The Shomron Regional Council has decided not to wait for others to take the lead on diplomatic efforts, and has established its own Foreign Ministry Department. The Shomron Liaison Office has been effectively reaching out to elected officials in the EU and elsewhere to provide them with a balanced picture of the realities in Judea and Samaria.
Over the past months, Shomron leaders Gershon Mesika and Yossi Dagan have led a number of diplomatic delegations meeting with European officials in Brussels, Berlin, Stockholm, London and Paris. For the first time ever, leaders in those countries have had opportunities to hear directly from the leaders of the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria (aka “the West Bank settlements”) and learn their side of the story that has drawn so much extended attention in the international political arena.
Many representatives in EU houses of parliament where amazed to learn that thousands of Palestinians are employed in industry in the Jewish towns (settlements), and found it hard to understand why Israel’s opponents are working so hard to mark and boycott products that are manufactured there.
This diplomatic initiative has caused an immediate buzz in many European capitals, and this interest has encouraged many officials to come see this for themselves. Over the past week and a half, the Shomron Regional Council has hosted parliamentary delegations from four different countries.
Last week, MEP Dr. Fiorello Provera, Deputy Chairman of the EU Parliament’s Foreign Committee, visited the Shomron. He visited the Ariel University of Samaria and the Barkan Industrial Park where 3,000 Jews and 3,000 Arabs work together. Provera also visited the Knesset, Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem, as a guest of Samaria’s Regional Council. He met with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin and Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett.
“I don’t support restrictions in this area (the settlements) because they can harm factories where Israeli and Palestinian employees work together, have similar salaries, make the same sacrifices and have the same possibilities for attaining a good standard of living in dignity,” The Jerusalem Post quoted Provera saying during his visit to Israel. “Harming these factories’ ability to function would damage coexistence,” he added.
“Coexistence on the ground between Israelis and Palestinians is a good example of practical policy. I’m in favor of this bottom-up coexistence,” Provera said.
“Most European Parliament members do not know what’s happening in Israel. Since I’ve been exposed to the settlement movement in Samaria, I feel a responsibility to open up my fellow European Parliament members to the reality here,” he explained.
Provera said that the best way to fight settlement product labeling in the EU is to make sure members of the European Parliament are informed. “Information is crucial for us to make up our minds and have an opinion,” he said. “Without real information, we cannot decide what is right and wrong.”
His visit was followed by larger delegations of members of the Swiss and Swedish parliaments, who also visited the industrial park in Barkan, the university in Ariel, and the organic farms and green energy research center in the Shomron community of Itamar.
Shay Atias Director of Shomron Foreign Department said that these reciprocal visits are just the beginning of an expected increase in international visitors. We have found great interest on the part of the international community in seeing the firsthand facts behind the media reports. Our new strategy is based on people to people diplomacy; we have decided to open up the Shomron and invite people to come and see, and to meet our representatives one on one. Seeing the facts on the ground has proven again to be the best defense, in light of the massive ongoing campaign to delegitimize Israel. Israel is doing good things in Judea and Samaria, and we are glad that more and more people would like to come and witness them.