311_UK ambassador Gould.
(photo credit: Courtesy of British Embassy )
British Ambassador Matthew Gould on Tuesday night attempted to dispel fears that the UK is moving towards recognizing “Palestine” as an independent state.
Gould was speaking at a meeting of Europeans for Israel that was conducted in the Jewish Agency headquarters in Jerusalem. He is the first-ever British ambassador to visit the Jewish Agency, he said.
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In a remarkably frank question and answer session, Gould fielded questions put to him by Leah Zinder, the diplomatic correspondent of IBA News, and later answered questions from the audience.
The question regarding recognition of Palestine emanated from the announcement this week by British Foreign Secretary William Hague that the Palestinian General Delegation in Britain will be upgraded to mission level.
Gould said that Hague had not made the Palestinian mission an embassy, nor had he given its members diplomatic immunity. Moreover he had made it clear, said Gould, “that this is not a step towards recognition.”
Britain shares with the Palestinians the goal of the creation of a Palestinian state, Gould acknowledged, “but the way to achieve this is through negotiations. This is a conflict that can only be solved through a negotiated settlement.”
The Palestinian Authority has vastly improved its security capabilities, he explained, and the UK is recognizing that it is vastly better than it was in the past.
Gould downplayed the extent of anti-Semitism in the UK. There is an anti-Semitism problem, he conceded, and there were 120 incidents of violent anti-Semitism in the UK last year, but it was incumbent on him to correct the misperception that anti-Semitism is so rampant in the UK that it’s no longer viable to live there, he said.
The country he represents is not fundamentally anti-Semitic or hostile to Jews, he insisted.
The delegitimization of Israel is by a small but loud minority, he said. The UK is opposed to divestments, sanctions and economic boycotts, he asserted, noting that in any case such activities have been ineffective. Proof lay in the fact that trade between Britain and Israel went up by 30 percent last year, and Israeli exports to the UK were up by 40%.
“We need to separate the noise from the reality,” said Gould. There is a growing concern among the British people about some Israeli policies, especially those related to the West Bank and Gaza, he continued, and those who seek to delegitimize Israel hook into that concern.
“Most Brits accept Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself,” said Gould, “but that doesn’t mean that we sign on to every interpretation Israel has of self-defense.”
Working towards peace “would take the wind out of the sails of the delegitimizers,” he said.
Gould has been subjected to a lot of flak in Israel in response to the funding by the UK of a number of Israeli leftwing NGOs. When asked how Britain would like it if the situation were reversed and the Israel government began funding British NGOs to explore and report on British actions in Afghanistan, Gould replied that while Britain would not jump for joy, and would in fact be very unhappy, it would not do anything to stop such funding.
In response to the inevitable question about the universal jurisdiction law that has prevented various Israeli dignitaries from visiting the UK for fear of arrest, Gould said: “We got ourselves into a bit of a mess because of a legal anomaly that needs to be fixed. A legal amendment to the law has been introduced and is working its way through the parliamentary process.
“All three major political parties support the change.”
Gould was confident that the amendment would pass into law “in months, not years.”
On the lighter side, Gould said that when he met opposition leader Tzipi Livni, he apologized to her for the fact that the British Mandate authorities had arrested her parents, Eitan Livni and Sara Rosenberg, both prominent Irgun members. “Don’t worry about that,” she told him.
“You almost arrested me!” Before the event, Gould was taken on a tour of the Jewish Agency building by Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, who had long been one of his heroes. Gould was 14 when Sharansky was released from captivity in 1986.
“He was important for me, for my generation and for my community,” said Gould, who was thrilled to finally come face to face with the “symbol of oppression that became the symbol of freedom and a clear and consistent voice in the global debate.”