Italian FM to be allowed to visit Gaza Strip

Israel agrees to place area back on itinerary for (some) diplomats; Frattini answers Lieberman's invitation to see situation in Strip for himself.

November 23, 2010 05:15
3 minute read.
ITALIAN FOREIGN Minister Franco Frattini and Prime

Netanyahu Frattini 311. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom)

Some five months after Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman invited Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini to organize a group of EU ministers to visit the Gaza Strip, Frattini will go there Wednesday, but without any of his European counterparts.

Rather than visiting as a group, the foreign ministers of some key EU states are visiting the region individually, after getting permission from the Israeli government.

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Both German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and British Foreign Secretary William Hague were shown EU projects in the Gaza Strip when they came to Israel earlier this month. Neither of them met Hamas officials.

One Foreign Ministry source said there was no blanket policy of allowing foreign visitors into Gaza, and that the decision was being made on a case by case basis.

In June, when the Turkish Mavi Marmara incident thrust the situation in Gaza to the top of the international agenda, Lieberman visited Italy and invited Frattini to put together a group of his colleagues to visit the Strip. This marked a radical departure from Israel’s previous policy of refusing to allow visits of foreign politicians to Gaza, something Israel – with a few noticeable expectations – enforced for several years.

The rationale behind allowing the visits – after stressing that they not include any contact with Hamas officials – was so the foreign ministers could see the situation in Gaza for themselves and recognize that there was no siege, hunger or humanitarian crisis in the district, one Foreign Ministry official said. He added that this would also rob critics abroad from being able to say Israel was trying to hide something by keeping foreign ministers out.

Up until June, Israel’s argument for preventing these types of visits was to deny Hamas a public relations coup, with government spokesmen arguing that the organization would use the visits of foreign politicians to strengthen its legitimacy.

One Foreign Ministry official said that the diplomats who have visited Gaza recently have not allowed themselves to be manipulated by Hamas for its own purposes.

The Italian embassy issued a statement saying that before going into Gaza through the Erez Crossing on Wednesday, Frattini will be briefed by Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Eitan Dangot.

One diplomatic official said it was significant that Dangot would brief him before going into Gaza and give the Italian foreign minister a picture of the goods and materials now being shipped into Gaza, since once inside he would likely be told by UN officials and others that there has not been any change in the situation facing the population there as a result of Israel’s easing of restrictions on goods and materials allowed into the region.

For instance, John Ging, the Gaza director of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), told the BBC earlier this month that there has been “no material change” for the population of Gaza despite Israel easing restrictions in the summer.

Ging said that for people on the ground nothing had changed “in terms of their status, the aid dependency, the absence of any recovery or reconstruction, [and] no economy.”

According to Ging, the easing of the Israeli blockade on Gaza “has been nothing more than a political easing of the pressure on Israel and Egypt.”

The EU’s representative to the West Bank, Gaza and UNRWA, Christian Berger, said last month that there has been a vast improvement in the consumer goods now available in Gaza, but that only a few people had the money to buy them.

The failure of the EU foreign ministers to come to Gaza as a group – as initially planned – has been attributed to internal EU bureaucratic and political squabbles.

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