European Union refuses visas to Council of Europe's Palestinian guests

12 April 2006

European Union refuses visas to Council of Europe's Palestinian guests

“A serious breach of the right of Europe's oldest human rights organisation to invite people who could do useful work for us.” This was SP Senator Tiny Kox's description of the refusal by the European Union of a visa to the Palestinian parliamentary delegation invited to a meeting of the Council of Europe. The delegation would have participated in a tripartite forum of Israeli, Palestinian and European parliamentarians by means of which the Council of Europe intended to offer its support to restarting the currently stalled peace process.

Tiny Kox in his role as an observer at the Palestinian elections, January 2006Tiny Kox in his role as an observer at the Palestinian elections, January 2006

Senator Kox, a member of the Netherlands' delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), was speaking before an Assembly at which European Commission President José Baroso was in attendance, as were the prime ministers of EU member states Austria and Luxembourg as well as applicant for accession Romania. Mr Barroso noted that it was not the Commission but rather the member states who were responsible for refusing the visa. He had, however, supported Monday's decision by the European Union to sever relations wiith the new Palestinian government and to suspend financial support. PACE Chairman, Senator René van der Linden of the CDA (Christian Democrats) assured Kox that an enquiry would be conducted into events surrounding the refused visas.

Senator Kox said that the EU's severing of relations with the Palestinian government sent a very bad message to all Palestinians who had turned out to vote in January's parliamentary elections. These had been, according to the Council of Europe itself, free and fair, and indeed an example which certain European countries might do well to heed. Kox, himself an observer for the Council of Europe at the elections, said that the beraking of relations showed a lack of respect for their result on the part of the European Union. He called on his colleagues in the Assembly to use their positions in their national parliaments to resist what he called this ‘powerplay’ by the EU. It would, he said, lead to isolation and confrontation rather than to peace. Before the peace process could restart both the Israeli and Palestinian governments would have to have the courage to take some difficult decisions, including accepting international resolutions and verdicts and the cessation of violence by both sides.

The Israeli delegation, which was present, supported the EU's hard line, however. Spokesman Michael Eitan, a member of the Knesset for Likud, said, much to the Assembly's disaapointment, that he was giving up his place on the tripartite forum, to which he had previously committed himself. Council of Europe Rapporteur for the issue, Mikhail Margelov, a member of Russia's Duma, proposed that nevertheless attempts be made to bring the two sides to the negotiating table as soon as possible. He listed a number of opposing parties in various conflicts who had eventually sat down together under the aegis of the Council of Europe: Russians and Georgians, Armenians and Azeris, different factions of Tchetchens, Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots. Mr Margelov found broad support for this proposal from across the Assembly.

A proposal from conservative groups in the Assembly to impose additional conditions on the Palestinian delegation following Hamas's election victory was defeated by a large majority which included the vote of Senator Kox, who said, “We have as an Assembly invited the Palestinian Parliament to send a delegation. We should not be concerning ourselves with its composition. We must respect the Palestinian population's electoral decision.”

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