Clare Short at risk of arrest in Israel, warns defence minister Moshe Ya’alon

Council for European Palestinian Relations that former International Development Secretary chairs has been outlawed in Israel
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Former International Development Secretary Clare Short could be arrested the next time she lands in Tel Aviv after the Palestinian organisation she is a former member of was declared an "illicit organisation" by Israel's Defence Minister on Tuesday.

Moshe Ya’alon, former IDF chief of staff, outlawed the Council for European Palestinian Relations (CEPR) – a Belgian non-profit organisation that lobbies on behalf of the Hamas-led Gaza Government – using emergency defence regulations.

CEPR Members also include Labour MEP Richard Howitt, a member of the House of Lords and two other European MPs who are now in danger of prosecution if they land at Ben Gurion International Airport.

Ms Short, former Chair of the Board of Trustees, said she was unsurprised by the decision. She told The Independent: “As CEPR is Palestinian led, and given Israel’s track record, the Defence Minister’s action is not surprising, but it is yet more evidence that Israel’s claim to be a democracy is eroding very fast.”

Ms Short added: "I've never been with CEPR via Israel, been to Gaza a number of times but always via Rafah."

The Brussels-based NGO, which also has an office in London, describes itself as having been established “to promote dialogue and understanding between European, Palestinian and Arab parliamentarians and policy-makers.”

The CEPR website says: “It seeks a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on justice and the restoration of Palestinian rights in accordance with international humanitarian and human rights law.”

The not-for-profit organisation’s director is London-based Dr Arafat Shoukri who Harretz reported on Tuesday “has been active for many years in various organisations working against the State of Israel, and was one of the leaders of the campaign calling for the lifting of the siege against Gaza”.

Ms Short, who was Tony Blair’s Interational Development Secretary from 1997 until her resignation in protest over the Iraq War in 2003, has been a member of several CEPR delegations in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. In the past three years the CEPR has organized six delegations of European MPs, who visited Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. In 2010 Shoukri met with the then-chairman of the EU Parliament.

Mr Ya’alon had already declared the CEPR “an outlawed organisation” two weeks ago, which means Israel can confiscate money related to the group and try its members or those who provide them with services.

Haaretz reported on Tuesday: “In the past Israel has declared isolated European groups illegal, but still this is an unusual declaration.”

As well as Mr Howitt, who has been an official EU election monitor for both Palestinian presidential and legislative elections, the remaining MEPs are German representative Alexandra Thein, Swiss MP Geri Müller and Lord (Norman) Warner, a health minister under Mr Blair and who now serves on the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Palestine in Westminster.

The four are now in danger of arrest and trial if they visit Israel or try to reach the West Bank via Israel.

Israel’s Shin Bet security services said that the CEPR was recently declared an illegal organisation “in light of the fact that it is Hamas’ leading organisation in Europe, which carries out its activity under cover of being a pro-Palestinian organisation”, adding that  “the organisation is headed by senior Hamas activists, including Arafat Shoukri and Rami Abdo,” Haaretz reported.

The newspaper added: “In reply to the question as to whether the Shin Bet intends to take steps against the (politicians) if they arrive in Israel, they said that ‘The Shin Bet does not usually discuss activities in which it engages for the purpose of fulfilling its mission’.”

Dr Shoukri told The Independent the CEPR will take legal action. He said: "The decision of the Israel defense minister is based on false accusations and has no shred of truth and we will challenge it through the legal means.

"The CEPR is a non profit organisation and is not affiliated to any political party whether inside or outside Palestine.

"Our main aim is to achieve peace and justice in the Middle East according to international law.

"We also believe that the international community should respect the democratic and transparent elections that took place in Palestine 2006 and engage with all representatives of the Palestinian people."