West Bank link halts embassy relocation

By James Martin and Anshel Pfeffer, March 5, 2009

Britain's embassy in Tel Aviv has abandoned plans to move to new premises over concerns that the building’s owners are involved in unlawful construction on the West Bank.

It is said the embassy pulled out of the £90,000-a-year deal to relocate from Hayarkon Street to a floor on Africa-Israel’s Kirya Tower after British ambassador Tom Phillips became aware of Africa-Israel’s involvement in West Bank construction projects.

According to a Foreign Office spokesperson: “The UK government believes that the construction of settlements in occupied political territories is unlawful under international law. This is an important policy issue for the UK government.”

Since the embassy started negotiations with Africa-Israel over a year ago, a number of articles and petitions have appeared in the British press criticising the construction projects of the company's subsidiary, Danya Cebus.

Africa-Israel — which is chaired by the London-based Israeli diamond billionaire Lev Leviev — is involved in three West Bank schemes.

An Africa-Israel spokesperson noted that “pro-Palestinian groups and MPs have been trying for some time to further a one-sided and biased agenda with the aim of forcing the British Government to act against private companies, businesspeople, academics and researchers who have no influence whatsoever over Israeli policy.”

It was almost impossible to find a significant company in Israel without some kind of connection to commercial interests in the West Bank.

In the circumstances, Africa-Israel expected the Israeli Foreign Ministry to take up the matter.

Pro-Palestinian group Adalah – the Coalition for Justice in the Middle East — claimed “a victory for our co-ordinated campaign in Palestine, US, UK and Israel”.

Last updated: 12:22pm, March 5 2009