Magazine article The Middle East

Israeli-European Relations Disintegrate: The Israeli Government's Refusal to Stop Illegal Settlement Building Prompted the EU to Take Economic Measures against the Entry of Certain Products into Europe Earlier This Year, Resulting in a Series of Tit-for-Tat Reprisals That Look Set to Escalate

Magazine article The Middle East

Israeli-European Relations Disintegrate: The Israeli Government's Refusal to Stop Illegal Settlement Building Prompted the EU to Take Economic Measures against the Entry of Certain Products into Europe Earlier This Year, Resulting in a Series of Tit-for-Tat Reprisals That Look Set to Escalate

Article excerpt

ISRAEL'S RELATIONSHIP WITH EUROPE HAS REACHED an all-time low over the Jewish state's continued settlement building and land expropriation in the Israeli occupied Palestinian West Bank, and the EU's introduction of new guidelines for dealing with Israeli businesses or individuals operating illegally in the territory. The deteriorating relationship has been further aggravated by Israel's prevention of European delegations from reaching Gaza.

An official European Union (EU) delegation was denied entry in to the Gaza Strip in late October by Israeli officials after the latter claimed the visit would strengthen Gaza's ruling Hamas government.

Six members of an EU Parliamentary delegation to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) were due to visit Gaza from Oct. 27-30 in a trip largely focused on social, economic and humanitarian issues, including visits to UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) health, food distribution, and rehabilitation centres, as well as schools and sports clubs.

No entry

The parliamentarians, from a cross-section of political parties representing six EU member states, were informed in an email by Israeli authorities that they would not be allowed into Gaza via the Erez crossing for the three-day visit, which also included trips to Christian schools.

Emer Costello, chair of the European Parliament's delegation to the Palestinian Legislative Council, said she was astounded and dismayed by Israel's decision to refuse an official EU visit. "Despite interventions by the EU's President of Parliament and other distinguished parliamentarians, the Israeli Authorities prevented elected members of an official delegation from paying a humanitarian visit to this ravaged and impoverished little country," Costello said in a statement. An Israeli diplomat in Europe responded that the delegation was denied entry "in line with the policy according to which Israel does not facilitate visits to the Gaza Strip which will strengthen Hamas, a terror organisation designated as such also by the European Union."

The diplomat, David Saranga, also claimed in the message that Israel did not refuse an official visit of the EU delegation to Gaza but rather refused the use of its territory to enter the Gaza Strip.

Costello said Israel's decision was deplorable and without foundation, adding that she had requested that EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton take up the issue with Israeli authorities. The individual members of the delegation also planned to raise the issue with the governments of their respective member states, she added.

Under siege

Margrete Auken, a Danish MEP who was scheduled to take part in the trip, said the visit had originally been planned for last November but was cancelled due to Israel's war on Gaza.

"It was therefore crucial for us to make it this year as Gaza is extremely isolated under siege," Auken said, adding that she believed Israel denied the parliamentarians entry to Gaza in order to punish the EU for guidelines issued earlier this year banning member states from funding projects in settlements.

"I think the reason the Israeli government is doing this is to punish the EU for the guidelines on settlements. They want to get rid of them, but that of course will never happen," she said.

The EU's new guidelines forbid dealing with or funding Israeli entities that lie outside Israel proper and beyond the so-called 1967 Green Line--that is, in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights. …

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