BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- With his four-year assignment as the head of the Danish mission to Ramallah coming to an end, Anders Tang Friborg told Ma’an on Tuesday that Denmark maintained its commitment to Palestine, and that while the Palestinian-Israeli situation remained dire, he saw hopeful signs of progress.
Friborg, who will leave the occupied Palestinian territory in May, said that in the four years he spent living and working in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, him and his family “felt incredibly welcome,” and hailed the hospitality he experienced across the Palestinian territory.
“It always strikes me that even under very difficult circumstances, the (Palestinian) people are incredibly open and warm,” Friborg said.
Friborg highlighted that since he took the position in 2013, Palestinians had witnessed “intense times” -- including the 2014 Gaza war and the rise of a wave of unrest across the Palestinian territory in the fall of 2015.
“For me, these events have emphasized how incredibly fragile the situation is, and that this hurts both Palestinians and Israelis, because it creates an insecurity in society that is very problematic,” Friborg said.
Friborg expressed concern regarding continued tensions between Palestinian political factions, which have persisted despite numerous attempts to reconcile the Hamas and Fatah parties following 2006 legislative elections which saw Hamas gain control of the Gaza Strip.
“That continued split on the Palestinian side makes it more difficult for the Palestinians to present their case internationally,” Friborg said. “It really hurts the Palestinian cause in that sense.”
“It would be very good to see some developments on reconciliation, knowing of course that it is difficult,” he added.
The Danish diplomat also noted that the EU's clear position vis-a-vis Israeli settlement expansion, emphasizing its illegality under international law, as the Israeli government has pushed the advancement of some 6,000 new illegal settlement housing units on occupied Palestinian land since the beginning of the year, and passed the outpost Regularization law, which has paved the way for the retroactive legalization of dozens of illegal Israeli settler outposts -- which comes as Israel demolished a record high number of Palestinian homes in 2016.
“It has been said very clearly by the EU to Israel that continued settlement activity is illegal under international law and is very harmful to the prospects of creating a two-state solution,” he said.
Despite these worrisome developments, Friborg reiterated that Denmark -- whose government provided funding enabling the creation of Ma’an News in 2005 -- and the European Union remained committed to the two-state solution defining a future Palestinian state along 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital.
“We in the EU need to keep in mind that it is in our own self interest to find a solution,” Friborg said. “During the four years I’ve been here, the EU has been very clear in that… we don’t see an alternative to a two-state solution.”
Despite the international community's continued support for the two-state solution, the paradigm has witnessed waning support, as many Palestinians believe that continued Israeli encroachments on occupied Palestinian lands severely jeopardize the feasibility and viability of Palestinian state within these parameters.A growing number of Palestinian activists have instead advocated for a binational state guaranteeing equal rights for both Israelis and Palestinians.
Friborg also hailed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ decision in recent years to join nearly 20 international treaties pertaining to human rights as an important step, while urging Palestinian leadership to continue in this direction.
“I think that was a very important signal to the world of where the Palestinian leadership wants to head, in terms of the kind of society that it’s aiming for,” he said. “It provides an important opportunity for Palestine, because it can put spotlight on its demand for statehood by saying: ‘We aim for these high standards… this is where we’re heading.’”
“But the follow-up is incredibly important. One thing is to sign these treaties, but the real test is to actively implement them in reality,” he cautioned.
Friborg was optimistic about Denmark’s continued commitment in the occupied Palestinian territory.
“I am very happy that we have maintained Palestine as a Danish priority when it comes to assistance,” the diplomat said.
Denmark first sent a delegation to the occupied Palestinian territories in 1995, right after the Oslo Accords, and has maintained a diplomatic presence there ever since, especially focusing on local state-building, economic development and human rights issues.
While Denmark has not recognized a state of Palestine, it voted in favor of Palestine obtaining a non-member observer status in the United Nations in 2012.
Friborg notably mentioned a four-year engagement plan approved by the Danish parliament in 2016 which is set to invest a total of $65 million in strengthening Palestinian local governance; promoting economic development notably through an agricultural program; and supporting human rights and “democratic accountability” through its financial assistance to Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups and the Independent Commission for Human Rights.
Friborg said that his successor -- whom he called a “very experienced diplomat” -- was looking forward to taking on the role in coming months, while Friborg added that his new position as head of the Middle East-North Africa office of the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs would enable him to maintain a strong link with developments regarding Israel and Palestine upon returning to Copenhagen.“It’s important for Palestinians to know that they are not forgotten. I can understand it when we are now in the 50th year of the occupation that you can get a sense that you are completely forgotten, but it’s not the case,” Friborg concluded. “And anyone who has lived here, I think, feels more strongly the need to focus on this issue and to find a solution.”