Row over ‘pointless’ Olmert UK visit

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s one-day visit to the UK next week has been dismissed by officials in his own government as “pointless” and an “embarrassing waste of national resources”.

Despite the Israeli PM being officially invited to London by Gordon Brown, Israeli officials have told the JC that Mr Olmert was “angling” for an invitation and that there was no urgent matter that warranted a face-to-face meeting between the two leaders.

The meeting was agreed between the two prime ministers’ offices with little, if any, involvement by their foreign ministries. Israel’s embassy in London was notified of the impending visit only a few days ago.

“Nothing significantly new has come up between the two countries,” one Israeli diplomat said. “But Olmert has a very good personal relationship with Brown and he wanted to see him before he ends his term as prime minister in February.

“He was angling for an invitation and the British obliged.”

Foreign Secretary David Miliband visited Israel only three weeks ago and, at the same time, President Shimon Peres made a highly successful visit to Britain in which he met UK leaders and received an honorary knighthood from the Queen.

“Each of these visits by the prime minister to a foreign country involves huge effort by hundreds of government employees and costs million of shekels,” said a Peres aide.

“We were surprised that Olmert had to go to London now, so soon after the president was there. It’s an embarrassing waste of national resources.

“If he had to go abroad he could have gone to another country where he could have done more good in furthering Israel’s interests.”

Mr Olmert, who visited Washington last month to meet President Bush, is due to arrive on Monday evening and return to Israel 24 hours later.

Beyond his meeting with Mr Brown, it was not clear as the JC went to press if he would be seeing Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

A reception with local Jewish leaders has been hastily and haphazardly organised and officials have been unable to supply a full schedule. It is unprecedented at this late stage for such a visit not to be meticulously planned.

Mr Olmert will be arriving as a conference on aiding the Palestinian economy, hosted by Mr Brown, takes place in London but the Israeli premier will not attend.

Nor is he expected to meet Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad who will be at the summit. “This visit is good PR for Brown,” said an Israeli diplomat.

“He gets to have his picture taken in Downing Street with both the Israeli and Palestinian PMs in one week and looks like the great peace-broker. So naturally, he would be eager to invite Olmert.”
Downing Street confirmed that Mr Olmert had been invited by the Prime Minister.

A spokesman said: “The Prime Minister said in the Queen’s speech that he had invited both PMs to London.

“He is trying to help kick-start the process but Mr Fayyad and Mr Olmert will not be meeting in London and will hold two separate meetings with the Prime Minister.”

A spokesman from Mr Olmert’s office said that he would “visit London on the British Prime Minister’s invitation. The visit will be for one day and will deal with bilateral and regional issues”.

    Last updated: 2:43pm, December 11 2008