Amid displeasure with UK, Olmert to go to London

Officials say UK foreign secretary intends to pressure Israel on settlement construction.

Olmert brown 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Olmert brown 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will go to London on Monday for meetings with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, at a time when Britain - according to diplomatic officials in Jerusalem - is causing problems for Israel inside the EU. For instance, Britain - along with Ireland, Cyprus and Malta - led the unsuccessful charge inside the EU to link its agreement on Monday to upgrade diplomatic ties with Israel to developments in negotiations with the Palestinians. Senior diplomatic officials said the British position was that it was not the time to give Israel the "prize" of an upgrade, and that the EU should not rush into the matter. Likewise, Britain has pressed the EU to be more stringent regarding the import of goods from Israel that may have been produced in the West Bank. The British complained in an internal memorandum to the EU countries a few months ago that goods produced in the West Bank were coming into Britain in violation of the EU-Israel trade agreement that exempts tariffs on goods from within the Green Line, but not from the territories. According to Israeli officials, Britain was behind an initiative that would have Israel clearly label on each product where it was made, specifying whether it was made in Israel or the "occupied territories." Currently Israel is obligated only to mark that the product was made in Israel, followed by a zip code that would indicate to the tax authorities whether the product could enter tax free as a product made from inside the Green Line, or whether tariffs had to be paid if it was made in the West Bank. Furthermore, Britain - according to Israeli officials - has joined other EU countries in holding quiet talks with Hizbullah in Lebanon, saying that they were only meeting with parliamentarians and not members of the organization's armed wing. Israeli officials said these moves, which they believe have their origins with Foreign Secretary David Miliband and not with Brown, are meant to place pressure on Israel to stop all settlement construction. One diplomatic source speculated that the sudden rise in Brown's popularity - as a result of the way he has handled the financial meltdown - has sent Miliband looking for favorable headlines, something that can be found by coming across as a champion of Palestinian rights. By the same token, the officials said that Britain's policy on Iran and the diplomatic process remain unchanged and favorable. The Prime Minister's Office, meanwhile, would not confirm that Olmert's trip was connected to any glitches in the relationship with Britain. Rather, a spokesman for Olmert said the visit had been discussed for some time. "We want to discus with the British regional challenges and issues, as well as bilateral relations," the spokesman said. "Our relationship with Britain has always been an important one." It was not clear whether Olmert will meet with Miliband during his visit. Olmert is scheduled to leave on Monday evening, and return on Tuesday night.