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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Israel to allow 300 Palestinians in Libya into the PA

PM says entry permits were given out of humanitarian considerations; request was made by PA President Abbas.

Israel will allow 300 Palestinians living in Libya whose lives are endangered into the Palestinian Authority, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Wednesday.

Netanyahu made the announcement at a reception for visiting Polish Prime Minster Donald Tusk, who arrived Wednesday along with eight of his cabinet ministers for the first annual Israeli-Polish joint government meeting.

The decision to permit entry of the Palestinians living in Libya was made out of humanitarian considerations, Netanyahu said. The request to allow them into the PA, he said, came from PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

The announcement came following a meeting of the security cabinet earlier in the day, during which the situation in Libya – and its likely impact on other countries in the region -- as well as the sailing through the Suez Canal of two Iranian warships, were discussed.

According to information reportedly given to the ministers, the ships docked in Syria, and were not transporting arms and ammunition. The overall purpose of the sailing through the Canal, the ministers were told, was to examine the world's reaction.

The upheaval in the region, which Netanyahu in a speech to the Knesset Wednesday characterized as an "earthquake" from Afghanistan to the Maghreb, will be a focus of Netanyahu's talks with his Polish counterpart.

The Israeli-Polish joint government meeting comes fast on the heels of a similar meeting in Jerusalem last month with the German cabinet. Israel has similar arrangement with Italy, and will initiate this year a joint government meeting with Greece as well.

Diplomatic sources said that these types of government-to-government meetings are the best answer to those who are trying to isolate Israel diplomatically. The sources said that these meetings give an enormous push to bilateral relationships, because when the ministers meet in this setting they are able to cut through bureaucracy and give a huge push to various projects.

Each visiting Polish minister will meet privately with his or her Israeli counterpart, followed by a joint cabinet sessions. The Polish defense, foreign, education, culture, health, environment and intelligence services ministers were among those accompanying Tusk .

Poland, according to diplomatic sources, is considered among Israel's best friends in Europe, with Warsaw often advocating on Israel's behalf inside the EU institutions and voting alongside it – when given the freedom to do so by the EU – at the UN and in other international bodies.

For instance, in the UN General Assembly vote on the Goldstone Commission report in November 2009, Poland was one of only seven EU countries – and 18 overall -- that voted with Israel against adopting the report. The other EU countries were the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands and Slovakia.

Three months later, Poland abstained on a follow-up vote, as did each of the seven other EU countries that voted for Israel in the first vote, plus Romania..

In addition to close diplomatic ties, some 27,000 Israeli high schoolers visit Poland each year and go to Auschwitz as part of their Holocaust studies curriculum. Ways of bringing Israeli youth into contact with Polish youth on these trips, and through other exchange programs, will be discussed Wednesday by the countries' education and culture ministers.