Middle East

Relations between Belgium and the Maghreb

Belgium enjoys a good reputation in the countries of North Africa, mainly because of the size of the North African community in Belgium and the dynamic nature of Belgian trade.

Belgium has a Moroccan community of almost half a million, leading to strong ties with Morocco at all levels. The meeting of the second High-Level Joint Partnership Commission, held in Brussels on 18 February 2014, was chaired by Belgium and Morocco's prime ministers, illustrating the importance of the ties between the two countries. Moreover, this high-level meeting was in remembrance of the 50th anniversary of the Agreement between Belgium and Morocco concerning the employment of Moroccan workers in Belgium. On this occasion 8 new conventions and treaties were signed. Since the 1960s, Morocco has also been a preferred partner of the Belgian Development Cooperation.

A new Development Cooperation programme for the period 2016-2020 is currently being prepared. Belgium has a very good reputation in Algeria, thanks largely to the Belgian embassy being one of the few that did not close down during the bloody decade of the Algerian civil war. Our countries maintain strong bilateral ties and a regular political dialogue, which was strengthened in April 2015 by signing a Memorandum of Understanding to hold yearly bilateral political consultations. 40 years of continuous intergovernmental cooperation has also created strong and deep ties between our countries. Even though since 2015 Algeria is no longer a partner country of the Belgian Development Cooperation, a new Cooperation Programme (2014-2017) focusing on environment will allow us to build a sound foundation for new forms of partnership and exchange. In terms of trade, Algeria has for a number of years now consistently been the second biggest market in Africa for the three Belgian Regions and the biggest market in North-Africa.

In 2014, we celebrated the 175th anniversary of the basic text of our bilateral relations with Tunisia, the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation concluded in 1839 between Leopold I, King of the Belgians, and Ahmed Pacha Bey, sovereign of the Kingdom of Tunis. At the beginning of the sixties both countries signed several direct bilateral cooperation agreements, which have created close ties between Belgium and Tunisia. Even though Tunisia has not been a partner country of the Belgian Development Cooperation since May 2000, there is still an intensive and harmonious cooperation between both countries, even at the level of the Regions and the Communities which are also represented in Tunisia. Belgian has also supported Tunisia during the democratic transition period, by financially supporting UNDP's projects in the context of the Arab Spring (assistance with the constitutional process and national dialogue, support of security sector and transitional justice ...). The many Belgian investments and regular bilateral visits testify to the sound bilateral relations between Belgium and Tunisia.

In Libya Belgium has actively participated in NATO's Operation Unified Protector, carried out according to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. During the post-revolutionary period around one hundred wounded Libyans were medically treated in our country. An official visit by Minister Reynders took place in February 2012. Like the international community, Belgium acknowledges the Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli, and supports the pursuit of a political solution for Libya.

Bilateral relations with the Near East

Following overview highlights various aspects of Belgium's bilateral relations with the countries of the Near East:

Belgium has good bilateral ties with Egypt, demonstrated by the frequent high-level bilateral contact between Brussels and Cairo. Belgium supports the political reforms in Egypt and aims to contribute to the country's economic revival. However, there are still additional opportunities to strengthen the economic cooperation. Belgium also acknowledges the key role Egypt is playing as a mediator in the Israeli-Arab conflict and as a major regional player.

Belgium’s regular and close contacts with Israel extend to the political, administrative, professional and cultural domains, and encompass a variety of official levels as well as private initiatives. The official meetings are a chance to address topical international issues, multilateral issues, the MEPP, the regional situation, human rights (including combating discrimination and anti-Semitism) and the memory of the Holocaust. They also examine strategies to strengthen economic, technological and trade relations.

Belgium enjoys a good reputation in Jordan thanks largely to Belgium's views regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict and our cooperation in the fight against ISIS. Out of appreciation for Jordan's great efforts for hosting large groups of Syrian refugees, Belgium supports various local projects. Trade between the two countries consists mostly of Belgian export, as Jordan highly appreciates our high-quality industrial goods. The two royal families also enjoy cordial relations. Indeed, King Abdallah has been to Belgium on a number of occasions and Belgian ministers make regular visits to Jordan.

Lebanon and Belgium are similar in a number of ways, e.g. the search for compromise, their political system based on consultation and cooperation between communities and regions with different cultural, religious or linguistic allegiances, and the maintenance of unity within diversity. The many high-level bilateral contacts are proof of the outstanding bilateral relations between our two countries. Belgium supports the European Union’s efforts, under for example the EU-Lebanon Association Agreement, to meet the shared goals that have been agreed and the implementation, by all the parties involved, of all the relevant resolutions of the United National Security Council. Belgium is aware of Lebanon's efforts to host Syrian refugees. Even though Lebanon is no partner country of the Belgian Development Cooperation, contributions have been made to NGOs active in hosting refugees in order to help under these difficult circumstances. It is also important to note that on 4 September 2015 Belgium increased the humanitarian aid for the crisis in Syria with 30 million euros, even though this is not only for Lebanon.

In the Palestinian Territory, Belgium is also contributing to the political and financial support provided by the European Union for the establishment of public institutions by the Palestinian Authority. Despite a new stalemate in negotiations, Belgium continues to support the search for a negotiated solution with Israel which will enable the creation of a Palestinian State, and in which Jerusalem would become the capital of two states.

The Palestinian Territory is one of the partners of the Belgian Development Cooperation (and is 4th in line in terms of the aid provided). The political bilateral relations have further developed, which resulted in a visit of the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas in February 2015. Moreover, in 2013 Belgium decided to increase the status of the Palestinian diplomatic representation in Brussels.

Due to the conflict in Syria and the fight against ISIS the bilateral relations with Syria are limited to the minimum necessary. Likewise, negotiations to conclude an agreement against double imposition and an agreement for mutual protection of investments have been suspended. The EU has applied sanctions against Assad's regime. Belgium not only aims to provide humanitarian aid to the Syrian population and to contribute to the fight against ISIS, but also supports the pursuit of a political solution for the conflict in Syria.

Middle East Peace Process (MEPP)

International diplomats have been endeavouring to find a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades. Two peoples have been caught up in the maelstrom of history and plunged into a conflict that can ultimately only be resolved through negotiations.

The deterioration of the current situation proves the necessity of a swift continuation of negotiations, based on parameters set by the European Union, resulting in a two-state solution with an independent, sovereign, contiguous and viable Palestinian State, living besides Israel in peace and safety with mutual recognition.

There is no alternative to the negotiated two-state solution and to make negotiations possible it is vital to keep this solution on the table and to create a climate of confidence and trust. Belgium opposes anything undermining this two-state solution, such as colonization or any related measures.

Belgium calls for a complete end to the blockade of Gaza, in line with the approach of the EU. The efforts to rebuild Gaza must be accelerated and must be integrated within the greater political efforts to continue the Middle East peace process. Another priority is the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza, so it can commence its government functions, including safety and civil administration. In accordance with the EU, Belgium finds the question of Palestinian reconciliation to be central.

Israel's safety must be guaranteed completely and it is unacceptable that missiles are launched from Gaza towards Israel. The threats by Hamas and other militias must end.

Belgium believes that the European Union could play a larger role in the peace process, in close consultation with the relevant parties.

Iraq and Iran

Belgium is strengthening its diplomatic ties with Iraq: in November 2009 a Belgian ambassador was accredited in Iraq. In May 2009 the first visit of a Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs to Baghdad and Erbil took place, after an interruption of 19 years. This visit prompted the Iraqi authorities to encourage Belgian companies to develop their activities in Iraq.

Belgian's broad lines of approach towards Iraq are: support for the fight against Daesh (ISIS); support for 'inclusiveness' of the Iraqi political process, i.e. the participation of all the communities in the country's reconstruction; support for 'regional ownership', i.e. the constructive involvement of Iraq's neighbours in the country's stabilisation, reconciliation and reconstruction process; and Belgium's support for the United Nation's role in Iraq of providing assistance and coordinating humanitarian aid. However, the human rights situation in Iraq remains fragile, in particular with regard to the actual protection of ethnic and religious minorities. The systematic application of the death penalty highly concerns the European Union and its Member States.

Belgium supports closer relations between the European Union and Iraq. Like other EU Member States, Belgium is very closely following developments in Iran.

In reaching the nuclear agreement of 14/07/15 between Iran and the E3+3 (UK, France, Germany, US, Russia, China), the end to many years of discussions on the possible military use of nuclear energy in Iran is in sight. The agreement ("Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action") guarantees a timely discovery of any such possible intentions. In exchange the sanctions regime against Iran will be largely suspended if Iran meets all of its obligations under the agreement. Belgium is satisfied with this agreement and the new opportunities it brings. Now it is time to strive for a more constructive role for Iran in the region. The scaling down of sanctions also opens up trade opportunities. However, it cannot be forgotten that serious violations of human rights (such as exercising the death penalty for many different crimes, violation of women's rights, minority rights and freedom of speech) still exist in Iran. Belgium wants this situation to improve.

Gulf States

Belgium’s regular and close contacts with the countries of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, also known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates extend to the political, administrative, professional and cultural domains, and encompass a variety of official levels as well as private initiatives. The official meetings are a chance to address topical international issues, multilateral issues, the MEPP, the regional situation, human rights (including combating the death penalty and gender discrimination). Many Belgian companies operate in this strategic region in a wide range of domains, such as construction, engineering, dredging, transport, medicine and consultancy.

Relations between the European Union and the GCC began with the signing of a cooperation agreement some 20 years ago. In this context the 24th EU/GCC Ministerial Meeting took place on 24 May 2015. This ministerial meeting was preceded by a Senior Officials meeting, recently started to strengthen the political dialogue between the EU and the GCC on themes of common interest such as the regional crises in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya and the MEPP.

The situation in Yemen and the many challenges facing that country remain a cause for concern and focus of attention for Belgium. It is following the situation very closely. The armed conflict is causing enormous harm to the local population and Belgium encourages all parties to the conflict to engage in the peace talks conveyed by Cheikh Ahmed the special Envoy of the UN Secretary-general. Those negotiations should lead to a sustainable political outcome  based on both the UNSC Resolution 2216 and the results of the National Dialogue Conference.