Gould’s hullabaloo

Yesteryear’s aggression shouldn’t determine today’s legalities.

January 5, 2012 23:54
3 minute read.
UK Ambassador Matthew Gould

UK Ambassador Matthew Gould 311. (photo credit: UK Embassy in Israel (YouTube))

As it turns out, UK Ambassador Matthew Gould’s righteous indignation last Tuesday was uncommonly instructive.

At a press briefing he hauled official Israel over the coals for supposed new building projects in beyond-Green-Line Jerusalem. Subsequently, however, his severe censure proved a tad embarrassing as it emerged that no new plans had been announced, no new tenders issued and no new pretexts for disapproval furnished. Gould’s blunder, of course, isn’t the heart of the matter.

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What’s compellingly enlightening is the exceptional opportunity he afforded Israelis (and fair-minded observers everywhere) to peek into the actual mechanisms of demonization. By rushing to judgment, Gould (followed a day later by France, although the farce had already been exposed) showed all and sundry precisely how Israel is condemned, facts notwithstanding. Israel can apparently only do wrong – even when it does nothing.

Contending that new housing permits were publicized that Tuesday for Pisgat Ze’ev and Har Homa, Gould waxed irate: “This is unhelpful and a disappointment to those who want to see the sides turn a corner.” This, he charged, “took the shine off” that day’s Amman meeting, geared to restart moribund negotiations.

In other words, there’s already a designated culprit –Israel – for whatever might go awry. Even after Gould’s halfhearted retraction, the gist remains – Israel is in the dock, potentially guilty. And, as France showed, slander sticks.

This episode too, as in other cases in which Israel is besmirched, was instigated by an Israeli NGO’s alacrity to telltale. In this instance it was Ir Amim – Jerusalem’s left-wing, self-appointed monitor of Jewish construction, which reportedly enjoys EU/British financial largesse.

Ir Amim unequivocally proclaimed that new construction tenders were issued just as Israeli and Palestinian representatives convened in Amman. The timing, asserted Ir Amim’s communiqué, “is a slap in the face to Jordan.”

Gould evidently treated this unverified “revelation” as gospel. Ir Amim’s word alone sufficed to trigger a harsh rebuke of Israel. Presumably, checking up on the NGO’s claims was not warranted, to say nothing of the fact that Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its unified capital under its sovereignty. Israel isn’t even granted the indulgence accorded other democracies, where no venture is decreed overnight by a despot’s whim but where bureaucratic due process dictates the slow, labored implementation of any policy. Nonetheless, here, too, urban development isn’t the product of erratic impulses. We are an orderly society, bound by red tape and regulations galore.

Yet in our case we’re chided anew for each plodding step along the arduous road from blueprint to formal authorization. The projects that so peeved Gould (and France) were in the works for an extended period before construction tenders were published – way before Gould’s hullabaloo. Such tenders constitute the culmination of complex approval procedures for construction in Israel. These take up to 10 years to complete and aren’t under the government’s direct or constant supervision or control.

Although during his briefing Gould hotly denied an inherent anti-Israel bias in London and other European capitals, his knee-jerk eagerness to scold Israel powerfully indicates otherwise. The pattern is undeniable: first comes the stern supercilious admonishment and only later – perhaps – an unenthusiastic examination of whether the upbraiding was justified.

We may be forgiven for doubting that this is the order of things when Britain approaches other countries and other conflicts. Equally as disturbing was Gould’s retraction, which characterized the absence of new tenders as “a welcome reassurance.”

(Subtext: Israeli construction in parts of the Israeli capital remain intrinsically illegitimate. Gould thereby underscored his fundamental displeasure with Israel’s presence in given Jerusalem neighborhoods.)

Even if one doesn’t accept our attachment to the whole of Jerusalem – where an overwhelming Jewish majority existed since the first 19th-century census – plain decency should command the British envoy to at least portray it as disputed territory rather than as outrightly occupied.

After all, it was the Arab Legion in 1948 – under British leadership and active assistance – that conquered east Jerusalem, expelled its Jews and occupied it for 19 years in brazen contravention of 1947’s UN Partition Resolution. Yesteryear’s aggression shouldn’t determine today’s legalities.

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