3 European FMs barred by Israel from visiting Palestinian towns in Area C

Foreign Ministry says decision to deny access to parts of West Bank made ‘after consulting with security officials,’ but defense bodies say they made no such recommendation

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

An Israeli soldier mans a checkpoint at the closed-off southern entrance to the southern West Bank city of Hebron, on August 22, 2023, a day after a deadly terror shooting in the area. (Hazem Bader/AFP)
An Israeli soldier mans a checkpoint at the closed-off southern entrance to the southern West Bank city of Hebron, on August 22, 2023, a day after a deadly terror shooting in the area. (Hazem Bader/AFP)

The Foreign Ministry prevented three visiting foreign ministers of European countries from entering certain Palestinian towns in the West Bank in recent weeks.

The foreign ministers of Ireland, the UK and Norway all visited in recent weeks and requested to visit Palestinian towns in Area C of the West Bank, which is fully controlled by Israel, and were denied access.

“After consulting with security officials, we decided not to allow them into specific sites, not all of Area C,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman told The Times of Israel on Tuesday.

But the Israel Defense Forces told the Walla news site, which first reported the decision to deny the foreign ministers access to the West Bank areas, that it did not advise the Foreign Ministry to do so, while the Shin Bet security service said it did not hold any consultations with the Foreign Ministry on the matter.

The military liaison to the Palestinians, commonly known by its initials COGAT, said the Foreign Ministry only contacted it concerning Irish Foreign Minister Micheál Martin but that it did not recommend preventing his visit over security concerns.

European diplomats quoted in the report disputed that security concerns were a factor. The unnamed officials said they believed the move was part of a policy shift under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right government, the vast majority of which opposes a Palestinian state and expanding Palestinian autonomy in Area C.

Illustrative: A Palestinian demonstrator blocks the road in front of Israeli soldiers in the Masafer Yatta area in the West Bank, which has been at the center of a protracted legal battle, July 1, 2022. (Mosab Shawer/AFP)

UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly visited Israel in mid-September, about a week after Martin, and both met with Netanyahu. Norway Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt — who is frequently vocally critical of Israel — met with her Israeli counterpart, Eli Cohen, in Jerusalem in mid-September, but did not meet with Netanyahu.

All three of the diplomats traveled to the Palestinian Authority’s seat of government in the West Bank City of Ramallah to meet with top PA officials, with both Cleverly and Martin holding sit-downs with PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, the West Bank was split into three administrative divisions, with Area A controlled by the Palestinian Authority, Area B under split control and Area C — the largest section, constituting about 60 percent of the territory — remaining under both Israeli civil and security control.

Area C, which is the only contiguous section of the West Bank and contains the most fertile land and valuable natural resources, was supposed to be gradually transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction, according to the accords, but that has not happened. Israeli settlements are located in Area C.

Days before the government was sworn in late last year, a document was leaked detailing a plan formulated by the European Union to protect Palestinian claims in Area C, leading to a fiery denunciation that included an accusation of “blood libel” by 40 right-wing lawmakers.

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