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'Respect for MEPs is essential for good relations'

European Parliament president touches down in Israel amid spat over Spanish member

Roberta Metsola slated to visit Bennett, Herzog, Lapid on Monday; expresses ‘regret’ over entry ban for Israel critic

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola (left) shakes hands with Yisrael Beytenu MK Yossi Shain after arriving in Israel on May 22, 2022. (Courtesy)
European Parliament President Roberta Metsola (left) shakes hands with Yisrael Beytenu MK Yossi Shain after arriving in Israel on May 22, 2022. (Courtesy)

Roberta Metsola, president of the European Parliament, landed in Israel on Sunday afternoon for a three-day visit, the first by an EP president since 2014.

Metsola is slated to speak in front of the Knesset on Monday, and to meet with President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and other officials. She will also visit Yad Vashem.

The 43-year-old Maltese politician will also visit Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

“President Metsola is expected to bring with her a message of hope, a call to strengthen relations with both Israel and the Palestinians, and to offer the goodwill and resources of the European Parliament to restart the Middle East peace process,” read a statement by the European Union delegation to Israel.

Metsola was met at Ben Gurion Airport by Israel’s envoy to the EU, Haim Regev: EU Ambassador to Israel Dimiter Tzantchev; and MK Yossi Shain, the head of the Knesset delegation for relations with the European Parliament.

“President Metsola’s visit couldn’t come at a more critical time,” Shain told The Times of Israel, “with everything going on in Ukraine, increased Iranian aggression amidst the nuclear talks in Vienna, and our own security matters with the Palestinians at home.”

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola delivers a speech during the Conference on the Future of Europe, in Strasbourg, eastern France, May 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

“President Metsola represents a new generation of leadership in Europe, that seems to be more inclined to embellish its relations with Israel, and strengthen its ties with key democracies outside the EU,” he continued. “She is part of a generation of young leaders in Europe that see Israel as the solution, and not as the problem.”

Metsola’s visit began with controversy, however.

Last Thursday, the Foreign Ministry informed the EU delegation in Israel that MEP Manu Pineda, a Spanish communist politician and chair of the EP Delegation for Relations with Palestine, would be barred from entering Israel on a separate visit by his delegation. In protest, all members of the small delegation canceled their visit, which was slated to begin on Monday.

Pineda has been barred from entering Israel since 2020, an Israeli diplomatic official told The Times of Israel, and has met regularly with officials from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is designated a terrorist group by Israel, the US, the EU, and several other Western countries.

“Israel, like every other sovereign state, has the right to decide who comes through its gates,” an Israeli official told The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity. “All the more so when we are dealing with individuals who call for a boycott of Israel, as in the case of MEP Manu Pineda.”

The official said that as Pineda left Israel in 2020, he was given a letter informing him that any future visit would need prior approval.

Given the timing of the Pineda delegation and the standing ban on his entry, the Delegation for Relations with Palestine may have been meant to embarrass Israel just as Metsola arrived.

The decision to bar Pineda came directly from Lapid, the official said.

Lapid’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Metsola publicly aired her disapproval of Israel’s decision as she landed, tweeting that she “will raise the issue directly with authorities concerned.”

“Respect for MEPs and the European Parliament is essential for good relations,” she continued.

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