Monday, August 06, 2012
West Bank conference scrapped after Israel bars envoys
By Noah Browning
RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - A meeting of international envoys due to be held in the West Bank to show support for the Palestinian leadership was scrapped on Sunday after Israel refused to admit attendees from four countries, Palestinian officials said.
The meeting involved high-level representatives from the Non-Aligned Movement, a group of states that aims to represent the interests of the developing world.
They were due to sign a declaration backing the Palestinians ahead of their fresh campaign to win recognition as a state at the United Nations next month.
Israel barred the foreign ministers of Malaysia and Indonesia along with ambassadors from Cuba and Bangladesh on the grounds the four countries do not recognise the Jewish state.
Their exclusion from the Israeli-occupied West Bank starkly underlined the limits of Palestinian autonomy.
Palestinian officials said the other conference guests, including the foreign ministers of Egypt and Zimbabwe, had waited in neighbouring Jordan for clearance to travel.
Israeli clearance was granted but in the end they declined to attend, in solidarity with those prevented from taking part, the officials said.
"The goal of this decision, which was issued at the highest political echelons in Israel, is to thwart the efforts of the Palestinian leadership to achieve more successes for the benefit of Palestinians and its efforts to end the occupation," Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki told reporters.
But Israel was unapologetic about its decision. "We have cleared entry for representatives of countries which have diplomatic relations with Israel and we have not cleared those which do not," said foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.
Israel controls access to the West Bank, which can be reached via the main checkpoint outside Jerusalem on the road coming up from Ben Gurion International Airport, or at the Allenby Bridge over the Jordan River, on the road from Amman.
Hanan Ashrawi of the Palestine Liberation Organization's executive committee, said Israel "exploits its position as an occupying power to prevent Palestine from communication with the countries of the world and to isolate the Palestinian people and its institutions".
She called the Israeli decision "a blatant and crude exercise of power and a form of political siege".
The decision to exclude the envoys came a day after the Palestinian Authority announced it would resume its bid for statehood recognition at the United Nations, a campaign strongly opposed by Israel and the United States.
The Non-Aligned Movement, founded during the Cold War, has more than 100 member countries who do not consider themselves formally aligned with any big power bloc.
Twelve envoys belonging to the organisation's Palestine Commission were due to convene the meeting in the West Bank on Sunday, in advance of an annual meeting of the whole movement in Iran at the end of the month.
"Nothing constructive, to say the very least, has ever come out of this committee in the past, and now that it is going to meet in Iran under the chairmanship of Tehran, expectations could not be lower," Palmor said. Israel regards Iran as its number one enemy.
Palestinians are listed as a U.N. observer "entity" with no voting rights. They will ask to be made a non-member observer state at the U.N. General Assembly on September 27, foreign minister Malki said on Saturday. Once that was achieved, he said, the Palestinians would pursue full U.N. membership.
Non-member observer status, akin to the Vatican's, would be an indirect recognition of their claims on statehood in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip. It would allow them to join a number of U.N. agencies, and the International Criminal Court.
Israel opposes the move as hostile, saying they is no substitute for direct negotiation in solving the Middle East conflict.
(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Douglas Hamilton and Pravin Char)
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