Interviewed in his suite at Jerusalem's King David Hotel, the Dutch foreign minister said he has pursued "a more internationally balanced approach" to Israel and has conditioned Dutch support for resolutions criticizing Israel upon condemnations for Hamas' actions.
Describing himself as a friend of Israel who feels "a close personal attachment" to its people, Verhagen added he did not always see eye to eye with Jerusalem.
"Friends can speak freely about concerns and differences. In my talk with [Foreign Minister Tzipi] Livni I mentioned the need to observe human rights and dismantle outposts," he said.
Verhagen also said he believes that the people of Gaza "should not be collectively punished" and that "choking all economic activity there would only radicalize them and create more attacks on both sides.
"In my meetings with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Livni I discussed the possibility of reopening the borders so the export of agricultural export could take place."
Asked whether the Netherlands' support for private business initiatives in Gaza, mainly in agriculture, would help Hamas, the minister said: "Hamas concerns me. It's important Palestinian civilians realize that we recognize the difficult situation in Gaza, and that we want to help." Supporting agriculture, he said, is one of the ways of doing so.
A member of the ruling Christian Democratic Appeal party, the minister said his cabinet "would never negotiate with Hamas for as long as it calls for the destruction of Israel and as long as it doesn't give up on violence as a tool."
Although some of the CDA's coalition partners have called for opening ties to Hamas, Verhagen said the Netherlands "should never give a veneer of legitimacy to the shelling of civilians and blowing up of buses - and this is the opinion of both the government and the majority of the Dutch parliament."
As for Israel's image in Europe, he said, "there is still mistrust on the part of few of my European colleagues but the implementation of Israel's obligations in the U.S. road map for peace, such as halting the expansion of settlements and dismantling outposts, would make a big difference in this respect."
As part of his visit to the region, Verhagen will also travel to Syria. "By participating in the Annapolis peace summit, Syria made a choice to belong to the negotiations. It cannot at the same time participate in anti-Israel events, and I will make this absolutely clear to the Syrians," he said.
Turning to Dutch internal issues, the foreign minister noted that his government was bracing itself for the screening of a provocative, anti-Islam film by right-wing Dutch MP Geert Wilders.
"Freedom of speech doesn't give anyone the right to insult people," Verhagen said, noting there were concerns of a violent response to the film, similar to the riots which followed the publication of cartoons of Mohammed by a Danish newspaper two years ago.
"Clearly, our embassies abroad have to prepare for such concerns," he said. "If the government's position is not in line with the film we will make it explicit that we don't agree with it. We hope that our partners in the peace process will consider our opinions, and not the opinions of one person named Wilders."