Hamas member denied visa to attend EU parley

A Hamas parliamentarian who hoped to attend The European Union's Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly (EMPA) on Monday in Brussels did not get his visa processed on time. As first reported in The Jerusalem Post, Mahmoud Ahmad al-Ramahi, an anesthesiologist from Ramallah who is the PLC's secretarygeneral and No. 8 on its Change and Reform List, was one of five Palestinians who was to travel to Belgium for the meeting. Israeli officials expressed satisfaction that the visa never came. Jerusalem was concerned that Ramahi's participation in the conference would grant legitimacy to Hamas and be an indication of erosion in the European position not to deal with the organization until it accepted Israel, forswore terrorism, and accepted previous agreements. Hamas is on the EU's list of terrorist organizations. While Belgian diplomatic officials stressed that the failure to issue the visa was because of "technical reasons," the rules in this case were applied strictly and formally, and it was clear that no special effort was made to push the application through, as could have been done had the application come from a Palestinian VIP not affiliated with Hamas. News Web site Expatica.com, which covers Belgium, reported that European Parliament head Josep Borrell said Belgium refused the visa because Hamas was still on the parliament's blacklist of terrorist groups. Belgian diplomatic officials, however, denied this assertion. EMPA is the "parliamentary dimension" of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, also known as the Barcelona Process. Established in 2003, EMPA brings together for discussions 240 parliamentarians, half representing EU member states, and half from the EU's Mediterranean partners (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey and the Palestinian Authority). Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said that even though Ramahi did not get a visa for this particular meeting, they were concerned about an invitation given to a Hamas member to take part in the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly in two weeks in Strasbourg, France. Unlike EMPA, the Council's Parliamentary Assembly has no institutional connection to the EU, so even if the Hamas delegate were to attend that meeting, it would not indicate any change of official EU policy on Hamas.