Germany: Hamas Official Won't Be Issued Visa to Attend Conference

Hamas health minister had been invited to attend conference in southern German city of Bad Boll in June.

German government officials informed the Israeli Embassy in Berlin on Wednesday that Hamas health minister Basim Naim would not be issued a visa to attend an academic conference in early June at a university in Bad Boll in southern Germany.

The Federal Center for Political Education, an institution linked to the German government, had invited the Naim to appear at the conference titled "Speaking with Hamas and Fatah".

Israel Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that Israeli diplomats in Berlin held intensive discussions with German officials during which they asked that Naim not be allowed to attend the conference.

An Israeli official in Jerusalem said that the Israeli government was disappointed that Naim had been invited to attend a conference on German soil and said that the invitation contradicted European Union guidelines for dealing with Hamas.

The European Union designated Hamas a terrorist organization in 2003. Following the militant movement's 2006 victory in Palestinian elections, the EU threw its support behind Quartet conditions by which Hamas and its regime would not be granted recognition or any contact with the EU unless it recognized Israel, ceased terrorist activity and respected prior Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

The official in Jerusalem said Israel hopes that similar occurrences would not happen in the future and that Germany would act to prevent breaches of the policy banning contact with Hamas.

Since the Quartet first presented its terms on negotiating with Hamas, Israel has made considerable diplomatic efforts to ensure they are strictly followed. Following Hamas' election win, and its takeover of the Gaza Strip the following year, Jerusalem has striven to prevent international representatives from meeting Hamas figures, arguing that such contacts serve to legitimize the organization.

On a number of occasions Israel censured Western countries, among them Russia, Norway and Switzerland, for maintaining ties with Hamas.

Former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg told Haaretz Tuesday that he had been invited to the conference and planned to attend.

"I've been saying for a long time that we must begin a dialogue with Hamas," he said. "I don't live in a world of boycotts."

Burg said that in his view, "ultimately, diplomatic constraints will make the event very difficult to hold, but if it does occur, it will be the start of a new path, one following almost the same formula by which the initial feelers were sent out between the Israeli peace camp and the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] more than 20 years ago."