Hague breaks protocol to meet Palestinian activists

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The Independent Online

William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary, is to take the unusual step today of meeting Palestinian activists involved in regular unarmed protests and demonstrations against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

Mr Hague, on his first visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories since becoming Foreign Secretary in May, is expected to hold talks with representatives from two West Bank villages whose residents hold regular protests against the route of the military's separation barrier and against settlements. He is also scheduled to meet Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, tomorrow.

The meeting with the Palestinians will come during a two-day trip in which Mr Hague is expected to tell Israeli ministers that the UK will begin primary legislation within weeks to prevent warrants being issued against visiting Israeli politicians and generals accused by pro-Palestinian groups of presiding over alleged war crimes.

The announcement, which has long been urged by senior Israeli politicians, and has resulted in some refusing to travel to Britain on occasions, is likely to go a considerable way to mollify Israeli ministers, who may be perturbed by Mr Hague's decision to meet the Palestinian activists.

The Foreign Secretary is expected to meet a representative from the protesters at Ni'ilin, where five Palestinians have been killed during protests in the last two years, and one from al Masara – a village where stone throwing does not take place during the protests.

He will also see a representative of the Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem, which fosters "non-violent strategies" for Palestinians confronting "politicial, social and economic hardship".

Mr Hague will also announce with the Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, the first ever treaty between the United Kingdom and the Palestinian Authority.

Although the treaty is limited to the issue of film industry co-operation, its symbolic significance will be as a strong endorsement of Mr Fayyad's programme to make a Palestinian state ready for independence by next year.

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