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Revivi. 'Inappropriate interference'
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Holland calls off settlement heads' visit
Professional tour of Israeli local authority heads canceled after Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs learns list of participants includes mayors of West Bank settlements. Efrat council head: Dutch determined State of Israel's borders
After European Union calls for extended settlement freeze, Holland refuses to settle for words: A professional tour of Israeli local authority heads to Holland has been canceled, after the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs learned that the list of participants includes mayors of West Bank settlements.

 

The visit, which was slated to take place next month and first reported by Army Radio, was coordinated by the municipal division of the JDC-Israel organization in cooperation with the unions of local authorities in both countries.

 

The participants included head of 30 small local councils, with up to 20,000 residents, including Kfar Shmaryahu, Savyon, Kfar Vradim, as well as Beit Aryeh, Har Adar, Kiryat Arba, Oranit, Beit El, Elkana, Efrat and a number of Arab communities.

 

Efrat Council head Oded Revivi told Ynet, "The Dutch determined the borders of the State of Israel, that there are no authorities in Judea and Samaria and that the composition of the delegation is unacceptable to them. So we're all staying here."

 

Revivi added that he "would not recommend foreign countries to intervene, definitely not in an educational tour. They can voice their opinion on the negotiations, but this interference is inappropriate."

 

As part of the preparations, the Joint Distribution Committee contacted Holland's embassy in Israel, which asked to receive the list of passengers. At this stage, the Dutch Foreign Ministry has ordered the Union of Local Authorities in Israel to suspend the preparations until the matter is looked into.

 

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yossi Levy said that "whoever mixes political considerations in this important and positive initiative is mixing irrelevant things and cutting the ground from under the crucial goal of a direct dialogue between local councils on quality of life and environment."

 

Levy added that according to the Foreign Ministry's view, "the right way to promote a dialogue must never involve boycotts and rejections."

 

The Foreign Ministry stressed, however, that Holland was and remained a true friend of Israel.

 

'Controversial list of participants'

"We reached the conclusion following information we obtained, which was not passed on to us when the Union of Local Authorities in Israel turned to us to help organize the tour. This mainly refers to information on the delegation's composition," Israel was told by the Dutch union of local authorities. "You must be aware of the fact that the list of participants is controversial."

 

The Dutch government, in line with the European Union's official stance, supports the settlement construction freeze and therefore finds it difficult to host heads of communities located beyond the Green line.

 

The matter was also discussed by officials in the Israeli and Dutch foreign ministries. According to knowledgeable sources, the Israeli ambassador made it clear to Holland that there would be no change in the group's composition and that all the council heads will take part in the tour – or else it would be called off.

 

The ambassador also clarified that asking to delay the visit was like canceling it.

 

Following this chain of events, the Dutch union of local authorities declared that it was suspending the visit for now. JDC-Israel said this meant the trip was off.

 

According to Revivi, the council heads' forum was originally slated to visit Spain, but that tour was called off following the deadly Navy raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla.

 

"The Spanish said we were not welcome there, so we moved to Holland and asked to meet with Holland's ambassador to Israel. When they asked for the list we realized we had run aground."

 

Yonit Smolash, manager of the local authority heads' forum, expressed her disappointment at the Dutch decision.

 

"This is a professional forum, where council heads from across the country, from all sectors and of all types come to learn about the issues on their agenda. We are disappointed by the fact that political issues are being involved in this."

 

According to Smolash, the council heads had already booked their flight tickets to Holland.

 

Ronen Medzini contributed to this report

 

 

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