The European Parliament and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton are at odds over the legality of Israel's practice of administrative detention.

On July 5, the parliament adopted a resolution calling on Israel “to put an end to administrative detention – imprisonment without formal charges and without trial of Palestinians by Israeli authorities. The next day Ashton published her response to a parliamentary question submitted five months earlier by two Green Party MEPs (Members of the European Parliament). In the response, she held – in a rather tortuous formulation – that the discussion is not over what is essentially an illegal procedure.

The European Parliament's resolution was passed in the course of a debate over EU policy on the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The resolution deviated from accepted formulations calling for “reducing administrative detention," because international law does not reject the procedure but calls for limitations on its use. The resolution was welcomed by organizations such as Physicians for Human Rights and the Al Damir Association for Human Rights, which in recent months had kept the European Parliament up to date on hunger strikes by Palestinian administrative detainees. The parliamentary debate came against the background of Palestinian claims that an agreement between the Shin Bet security service and strikers had not been implemented, particularly on administrative detainees. Ashton's response, which arrived the following day, points to difference of opinion within the European Union bodies.

The query was submitted to Ashton following the first hunger strike of Khader Adnan against his administrative detention and mistreatment of prisoners, which lasted for 66 days and ended in February. Responses to such questions usually take six to nine weeks, but in this case Ashton delayed her response for longer.

Oguz Arikboga, a European Parliament foreign policy adviser for the Dutch Greens, told Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Pro-Palestinian website Electronic Intifada, that Ashton was sent four official notifications, reminding her of the query before she finally responded.

Ashton wrote: "Without a determination in each individual case of the grounds for administrative detention and the legal basis thereof, it is impossible to generically brand administrative detention as illegal. This includes a determination of the legality of time spans for detention. However, administrative detention when properly sanctioned by a legal basis does not operate in a legal vacuum and needs, inter alia, to provide for the possibility of review of the requirement for continued detention by competent authorities."

"The HR/VP [High Representative] has set out her concerns with regard to the extensive use by Israel of administrative detention clearly in the statement of 17 February 2012."