The government will impose sanctions on Israel-based employees of the Al Jazeera network in response to the closure last month of the Israeli trade office in Qatar, which hosts and funds the network. Qatar had closed the office in opposition to Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip.
Following the closure, the Foreign Ministry, in conjunction with the newly-formed national information directorate in the Prime Minister’s Office, considered declaring the station a hostile entity and closing its offices in Israel. After submitting the idea to legal review, however, concerns emerged it would not be permitted by the High Court of Justice.
Instead, it chose to limit the network’s activity in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. First, Israel will not renew the visas of Al Jazeera’s non-Israeli employees or grant visas to new employees. Second, station representatives will have reduced accessibility to government and military bodies, and will not be allowed into briefings or press conferences.
Third, the network will have access to only three official spokespeople – those of the Prime Minister’s Office, Foreign Ministry and the Israel Defense Forces. The information directorate has also instructed Knesset members and ministers not to grant interviews or otherwise cooperate with Al Jazeera, but this is a non-binding instruction which lawmakers may apply at their discretion.
“Israel believes in freedom of the press and in the public’s right to know,” a Foreign Ministry official said Monday. “This is a rearrangement of relations between Israel and the Al Jazeera network in light of the present situation.”
Israeli officials have recently criticized Qatar’s warming relations with Hamas and Iran. Foreign Ministry director-general Aharon Abramowitz told attendees at the Herzliya Conference on Monday that Qatar is moving toward a “radical axis.”
An emergency summit convened in the Qatari capital of Doha during the Gaza operation included Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshal, Palestinian Islamic Jihad head Ramadan Shallah and Ahmed Jibril, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s General Command.
Several hours after the summit Hamad bin Jassim, who serves as both Qatar’s prime minister and foreign minister, held a press conference in which he announced his government would be cutting ties with Jerusalem. Bin Jassim had previously enjoyed a working relationship with Israeli officials, including Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
At that conference, bin Jassim said the Israeli diplomats had a week to leave the country.