eu parliament 88.298.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The participation of a Hamas representative at Monday's session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg seemed unlikely Sunday since France had not yet decided whether to issue him a visa.
"The visa has not been issued," French Ambassador Gerard Araud told The Jerusalem Post.
Araud said the Hamas visa issue would likely be raised in Monday's meeting of the 25 European Union foreign ministers in Luxembourg. That meeting is expected to deal with the EU's overall relationship with the new Hamas-led Palestinian Authority government.
Asked if it would be difficult to get the visa issued in time for the Hamas representative, whose name Araud did not know offhand, to attend the three-day PACE parley, the French ambassador replied, "I think so."
If, indeed, France does not issue the visa in time, it would mark the second time in two weeks that Hamas representatives have been unable, for "technical reasons," to travel to Europe to take part in parliamentary gatherings.
Last month Belgium did not process the visa application of Hamas parliamentarian Mahmoud Ahmad al-Ramahi, who was seeking to attend the European Union's Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly in Brussels. The Belgian government said the application had not been submitted in time.
Israel has been making diplomatic efforts to prevent the Hamas representative from attending the Strasbourg gathering, less because of the meeting's intrinsic importance than from fear his attendance would set a precedent for inviting Hamas representatives to international meetings.
Araud said the issue provided France with a "difficult legal problem." He said that as the host country of the Council of Europe, France had an agreement with the organization - as did other countries that host international bodies - to issue visas to all its visitors.
Israel's position is based on UN Security Council Resolution 1373, which prohibits issuing travel documents to terrorists.
That measure was adopted on September 28, 2001, following the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US, under Article VII of the United Nations Charter, which makes it binding on all UN member states. According to the resolution, member states shall "prevent the movement of terrorists or terrorist groups by effective border controls and controls on issuance of identity papers and travel documents." The EU has placed Hamas on its list of terrorist organizations.
Araud said the fact that Hamas is on EU's terrorist list only meant that, in a strictly legal sense, that the organization's assets could be frozen, but that it had no bearing on whether visas could be issued to its members.
He also said that the Security Council resolution dealt with the issuance of travel documents to people engaged in terrorist actions, which was not the case with the Hamas representative invited to the PACE meeting.
The Council of Europe is made up of 46 European countries and has no institutional affiliation with the European Union.
The invitation to the Hamas representative was issued by PACE's Sub-Committee on the Middle East. The Sub-Committee's chair, Stef Goris, issued a statement when the invitation was extended saying, "We cannot ignore the legitimate outcome of the parliamentary elections which took place on 25 January 2006. We all agree that the elections were fair and free.
"Therefore, we have to accept the democratically expressed will of the Palestinian people and do our best to involve those who won the elections in the political dialogue which could contribute to the peaceful settlement of the conflict."