New UK envoy: PA Israel recognition is ‘matter for talks'

Matthew Gould says he has no compunction about calling for Israel to renew settlement moratorium before "Jewish state" discussions begin.

Gould 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Gould 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Whether the Palestinian Authority should recognize Israel as a Jewish state is a matter for negotiations, new British Ambassador Matthew Gould said Tuesday, though he had no compunction about calling for Israel to renew its settlement- construction moratorium before those negotiations begin.
Last week, at the opening of the Knesset’s winter session, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he would take to the cabinet a proposal to renew the settlement freeze if the Palestinians would recognize Israel as the nationstate of the Jewish people.
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“What we are very clear about is that a further settlement moratorium would help talks resume,” Gould said in a briefing with reporters at his residence in Ramat Gan. “Therefore we hope that a further moratorium can be put into place and make it easier for talks to resume.”
Gould said Britain’s position was that settlement building is both illegal and “corrosive to prospects of peace. We believe the more settlement building there is, the harder it will be to meet agreement on a two-state solution, and to make the two-state solution work.”
Since the future lies in a two-state solution, he said, “anything that gets in the way of the two-state solution, and makes it harder to achieve, is to be regretted and – as far as possible – avoided.”
Gould was more equivocal, however, regarding the British position whether the Palestinians should recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
“There are certain issues that I think are best dealt with in the negotiations, rather than trying to set up as an extra issue outside the negotiations,”” he said.
Asked why settlement construction shouldn’t also be a subject for negotiations, Gould replied, “I think the difference is we have a long standing policy of opposition to settlement building, and I don’t think there is a necessary equivalence between those two issues.”
Gould also noted that the UN resolution that created Israel referred to the establishment of two states, a Jewish and an Arab one, and that “a democracy can call itself whatever it wants.”
Gould avoided answering whether the British government viewed Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, but said Britain is “absolutely clear about Israel’s right to exist, and absolutely clear about Israel’s right to security.”
“As the homeland of the Jewish people, yes,” Gould added. “Beyond that, I think at this point it is not necessarily helpful” to expand on the matter.
Asked directly whether Britain backed Israel’s demand for the PA to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, Gould said he did not want to get into a “blow-by-blow commentary on exactly what the Palestinians should do at any given stage in the process. I don’t see that as helpful.”
Gould would also not comment on what Britain would do if the direct talks broke down and the Palestinians went to the United Nations asking for recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 lines.
“I think it would be just incredibly unhelpful if I would start giving you a breakdown on the hypothetical situation of what we would do if the talks failed,” he said. “We are supporting the peace process, and will do whatever we can to help the parties make that a success.
I don’t think it would be helpful to say here is what we do if the talks would break down.”
He also would not divulge whether the British were counseling the Palestinians against the move.
On another matter, Gould “guaranteed” that legislation will be swiftly introduced in Parliament changing the law making it possible under universal jurisdiction to prosecute Israelis on war crimes charges in Britain. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni cancelled a trip to London last December when an arrest warrant was issued over her involvement in Operation Cast Lead as foreign minister.
In July, shortly after taking office, the Conservative government announced plans to amend the law.
“We are going to pass legislation that will remove the anomaly on universal jurisdiction,” Gould said. “We are very clear it needs to be done, and it will be done very quickly.”