European parties ask for Hamas visas

Proposed visas would allow entry to EU institutions, not to member states.

atef adwan 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
atef adwan 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
At a meeting in Strasbourg last Thursday, the leaders of seven political groups, including the largest (Christian Democrats, Socialists and Liberals), jointly decided to request "entry visas for all persons that it would invite for meetings and events, on the grounds that such visits would be to the EU and not to a member state," Marjory van den Broeke, a Parliament spokesman, told EJP. She said that the EU Council of ministers would be seized in order to put a mechanism in place to automatically issue visas for people invited to the Parliament. The EU has decided to avoid any political contacts with members of the Hamas-led Palestinian government until the organization renounces violence, recognizes Israel and all prior Palestinian agreements with it. The Parliament's decision followed a letter by Cypriot MEP Adamous Adamou, from the European United Left group, which is also chairman of EP's delegation for relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council. Adamou, an elected representative of the Communist AKEL party in Cyprus, announced that he was to organize a meeting of members of his delegation and Palestinian MPs in Brussels or Strasbourg within the next few months. In his letter, he pointed out that both Belgium and France did not allow MPs from Hamas to attend last March the annual meeting of the Euro-Mediterranean parliamentary assembly (EMPA), saying "the weak reaction of the European Parliament administration contributed to this refusal." Adamou suggested that the parliament should "exercise pressure to the national governments and authorities to provide entry visas exceptionally to the elected members of the PLC including members of Hamas" for their future visits to any EU institutions. A parliament spokeswoman told EJP that the mechanism to issue visas for persons invited by the institution would be similar to the neutral diplomatic status enjoyed by the United Nations in New York. "It concerns exclusively demands by multilateral parliaments seated in EU countries," Bruno Jans, a Belgian foreign ministry spokesman, told EJP. Adamou is convinced that the EU will not be able to avoid talking with Hamas officials. "Without approving Hamas' statements or actions, we still know their members have been democratically elected in the poll which we could also observe so we must find a way to communicate with them," he declared. "Something must change… With whom will we be talking, only with president Abbas? That is not enough," Adamou added. In a bid to reinforce the MEPs' activities in the region, the parliament's political group presidents also decided on Thursday that they would organize extra meetings in both Ramallah and Jerusalem with Palestinian and Israeli MPs in the coming months. The European Parliament's move comes days after Sweden's controversial decision to grant an entry visa to Hamas Palestinian minister for refugees, Atef Adwan. Thanks to the visa enabling him to travel across the EU Schengen borderless zone, Adwan later traveled to Germany and met two social democrat parliamentarians and one liberal in Berlin, according to the German magazine Der Spiegel. German chancellor Angela Merkel characterized the visit as "annoying," while her spokesman said the Hamas member is an "unwanted person" in the country. Israel has protested increasing European contacts with Hamas, urging the EU to keep the group on its list of terrorist organizations and warning that talking to the Islamic group undermines Palestinian moderates. Three senior Hamas members have said their group has been talking to European Union diplomats regularly. EU officials denied the contacts, but acknowledged that meetings with Hamas may be inevitable now that Hamas won control of dozens of West Bank and Gaza towns in recent local elections. An EU Council official, Elena Peresso, said the EU "was not aware of any contacts" and has reached no collective decision on whether to change its policy toward Hamas. "Hamas is still on the terrorist list," she said.