European Commission president José Manuel Barroso began the formal part of a three-day trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority with meetings in Ramallah Sunday, where he expressed concern at settlement construction and warned against ignoring the Israeli diplomatic process because of the upheavals in the region.

At a joint press conference with PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Barroso was quoted by AFP as saying that it was “important that the two parties do not act in a way that undermines the viability of a twostate solution. In this respect it is with concern that we see the continuous growth of settlements in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem.”

Barroso, a former prime minister of Portugal who is serving his second stint as European Commission president and chairs the meetings of the EU’s 27 commissioners, called for the rejuvenation of Israeli-Palestinian talks. He said that the changes in the region should serve as an inducement – not a deterrent – to negotiations, and added that the diplomatic process must not become “an orphan of the Arab Spring.”

In addition to meeting Fayyad, Barroso also met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, inaugurated a new police training in Jericho and visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem – which was recently added to UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites under the classification “Palestine.” On Monday he is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and President Shimon Peres. He will also visit Yad Vashem and the Israel Museum. On Tuesday he will receive an honorary doctorate from Haifa University.

In advance of Barroso’s visit, the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor called for greater EU scrutiny on large-scale projects it funds “for highly politicized Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, and the absence of transparency regarding this funding.”

“This is an opportune time for ending the blatant lack of transparency – in violation of the EU’s own principles – and for undertaking a detailed review, particularly for the NGO grants that end in June and July 2012,” NGO Monitor president Gerald Steinberg wrote Barroso in a letter.

He continued: “Rather than automatically renewing this funding, the EU should carefully consider the implications of policies which secretly provide millions of euros from taxpayer funds to Israeli and Palestinian political NGOs. An independent examination of the EU’s funding for these NGOs, including analysis of the procedures and impacts, if any, is long overdue.”

NGO Monitor cited various EU-funded groups that it alleges promote misguided human rights work. According to NGO Monitor, “The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, which received 169,661 euros from the European Commission [concluded June 2012], is a fringe political NGO that fuels conflict by frequently accusing Israel of ‘apartheid’ and ‘ethnic cleansing.’ ICAHD officials are also active in promoting BDS [boycotts, divestment and sanctions] campaigns, particularly in churches in Europe and North America.”

In a related development, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on Saturday rejected a Palestinian application to join the 56- state organization as an observer, the same status that Israel enjoys.

The Palestinian bid was turned down by a vote of 28 to 21, with Turkey joining those voting against accepting the Palestinian bid.

Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem, however, warned against attributing too much significance to the vote, primarily because the OSCE is not a UN organization. The officials also dismissed the notion that Turkey’s vote could signal that Ankara was interested in thawing relations with Israel, saying that a number of countries opposed the move on procedural grounds – concerned that letting one non-state actor into the “club” would open the gates for applications from many others.

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