PLC Hamas member to attend EU parley

Exclusive: Move will mark first formal EU contact with Hamas.

hamas parliament 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
hamas parliament 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
In what appears to be a first crack in the formal European Union position against contacts with Hamas, the EU's Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly (EMPA) is set to host at least one newly elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council from the victorious Hamas-affiliated Change and Reform List, The Jerusalem Post has been told. The EU formally brands Hamas a terrorist group. Five PLC members are due to attend the EMPA's main annual gathering in Brussels at the end of March, a spokeswoman for EMPA said, including Mahmoud Ahmad al-Ramahi. Ramahi, an anesthesiologist from Ramallah, is the PLC's secretary-general and, though not a Hamas member, ran at No. 8 on the Change and Reform List. One European source told the Post that EMPA was prepared to host Change and Reform List members so long as they were not self-declared Hamas members. But an official EMPA spokeswoman said the PLC had selected its own delegation. A source close to the EMPA said that it was hoped in Brussels that none of the delegates would prove to be Hamas members, but that it was "not clear" what EMPA would do if one or more turned out to be Hamas members or affiliated with Hamas. Israel - on whose behalf Majali Wahabi, a former Likud MK now with Kadima, has attended previous EMPA events - is not sending any delegates to the gathering, because it is on the eve of the elections here. In a more overt, though potentially less significant, sign of warming European attitudes to Hamas, the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly decided Wednesday to invite a Hamas member of the PLC to its next session, in April in Strasbourg, France. The Council's Parliamentary Assembly has no institutional connection to the EU. EMPA, by contrast, is an EU body. Set up in 2003, it brings together parliamentarians from the 25 EU nations and the EU's 10 Mediterranean partners: Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Morocco, the PA, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey. The fact that the current president of the EMPA is Josep Borrell Fontelles, the president of the European Parliament, gives the nature of participation at this month's parley additional EU weight, some sources said. But they stressed that even were the European Parliament itself to hold contacts with Hamas, this would not necessarily represent formal EU backing for such a dialogue. They noted that at the height of the second intifada, the European Parliament passed a resolution urging the suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, to no practical effect. Nonetheless, they acknowledged, hosting one or more members of the Hamas-backed List for Reform and Change would constitute a degree of European legitimization.