September 27, 2008
The pantomime season will soon be upon us and the British government can always be relied on for amusement. This year a Foolish Fairy in the Foreign Office plans to move the British embassy in Tel Aviv from a decent spot on the seafront to a brooding tower block owned by Africa-Israel Investments and occupied mostly by Israeli government departments.
The British Foreign Office is evidently so in love with the Israeli regime that it wants to 'shack up’, and never mind the gossip. Here in London the same Fairy is making the Foreign Office’s magnificent Locarno Suite available to the Zionist Federation for "a Champagne Reception and Commemorative Lecture at the Foreign Office in honour of the 91st anniversary of the Balfour Declaration of 1917".
What sane person would dream of commemorating an individual who wrote, in all seriousness, "In Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country. The four powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now occupy that land"?
The sheer arrogance of Balfour’s Declaration created a bitter rift between East and West which, 91 years later, is getting worse not better. Why is the Foreign Office, of all people, involved in perpetuating this stupidity?
The Africa-Israel company, by the way, is chaired by mega-rich diamond mogul and real estate baron Lev Leviev, who has amassed vast riches while not caring too much about legal niceties or human misery caused in the process.
Leviev is reported to be a major backer of the Jews-only settlement programme on stolen Palestinian lands. It seems Africa-Israel owns a company that carries out settlement construction in the Occupied West Bank, and Leviev and his brother in-law own another one that’s building the Zufim settlement.
And word is that Leviev is a donor to the Land Redemption Fund, which obtains Palestinian land by fair means or foul – mostly foul - for Israel's squalid army of settlers.
Settlements violate international law, but who cares?
The settlements, and the infrastructure serving them, are instrumental in robbing Palestinians of their best agricultural lands and precious water supplies. They effectively block access to East Jerusalem and divide up the remnants of the territory into disconnected enclaves that stand no chance of forming a viable Palestinian state. The aim is quite simply to annex strategic territory to Israel, further disrupt and impoverish Palestinian society, and make the Occupation permanent. The settlements violate international law, but who cares? Not Leviev, not the Israeli government and definitely not the supine international community or the pussyfooting Quartet.
And least of all the British Foreign Office.
I read that UNICEF has blacklisted Leviev and will accept no more contributions from him because his alleged profiteering from illegal settlement building is too controversial. But here's the British government eager to do business with the man, despite our prime minister’s announcement in Bethlehem recently that "settlement expansion has made peace harder to achieve…. it erodes trust, it heightens Palestinian suffering... I think the whole European Union is very clear on this matter: we want to see a freeze on settlements."
Earlier this year Leviev, an Israeli citizen who grew up in the Soviet Union, moved into a brand new $70 million 7-bedroom fortified mansion in Hampstead, a posh suburb of north London. It is said to be equipped with a swimming pool with gold plated mosaic tiles, a gym, a sauna, a private cinema and a hair salon. Here Leviev can relax behind a bullet-proof front door and 25 security cameras, which he can also monitor from his yacht.
He has also opened a diamond store in London's sumptuously exclusive Old Bond Street. Across the Atlantic human rights campaigners kicked up a big fuss when Susan Sarandon attended the gala opening of Leviev's Madison Avenue store in New York, which has been the focus of ongoing protests.
For the last decade the British government has operated an open-door policy for Albanian gangsters, West Indian drug barons, East European sex traffickers and all manner of undesirables from around the world, as well as goods produced by Israeli settlers on confiscated Palestinian land. No surprise, then, that Leviev was allowed to carve out a slice of British real estate and make himself at home. But would I, for example, be permitted to buy a nice plot of land in Israel and go live there? I don’t thinks so.
But back to the prospect of British diplomats being subjected to the improper attentions of Israeli officials within the cosy confines of Leviev’s Kirya Tower… This letter from Foreign Office minister Kim Howells hints that the Foreign Office is back-pedalling: "There is an internal process under way looking at potentially relocating the British Embassy in Tel Aviv. We are considering a number of options. However, at this early stage in the process no decision on a site has been taken and no leases have been signed.
"The Government has made its position on settlements very clear: we believe that settlements contravene international law and are a significant impediment to progress on the peace process. Should we decide to relocate the Embassy, we will make clear the intended location once a decision has been reached."
Has our pantomime Fairy finally seen sense? Will the fair maid Britannia be spared an unspeakable fate locked up in the wicked baron’s tower?