Middle East and North Africa
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. Numerous bilateral contacts including the Princely economic mission and Minister Reynders’ visit in 2018 reflect the importance of our bilateral relations.
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 January 2018 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.
In 2019, we celebrate the 180th 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. After having supported Tunisia during the democratic transition period i.a. 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 ...), Belgium actively keeps supporting reform projects, in particular in the security sector where our country provides its expertise in police reform and defense. The many Belgian investments and regular bilateral visits testify to the sound bilateral relations between Belgium and Tunisia.
In Libya, like the international community Belgium recognizes the Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli, and supports the efforts of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General towards a sustainable and peaceful solution for the benefit of the Libyan people.
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. Belgium tries to contribute to the country’s economic recovery but there is clearly room for further deepening of our economic cooperation. Furthermore, Belgium acknowledges the important role played by Egypt as mediator in the Israeli-Arab conflict and as major player in the region. We should not lose sight of the human rights though. That is the reason why Belgium pleads for special vigilance in its contacts and in the multilateral fora.
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. Ministerial meetings and political consultations 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 good cooperation in the fight against ISIS. Out of appreciation for Jordan's great efforts for hosting large groups of Syrian and Palestinian 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 comes frequently to Belgium while 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 different people, 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 strengthen the cooperation between both parties in fields like security and fight against terrorism, governance and rule of law, economic growth and job creation as well as migration and mobility.. Belgium is aware of the Syrian conflict’s heavy burden on the Lebanese society and economy and of Lebanon's efforts to host refugees. That is why Belgium tries to ease that burden through its support to international humanitarian organizations and NGOs active in the country. In the UN framework, Belgium pleads for the full execution of all relevant Security Council resolutions by the parties involved.
In the Palestinian Territory, Belgium is contributing to the political and financial support provided by the European Union for the establishment of public institutions by the Palestinian Authority. Despite the 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 organizing ministerial visits and political consultations and upgrading the status of the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Brussels.
Belgium remains convinced that a political solution constitutes the best option in order to put an end to the conflict in Syria. That is why Belgium, like the EU, supports the UN efforts to conclude the political process. The humanitarian situation in Syria and its neighboring countries remains very precarious. Belgium will continue to engage in order to cover the humanitarian needs of the Syrian population. The fight against ISIS is moving in the right direction but is not over yet. Therefore eradicating this terrorist organization remains a priority for Belgium.
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.
Belgian's broad lines of approach towards Iraq are: support for more 'inclusiveness' of the Iraqi political process, i.e. the participation of all the communities in the country's reconstruction; but also the need to rebuild the country and fight corruption as well as improve basic services to the population. Crimes committed during the campaign against ISIS cannot go unpunished. The systematic application of the death penalty highly concerns the European Union and its Member States.
Even after the US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran ("Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action"), Belgium remains in favor of the latter which constitutes the best guarantee to make sure Iran cannot acquire nuclear weapons. Belgium supports the EU efforts to safeguard this agreement i.a. through the creation of a Special Purpose Vehicle and the extension of the European Investment Bank’s mandate which should allow further trade with Iran. On the bilateral field, Belgium wants to examine how to strengthen the ties between our two countries. This does not prevent Belgium from being critical about other aspects of Iran’s policy. Belgium is convinced that Iran must do more to adopt a constructive attitude in the region, certainly in the different conflicts in which it is involved like Syria, Yemen or Iraq. In addition, the human rights situation in Iran is also a source of high concern in our country and we must continue the critical dialogue in this respect.
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 regional situation, the fight against terrorism and radicalization as well as human rights (including, gender discrimination, freedom of expression, assembly and association and combating the death penalty). 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 30 years ago. In this context the 24th EU/GCC Ministerial Meeting took place on 24 May 2015. Those ministerial meetings are a chance 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. Regional stability is essential and Belgium therefore supports Kuwait’s mediation endeavors in the diplomatic crisis between some Gulf countries and Qatar.
The conflict in Yemen remains 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, in particular women and children, and is constantly worsening the humanitarian situation. Belgium supports the efforts of the special Envoy of the UN Secretary-general, Martin Griffith and urges all parties to engage in the political process led by the latter. Only an inclusive political solution will bring about a lasting settlement of this conflict.