient. This doctor gave his judgment in writing about the situation, based on the care criteria of the law.
– The doctor has carefully executed his role in the termination of life or assisted suicide.

For the electoral campaign for the 15 March 2017 elections the diverse parties striving for seats in the Second Chamber, prepared their election programs, which included statements on euthanasia as well. In the public debate on euthanasia the euphemistical term ‘completed life’ was used more and more instead of ‘euthanasia’. However it may be, the four parties that would in the end form the new government issued the following points of view on euthanasia in their programs:

VVD (Liberal Party) ‘We support the expansion of the possibilities (i.e. of the euthanasia law) to find a solution for everyone that does justice to everyone’s individual wishes. Also for people who consider their life complete without medical cause’[xiii].

CDA (Christian Democrats) ‘We are not in favor of a further extension of euthanasia law or a bill that regulates a right to life termination. It is important that people also have the courage to advocate alternatives for the end of life issue’[xiv].

D66 (Liberal Democrats) ‘People who conclude that their life is complete must be able to decide for themselves how and when they want to die. D66 thinks that the provision of a last-will pill should be possible under strict conditions of care and testability in such situations’[xv].

CU (Orthodox Protestants) ‘The Christian Union is not in favor of the euthanasia law, in which the government legitimizes that doctors put an end to the life of a fellow human being. We can never consider euthanasia as a normal medical treatment. The Christian Union wants to look after our elder people and give them the attention they deserve’[xvi].

It may be clear that the four points of view can be spread over a scale of a very liberal policy on the issue to a very conservative one. The Liberal Democrats aim for broadening the options for euthanasia, also for people, whose ‘lives are complete’, thus those ones who do not suffer from an actual physical disease. The Christian Union supports maximum help of the government to old people, who are ill, or whose ‘lives are complete’ in order to optimize -the last phases of- their lives. The Christian Union is bluntly against the current law and states that only care to elder people is the solution to their possible suffering, loneliness and pain. The Liberals aim as well at expending possibilities of the current euthanasia law but not as drastic as the Liberal Democrats suggest, and the Christian Democrats want to stabilize the current euthanasia practice while not changing the law.

Due to all kind of political developments, with populist parties obtaining 22 seats in Parliament, the Labor Party that lost 29 seats (from 38 to 9) and the Green Left party that won (from 4 to 14) but all of them refusing to be part of the new government, each one for its own reasons, the task of forming a government was in the end on the shoulders of the four parties mentioned above. To them was the challenge to overcome their differences, also on the sensitive dossier of euthanasia. In the following paragraph I discuss the compromise that the four parties reached in the end.

5 Reaching a compromise
The four parties that ultimately made a new government found each other relatively easy on dossiers of socio-economic nature. In that field the Christian Union sided very well with the Liberal Democrats, both parties being more left on the scale when it comes to socio-economic issues, while Liberals and Christian Democrats are more to the right in this field. So, when all the four parties reached in the end compromises in these dossiers, which have by nature less to do with God given values than euthanasia, the greatest challenge was to reach a compromise on the highly sensitive issue of euthanasia law. And they succeeded, as in the end an agreement was reached[xvii]. Focusing in this article on the issue of euthanasia I present what the final document forming the principles of the new government had to say on this subject. In what follows I analyze the compromise, using Political Discourse Analysis (PDA) method[xviii], based on the following three quotes from the coalition agreement:

Quote 1: ‘Certainly when it comes to issues relating to life and death, there is sometimes a fundamental difference in opinion in society and politics. In the field of medical ethics there are major differences of opinion between the parties that form the basis of the new government’.

The first step to a compromise is to put the similarities and differences of opinion on the table.  There are major differences of opinion on issues ‘in the field of medical ethics’ between the parties to be part of the new government. Note that the word ‘euthanasia’ isn’t even mentioned in the first quote. Above we saw in the description of the diverse statements of the four parties where they stand in this dossier and politically speaking the most eye-catching differences lie in the opinions of the Christian Union on the one hand and the Liberal Democrats of D66 on the other hand. Both these parties found each other easily on dossiers of a socio-economic nature, partial reasons for them to enter the coalition, but in the ethical field they couldn’t be further away from each other. Both parties, and in fact all political parties have of course a major interest in keeping their voters content with the course they follow and the compromises they make. In that sense this first remark, the observation that in the field of medical ethics major differences are on the table does justice to the parties involved, in particular the ones that are on the extremes of the scale. This remark tells their voters and constituencies: ‘we know about these differences and we respect each other’s point of view’.

The following step then is perfectly expressed by the second quote:

2 ‘In deciding on these subjects, existing legislation and regulations are the starting point for all parties. When there is a reason to adjust these laws and regulations, the government will do so in a manner that considers the conviction of all parties that the government support and on the basis of the general assessment framework as described below’.

The first sentence of the second quote makes clear where all the parties stand: the acceptance of the existing legislation and regulations of euthanasia. It is a tradition in the Netherlands’ democracy to accept all decisions taken by any earlier government, also if a party has an oppositional status, and even if a party does not agree at all with the contents of a certain law. So basically, all four parties accept the status quo, and it is this status quo that is considered to be the basis for possible modifications. The following, second, sentence is politically more sensitive where it says ‘if there is a reason to adjust these laws’. It keeps the time and subject frame empty. It does not say when in the future such a change might be relevant and more importantly, it does not mention as well the party or parties that take the initiative for such changes. This leaves lots of political room to the parties involved forming the coalition government. Then, still expressing respect to all parties’ points of view, the text states that if a change should be applied, it will be done taking into account the ‘conviction of all coalition parties’. It may be clear that this sentence, that is very vague, continues to breath the same spirit as does quote 1: creating a broad platform between the four parties, that all four of them can interpret as they wish. More specific and politically relevant the key issue is though in the last sentence which refers to the question how such a change should be made possible. It refers to ‘the general assessment framework’ that is subsequently given shape in the third and last quote:

3 ‘In consultation with Parliament, while retaining everyone’s own position and responsibility, the government will facilitate a broad discussion on the dignity of aging, the scope and application of current euthanasia law and the subject of completed life. With the outcomes of the aforementioned research, the government will consider what it can do, and the Chamber can independently decide to propose legislation’.

Here we see what kind of procedures the new government has in mind for the thorny issue of euthanasia (euphemistically referred to as ‘completed life’). The new government strives after a broad societal discussion on the issue encompassing all aspects of it: ‘the dignity of aging’, ‘the scope and application of the current euthanasia law’ and the ‘subject of completed life’. Interesting is the phrase ‘dignity of aging’ which the conservative Christians may interpret as giving maximum social and medical care to old people who suffer mentally or physically and the Liberal Democrats as giving these same old people the maximum of options to decide to end their lives themselves and making that practically possible. In the same vein we can interpret the second phrase ‘the scope and application for current euthanasia law’ which the Christian Unionists may interpret as limiting it and the Liberal Democrats as extending it. Then, if this discussion, if it will ever take place, is finished (and the text does not say if it will finish and how it will finish and who decides to finish it) the government ‘considers what it can do’ which is very vague but politically very clear: all options are open, and by the last phrase ‘the Chamber can independently decide on initiative legislation’ is meant that Parliament itself can take the initiative and come with new legislation on the issue, thus relieving the government from doing it itself, escaping as such the responsibility of the dossier, but taking the risk that there might be a majority in parliament for either limiting euthanasia law, as intended by the Christian Union, or extending it, as aimed at by the Liberal Democrats, and if any of these two proposals would have a majority in parliament (it is not excluded that opposition parties will support the proposals) the government is faced with a possible problem: which of the two will it support? But it seems that the actual goal of the current government is that it hopes that it will never come that far as, after all, we have to wait for the results of the ‘nationwide debate’ and if that takes place, and one never knows when it ends, and it might even end after the term of the current government, which would be a relieve for the conservative parties which absolutely do not want an extension of the practice and a disappointment for the Liberal Democrats who want it extended. At the same time, if a new euthanasia bill is put to the vote in parliament, either in favor of extending it or limiting it, the parties forming the coalition are expected to be loyal to the whole government’s position on the dossier and if that would not be the case, and the government falls on this dossier, it has to give up as well the much more important social economic policies it wants to implement which have a much broader base and support within the coalition. That is the price it eventually must pay.

6 Evaluations
A reader might wonder what the value is of the compromise that the 2017 Dutch government reached when it comes to the issue of ‘completed life’ or euthanasia. In the one scenario nothing changes and in another scenario the law on euthanasia will be modified minimally. In the first case the conservative Christian Union will be the winner and in the second case the Liberal Democrats. Looking back at how the 2017 government functioned, and that ended with the elections of 2021, it turned out that in the end the euthanasia law did not change at all. This fact can be considered a win for the Christian Union and a loss for the Liberal Democrats: for the former any change would have been a loss and for the latter no change is a loss. Furthermore, I believe that, looking back at the term of the 2017 government, the government deliberately aimed at ‘no change’ because the euthanasia dossier was so sensitive for the Christian Union that it might have left the government with as consequence that it might have fallen (remember that the 2017 government had a majority in parliament of one seat only). The 2017 government had a great interest in applying its social economic policies and it deliberately formulated the agreement text on euthanasia in such a way that no change would ever take place. That would then be the price for the Liberal Democrats to pay for their participation in the government. But the things the party got in return were a great financial investment in education, which the party regards as highly important in its party program. The price the Christian Union had to pay is that the current euthanasia law is maintained. In that sense the party supports in fact a practice that goes completely against its conviction that God rules over the beginning and end of someone’s live. But their gain was that the law was not extended during the rule of this government of which they were part.

Philosopher Niccholo Macchiavelli (1469-1527) stated in his Il Principe that a modern good government bases itself on texts that give the impression to be crystal clear but that in fact hide a real political agenda and that keep all options open[xix]. Is that a form of deceiving the people? In the end that might indeed be the case, but the option of parties exposing their policies in the open, showing their vulnerability, teaches us that ultimately no good and effective polities follow. The struggle for power happens by nature through rhetoric and compromise and whatever negative name rhetoric and compromise have, these concepts help to establish a solid government in democracies, be they of any ideological color, secular or religious[xx].

If a party, based on religious principles and beliefs, enters the arena of democracy, it must realize that it must negotiate political issues with other political parties. In doing so, religious parties may have to violate their own principles or beliefs. At the same time, just because this kind of parties enter the arena of democracy, they can also hinder legislation that opposes their values. In this way they can defend their values: their democratic presence gives them the opportunity to voice their visions on all kind of themes that are important to them. They learn that they can never reach 100% of what they want but reaching some of their political goals or part of them is in all cases, better than reaching nothing. In the case of the Netherlands we see that the diverse Christian parties have always had a solid say in all political decisions taken by the government.

Notes
[i] Stephen Monsma & Christopher Soper, The Challenge of Pluralism. Church and State in five Democracies.  (Lanham: Roman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009).
[ii] Sander Bax & Jan Jaap de Ruiter, ‘Church and state in the Netherlands. The case of Islam, Hartmut Behr & Marcus Hildebrandt (eds.), Politik und Religion in der Europäische Union. Zwischen nationalen Tradition und Europäissierung. (Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaft, 2006): 201-225.
[iii] https://www.government.nl/documents/regulations/2012/10/18/the-constitution-of-the-kingdom-of-the-netherlands-2008
[iv] See the website mentioned in note 3 for the text of article six as well.
[v] Simon Schama, Patriots and Liberators: Revolution in the Netherlands 1780-1813. (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2010).
[vi] Cf. Schama 2010.
[vii] Jan Jaap de Ruiter, ‘L’histoire des langues des juifs néerlandais: un cas d’émancipation réussite ?’, Langues et littératures. Journal de la Faculté des Lettres et des Sciences Humaines, Université Mohamed V 20, (2010): 63-84.
Jan Jaap de Ruiter, ‘Jews in the Netherlands and their languages’, Tilburg Papers in Culture Studies 116, (2014).
[viii] Cf. Bax & De Ruiter, 2006
[ix] https://www.sgp.nl
[x] Jan Jaap de Ruiter, ‘Muslims in the Netherlands: A Threatening Community or a Community under Threat?’, Moha Ennaji (ed.) New Horizons of Muslim Diaspora in North America and Europe, (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016): 229-242.
[xi] https://www.bewegingdenk.nl
[xii] https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/onderwerpen/levenseinde-en-euthanasie
[xiii] https://www.vvd.nl/nieuws/verkiezingsprogrammas/
[xiv] https://www.cda.nl/standpunten/verkiezingsprogramma/
[xv] https://verkiezingsprogramma.d66.nl/programma/zelfbeschikking-en-keuzevrijheid/#voltooid-leven
[xvi] https://insite.christenunie.nl/l/library/download/urn:uuid:b353eeb9-4a0d-4ad3-8835-05aeb4b4225a/Verkiezingsprogramma+2017-2021+ChristenUnie.pdf
[xvii] https://www.kabinetsformatie2017.nl/documenten/publicaties/2017/10/10/regeerakkoord-vertrouwen-in-de-toekomst
[xviii] Jan Blommaert & Chris Bulcaen, ‘Critical discourse analysis’, Annual Review of Anthropology 29, (2000): 447-66.
Teun van Dijk. Elite discourse and racism. (Newbury Park, California: Sage Publications, 1993).
Norman Fairclough, Critical Discourse Analysis: The Critical Study of Language. (London: Longman, 1995).
[xix] David Hawkes, Ideology. (London: Routledge. 2006).
[xx] Sam Leith, You talkin’ to me? Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama. (London: Profile Books, 2011).




The Current Hardships Facing Palestinian Refugees


The United Nations’ Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)—known as the main international relief and human development organization for Palestinian refugees—defined Palestinian refugees as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” However, most notably, Palestinians displaced because of the 1967 war, and subsequent hostilities, are not referred to or registered as refugees by the Agency, but they are eligible to receive services by UNRWA. Despite this fact, within segments of the international community, Palestinians who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1967 war, and subsequent hostilities, are also regarded as refugees.

In the five areas where UNRWA is in operation, namely, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), the hardships faced by the Palestinian refugees has worsened in recent history.

Most recently, with respect to the coronavirus pandemic, the Palestinian refugee population is increasingly in a vulnerable position with little-to-no access to the COVID-19 vaccine. Within the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank, COVID-19 cases are surging with more than 2,236 fatalities and 16,000 active cases in these areas (including East Jerusalem). Meanwhile, Israel has been internationally lauded for carrying out the world’s speediest vaccination drive, with over 90 percent of Israelis above the age of 50 having been fully vaccinated as of February 2021. However, Israel has denied Palestinians living within the occupied territories significant access to the vaccines as Israel argues that the Oslo Accords places responsibility on the Palestinian Authority regarding issues of public health. But even under the Oslo Accords, Israel does have a commitment to help Palestinians living in the occupied territories fight the pandemic. Article 17, stipulation 6 of the Accord states: “Israel and the Palestinian side shall exchange information regarding epidemics and contagious diseases, shall cooperate in combating them and shall develop methods for exchange of medical files and documents.”

Moreover, given that Israel is the occupying power—under international law, namely, the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, Israel has a responsibility to ensure the welfare of the population which it is occupying—namely, the Palestinian people in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. The West Bank remains occupied by Israel which “controls entrance and egress, much of the infrastructure, the roads, the currency…in short, all the means of Palestinian independence”—as pointed out by Mitchell Plitnick, the former US director of the Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem. In the case of Gaza, Israel since 2007 has imposed a land, air, and sea blockade of Gaza. Most notably, the effects of Israel’s blockade, coupled with Israel’s routine bombing of Gaza, has crumbled its infrastructure, led to massive poverty, food insecurity, and resulted in less than 4% of the water in that territory, consisting of nearly 2 million people, being fit for human consumption. Israel thus, in addition to the West Bank, also continues to occupy the Palestinians living within the Gaza Strip, and therefore, Israel as their occupier has a responsibility to vaccinate Gazans. In February 2021, Palestinian officials condemned Israel for blocking the entry of 2,000 coronavirus vaccine doses into Gaza to assist its health workers. Despite evidence to the contrary, even if Israeli claims with respect to the Oslo Accords is valid, this is irrelevant, as stated by scholar Yara M.Asi, “the [Geneva] convention specifies that no agreement between the parties supersedes its protections while occupation continues. This would include the Oslo Accords, signed in 1995 as an interim agreement.” Furthermore, Israel, instead of firs seeking to vaccinate Palestinians in the occupied territories, pledged to provide its spare vaccines to foreign allies such as Honduras and the Czech Republic.

In areas outside of the occupied territories, such as Lebanon which is home to an estimated 207,000 Palestinian refugees, according to UN figures, it has been reported that “Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are three times more likely to die with COVID-19 than the population as a whole.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations’ Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), responsible for providing healthcare and education to millions of Palestinians living both inside and outside the occupied territories, was “recognized as a major contributor to the containment of the COVID-19 virus”—having quickly adapted its provision of services in compliance with the World Health Organization recommendations. UNRWA implemented remote education curriculum practices, adopted door-to-door delivery of food and medicines, as well as innovative health and psychosocial support hotlines which have been regarded as a significant lifeline to the refugee population during the pandemic. Moreover, UNRWA is also responsible for waste disposal and sanitation services to Palestinian refugee camps across the Middle East — “this includes disinfectant treatments to roads and installations to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
However, due to the United States’ complete termination of funding to UNRWA under President Trump in 2018, the operations of the Agency were almost brought to a complete halt.
When the pandemic broke out, UNRWA was operating on a shoestring budget with Elizabeth Campbell, UNRWA’s director in Washington, stating in May 2020 that due to America’s termination of funding, “We are basically operating on a month-to-month basis. Right now, we have funding to pay our 30,000 health care workers until the end of this month.”

Even once the COVID-19 pandemic is over, it does not appear that there will be any end in sight to the suffering faced by Palestinian refugees. The hardships faced by Palestinian refugees will continue until the central issues of contention are fully addressed within a final settlement to the conflict. The central issues of contention as it pertains to Palestinian refugees is, firstly, the right of return, secondly, the right of Palestinians for compensation from Israel due to the destruction of Palestinians’ homes, and their livelihoods as a result of the 1948 war, the 1967 war, as well as further hostilities, and the third issue of contention is the assimilation and resettlement of refugees in different countries. Most significantly on the first two points, there is serious doubt as to whether right of return and compensation (both issues which are notably embodied within United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194) is politically feasible and there is doubt as to whether there are legitimate frameworks within international law that firmly allows stateless Palestinians to successfully advocate for the right of return and compensation.

The Taba Summit is widely regarded as perhaps the closest instance that a final settlement to end the longstanding conflict was almost reached between the Israelis and the Palestinians. At the time of the Taba Summit, the Israelis expressed an understanding on the issue of compensation, with Israel advocating that an international commission be created to gather, verify, and pay individual compensation claims. However, at that time, you had a government in Israel that, at least, gave the public impression that it was willing to negotiate on key issues required to reach a permanent settlement to the conflict. Presently, however, the center-left parties in Israel, such as the Labour Party, are a shell of its former self and a significant segment of the population in Israel strongly supports Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right Likud Party, which has been expanding Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, further jeopardizing any viable solution to the conflict. There is also disunity among the Palestinians with friction between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. Lastly, unless the United States is willing to apply meaningful pressure on Israel to seriously negotiate a final settlement with the Palestinians, an end to the protracted refugee crisis will not be possible.