The meeting involved representatives from the Non-Aligned Movement, a group of states that aims to represent the interests of the developing world.
They were due to sign a declaration backing the Palestinians ahead of their fresh campaign to win recognition as a state at the UN next month. Israel barred the foreign ministers of Malaysia and Indonesia along with ambassadors from Cuba and Bangladesh on the grounds the four countries do not recognise the Jewish state.
Their exclusion from the Israeli-occupied West Bank starkly underlined the limits of Palestinian autonomy.
Palestinian officials said the other conference guests, among them the foreign ministers of Egypt and Zimbabwe, had waited in neighbouring Jordan for clearance to travel.
Israeli clearance was granted but in the end they declined to attend, in solidarity with those prevented from taking part.
“The goal of this decision, which was issued at the highest political echelons in Israel, is to thwart the efforts of the Palestinian leadership to achieve more successes for the benefit of Palestinians and its efforts to end the occupation,” said Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki.
But Israel was unapologetic about its decision. “We have cleared entry for representatives of countries which have diplomatic relations with Israel and we have not cleared those which do not,” foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.
Israel controls access to the West Bank, which can be reached via the main checkpoint outside Jerusalem on the road coming up from Ben Gurion International Airport, or at the Allenby Bridge over the Jordan river, on the road from Amman.
Hanan Ashrawi of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s executive committee, called the Israeli decision “a blatant and crude exercise of power and a form of political siege”.
The decision to exclude the envoys came a day after the Palestinian authority announced it would resume its bid for statehood recognition at the UN, a campaign strongly opposed by Israel and the US. The Non-Aligned Movement has over 100 member countries who do not consider themselves formally aligned with any big power bloc.
Some 12 envoys belonging to the organisation’s Palestine Commission were due to convene the meeting in the West Bank in advance of an annual meeting of the whole movement in Iran at the end of the month.
“Nothing constructive, to say the very least, has ever come out of this committee in the past, and now that it is going to meet in Iran under the chairmanship of Tehran, expectations could not be lower,” Palmor said. Israel regards Iran as its number one enemy.
Palestinians are listed as a UN observer “entity” with no voting rights. They will ask to be made a non-member observer state at the UN General Assembly on Sept 27, foreign minister Malki said on Saturday. Once that was achieved, he said, the Palestinians would pursue full UN membership.
Non-member observer status would be an indirect recognition of their claims on statehood in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip. Israel opposes the move as hostile, saying they is no substitute for direct negotiation in solving the Middle East conflict.