British diplomats involved in US-Israel tension

British diplomats played a major part in the recent spat between Israel and the United States over Jewish building in east Jerusalem.

Last week, during a routine meeting with Israel’s new ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, the Americans expressed objection to plans to convert the Shepherd Hotel in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah into 20 flats for Jewish families.

The building is owned by American-Jewish millionaire Irving Moskovich.

While diplomats in Israel and the US have tried to downplay the tension, the British Foreign Office is seeking to make east Jerusalem into a major issue.

A British diplomatic source confirmed this week that “we have tried to get the American engaged on this”.

As the hotel, in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, is very close to their east Jerusalem consulate, British diplomats feel the issue is “on their doorstep”.

“We have brought it up along with other examples of Israeli settlement activity in east Jerusalem in meetings of senior officials and ministers in Israel,” said the source, “and we are working together with Americans on this since we hold the same position that this is an obstacle to peace.”

In a recent tour of Jewish building projects, British diplomats told their American counterparts that only their intervention could pressure Israel.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu responded to the American objections at the Sunday cabinet meeting, saying that “we will not accept such orders over East Jerusalem. United Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people in Israel.”

“The British Foreign Office is trying to make this into an issue,” said an Israeli Foreign Ministry official, “just like they tried to do with the labeling of goods and the sale of arms, but this is merely posturing.

“They want to position themselves as diplomatic leaders but the reality is that the only significant talks are going on between Jerusalem and Washington.

“London is not a player.”

Last updated: 2:40pm, July 22 2009