By Noah Browning
RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - A meeting of envoys from the Non-Aligned Movement due to convene in the Israeli-occupied West Bank was scrapped on Sunday after Israel refused to admit four attendees from states with which it has no diplomatic relations, Palestinian officials said.
The envoys were due to sign a declaration backing the Palestinians ahead of their planned campaign to win recognition as a state at the United Nations 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 recognize the Jewish state.
Palestinian officials said the other conference guests, including the foreign ministers of Egypt and Zimbabwe, were granted clearance to attend but declined in solidarity with the barred envoys.
"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," Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki told reporters.
The Non-Aligned Movement is a diplomatic bloc founded during the Cold War to advocate the causes of the developing world.
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," said foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.
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.
The United Nations criticized the Israeli action, saying it undermined the interim peace agreements which entitled Palestinians to autonomy in a small part of the West Bank, called Area A.
"Denying the Palestinian Authority the ability to engage with members of the international community in Area A is yet another step that contradicts the credibility of the Oslo arrangements which affirm the Palestinian right of self-government," Robert Serry, U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said in a statement.
The decision to exclude the envoys came a day after the Palestinian Authority announced it would resume its bid for statehood recognition at the United Nations, a campaign strongly opposed by Israel and the United States.
The planned drive for non-member observer status, akin to the Vatican's, would be an indirect recognition of their claims on statehood in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip. It would allow them to join a number of U.N. agencies, and the International Criminal Court.
Once that status was achieved the Palestinians would pursue full U.N. membership, foreign minister Malki said on Saturday
Israel views Palestinian attempts to bolster their standing at the United Nations and in other diplomatic bodies as hostile, saying there is no substitute for direct negotiation in solving the Middle East conflict.
Hanan Ashrawi of the Palestine Liberation Organization's executive committee decried Israel's barring of envoys on Sunday, saying it "exploits its position as an occupying power to prevent Palestine from communication with the countries of the world and to isolate the Palestinian people and its institutions".
She called the Israeli decision "a blatant and crude exercise of power and a form of political siege".
Twelve envoys belonging to the Non-Aligned Movement's Palestine Commission were due to convene the meeting in the West Bank on Sunday, in advance of an annual meeting of the whole organization 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.
(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Douglas Hamilton and Pravin Char)