Herb Keinon
The Jerusalem Post
June 21, 2010 - 12:00am

Despite Sunday’s government decision to significantly increase the goods and materials to be allowed into the Gaza Strip, Israel’s policy of not opening the door to foreign politicians is still in place.

Jerusalem recently turned down a request by Dirk Niebel, Germany’s minister of economic cooperation and development, to go to Gaza from Israel. Niebel, who has asked permission on numerous occasions, both before and since the Mavi Marmara incident, is scheduled to meet Monday with Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.

Israel’s policy for months has been not to allow high-level foreign politicians into Gaza, fearful Hamas would exploit their visits to create an impression of “business as usual,” and that it is in control of the region. Israel has, however, permitted humanitarian aid workers and lower-level diplomats visiting specific projects to cross over from Israel.

Niebel, who Foreign Ministry officials characterized as a “friend” of Israel, spent a year as a volunteer on a kibbutz.

One Foreign Ministry official, explaining why he had been was denied access, said it was clear that Hamas would use such visits to gain “popularity points” and show it is becoming “legitimate and effectively running Gaza.”

“Anything that strengthens Hamas weakens the moderates,” the official said.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government has a de facto policy in place of not letting senior political figures, such as foreign ministers, enter the Gaza Strip from Israel. These politicians can enter Gaza through Egypt, and Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin did so earlier this year.

Before Netanyahu became prime minister last March, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton’s predecessor, Javier Solana; Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store; and US Sen. John Kerry were all allowed into the area.

Since then, such high-level visits have largely ceased, with Israel rejecting requests for separate visits by, among others, the French, Turkish and Irish foreign ministers.

The Security Cabinet, in its statement Sunday announcing an easing of the restrictions on Gaza, said Israel would “streamline the policy of permitting the entry and exit of people for humanitarian and medical reasons, as well as for employees of international aid organizations that are recognized by the government. As conditions improve, Israel will consider additional ways to facilitate the movement of people to and from Gaza.”

One senior diplomatic official said that this did not, however, include the entry of foreign politicians into the region.


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