France denies visa to Hamas minister

Israel approves move; watching to see what Norway does next.

hamas cabinet 298 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
hamas cabinet 298 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel is "very satisfied" France announced Friday it would not issue a visa to Palestinian Authority Planning Minister Samir Abu Eisha to attend a conference in Paris later this week, a senior Foreign Ministry official said Saturday night. This is the second times in as many weeks that France has denied a visa to a Hamas representative to attend a conference on its soil, and the third time that Hamas representatives haven't been allowed into Europe in less than a month. Belgium denied a visa to a Hamas representative at the end of March. Unlike the other two refusals, which were explained as due to "technical reasons," this was the first time that a European official came out and said that the visa was denied in line with European policy to cut off political contact with the Hamas-led PA. While Jerusalem was pleased at the French position regarding Eisha, there was concern that Norway would be the first European country to grant a visa to Hamas members and allow a delegation visit there in mid-May at the invitation of a pro-Palestinian NGO. One official in Jerusalem said Norway has indicated it might grant the visas, but that Norwegian government representatives would not then meet with the delegation. The official said that while Norway is not a member of the EU, it has said that it would abide by the decisions made by the EU regarding Hamas. Norway's decision whether to grant visas to the delegation would be a "test case" of this policy, he said. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said at his press briefing Friday that Paris' decision to deny Eisha's visa was made "in consultation" with our European partners. "This decision proceeds from the European position which was adopted at the general affairs/external relations council on April 10, that is, suspension of political contacts with the Palestinian government so long as its position regarding the three principles laid down by the Quartet has not changed," Mattei said. The Quartet conditions are that a Hamas-led PA must be "committed to non-violence," recognize Israel and accept previous agreements and obligations. Eisha was to attend the first Euro-Arab Dialogue Forum at the Arab World Institute in Paris from April 26-28. The theme of the forum, launched by Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa as an instrument to strengthen European-Arab relations, is "prospects and contents of a Euro-Arab strategic partnership." French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy is scheduled to participate in the forum. While Eisha was denied entry to France, Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas is expected there on Thursday for two days of meetings, and is scheduled to meet French President Jacques Chirac. This is part of a European tour this week that will take Abbas, in addition to France, to Turkey, Norway and Finland in an attempt to crack through the European isolation of the new Hamas-led PA government. Finland will take over the rotating presidency of the EU in July from Austria. In a related development, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos is scheduled to arrive Sunday for two days of talks. He is slated to meet with Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as well as with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.