Israel charges Palestinians with sabotaging its European ties

Visiting EU representatives insist Israel talk to Hamas, speak out against upgrading relations with Jerusalem due to "human rights problems."

Fayad 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Fayad 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel on Monday accused the Palestinians of undermining the peace process by working to curb Israel's ties with Europe. The matter came up during Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's meeting in Jerusalem Monday with the Palestinian delegation led by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Olmert said he was upset that PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad had sent letters against Israel to the Organization of Economic Co-Operation and Development. OECD, the mostly European body that includes the United States and Canada, is weighing expanding its membership base beyond 30 countries so that it can include Israel, Chile, Estonia, Russia and Slovenia within its ranks. Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev told The Jerusalem Post that in Monday's talks with the Palestinians, "We expressed our serious concerns at the behavior of Salaam Fayad who sent a series of letters asking OECD countries to freeze" that membership process. "We find this behavior totally out of context and character with the good working relations that exist between the government of the PA and the government of Israel. Such behavior does no one any good and only serves to undermine confidence in the peace process," Regev said. Also on Monday, at a Jerusalem press conference, members of a visiting European Union Parliamentary Working Group on the Middle East spoke out globally against increased Israeli-European ties within any framework. "We strongly feel that until [Israeli] signs of good faith translate into tangible improvements on the ground, the time is not yet right to upgrade EU-Israel relations," said one of the group's vice chair's Veronique de Keyser. Human rights problems that arise as a result of Israeli treatment of the Palestinians weighted heavily on the groups decision to make this statement, said de Keyser. The EU Parliamentarians also called for international officials, including those from Europe, to talk with Hamas. Israel, along with members of the international community and the European Union's member states, have boycotted Hamas until it renounces terror and agrees to recognize Israel. But de Keyser said the time had come to change elements of that policy. "On behalf of the EU Parliament, we call for an end to the geographical and political isolation of the Gaza Strip and to reconnect it to the rest of the world," he said. "We call not the Quartet and its representative Tony Blair and on the Palestinian Authority institutions to re-engage on the ground and to collaborate with the Gaza." Change in Gaza is not possible without such dialogue, she said. "Children in Gaza are growing up without seeing either a European or an Israeli, and this is something that must be taken into account. The distance is growing between [people in Gaza] and the rest of the world. And this is a big problem," de Keyser added. During its four-day trip here members of the group met with both Hamas and Fatah members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. De Keyser said she felt it was appropriate to converse with Hamas PLC members given that they were elected to that position before Hamas's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007. Such meetings had taken place in the past under the former Palestinian national-unity government, and therefore there was no reason why they could not continue now, she said. "We talked to elected people," and not the Hamas government, de Keyser said. The parliamentary group's other vice chair Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck explained to The Jerusalem Post that it was possible to engage with and to talk to Hamas members without establishing formal ties with the group. Such a dialogue should take place, Neyts-Uyttebroeck said. "It will be impossible to reach a lasting solution if Hamas continues to be excluded from every contact," Neyts-Uyttebroeck said. She added that indirectly, through second party contacts, Israel and Hamas were already talking. Neyts-Uyttebroeck said she was not naïve regarding the nature of Hamas. But it was her personal opinion that "you need to talk with your adversaries." Neither the Prime Minister's Office nor the Foreign Ministry had any response on the matter.