Abbas cancels statehood parley over travel ban

PA bristles after Israel says 5 Non-Aligned Movement foreign ministers won't be allowed to attend Ramallah conference.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas 370 (R) (photo credit: Luis Galdamez / Reuters)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas 370 (R)
(photo credit: Luis Galdamez / Reuters)
The Palestinian Authority decided on Sunday to cancel a meeting in Ramallah of members of the Non-Aligned Movement after Israel denied entry to five foreign cabinet ministers who were supposed to attend the parley.
Twelve foreign ministers were scheduled to participate in the two-day conference, which was being held to support PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s renewed effort to unilaterally seek UN recognition of a Palestinian state next month.
The ministers’ countries are members of the “Palestine Committee” belonging to the Non-Aligned Movement.
The foreign dignitaries were scheduled to arrive in Ramallah from Jordan through the Allenby Bridge and by helicopter.
The PA’s decision to cancel the conference came after Israel made clear on Sunday morning that it would not allow transit to Ramallah of the foreign ministers of countries with which it does not have diplomatic ties: Bangladesh, Cuba, Indonesia, Malaysia and Algeria.
Israel said, however, that it would enable transit of the foreign ministers of seven countries who do have ties with Israel: Egypt, India, Colombia, South Africa, Senegal, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
This was to be the first gathering of its kind in the West Bank since the establishment of the PA in 1994. Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said it was yet another attempt by the PA to embarrass Israel and to complicate its relations with other countries.
“We were notified by the Israeli authorities of the decision only a few hours before the conference was scheduled to open,” a senior PA official told The Jerusalem Post.
He claimed that the Israeli authorities had been aware for some time of the intention to hold the conference in Ramallah.
“We have no explanation as to why we were notified at the last minute,” the official said, expressing deep disappointment over the ban.
PA officials strongly condemned Israel for refusing to allow the five foreign ministers to travel to Ramallah.
PA Foreign Minister Riad Malki, who played a major role in organizing the conference, denounced the Israeli ban as a “war crime.”
“Denying the facts does not mean that they do not exist,” he told reporters as he officially announced the cancellation of the conference. “Occupation and settlements are illegitimate and the crimes that are being perpetrated against our people cannot be concealed by the Israeli government’s decision to ban visits by foreign delegations.”
Malki thanked the ministers for agreeing to hold their meeting “on the lands of the occupied state of Palestine.”
He heaped praise on the ministers for insisting on holding the conference only in Ramallah and said the PA would consult with the members of the “Palestine Committee” as to how they should respond to the Israeli ban.
PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi accused the government of practicing “blackmail and political siege to prevent Palestine from connecting with other countries.”
Israel, she charged, was continuing to “challenge the whole world and humiliate representatives of various countries. Israel has now humiliated the entire Non-Aligned Movement membership.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor downplayed any possible diplomatic ripple effect from this decision.
“What, Cuba won’t like us,” he said. “Malaysia will vote against us in international organizations.”
Israel, he said, did not owe anything to “countries like Cuba and Bangladesh.”
“If you do not even bother to have relations with Israel, you cannot be a player here,” Palmor said, explaining Israel’s decision to bar entrance to the five foreign ministers. “You can’t pretend to be a player if you systematically turn your back on Israel and pretend it does not exist.”
Palmor said that Israel acted fully within its legal rights in barring entrance to the foreign ministers, since “under international agreements we have the authority and duty to clear entry via Jordan, whether entrance is by land or air.”
The Non-Aligned Movement, which has about 120 members, is a group of countries that consider themselves not aligned formally with or against any major power bloc.
Abbas is expected to attend a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran later this month.