Israeli officials have said they are “deeply disappointed” at the British Government’s decision to publish an advice note warning Britons against buying property in settlements in the West Bank and the Golan Heights, describing the move as “politically motivated”.
The disappointment is acute, especially as the advice was leaked to the press only two days after what the Israelis termed a “warm and friendly” Downing Street meeting between prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Gordon Brown. One Israeli Foreign Ministry official labelled the British initiative “megaphone diplomacy”.
In the leaked note, Britons are warned that, since the settlements may not be under Israeli control in a future peace deal, this “could have consequences for that property”.
It is unclear, however, why the Foreign Office decided to publish the advice now, as Britons have not been buying property across the Green Line.
“We have seen very little interest from British buyers in houses and flats in those areas,” said Matti Munk, head of international activities at the Bank of Jerusalem, which arranges mortgages for many foreign citizens who buy homes in Israel. “Most of the British buyers are interested in places like Netanya, Beit Shemesh, Modi’in and the old neighbourhoods in West Jerusalem. We don’t see them buying in places like Har Homa and Maale Adumim.”
Israeli diplomats see the advice note as another sign of the British government’s decision to move more forcefully on the settlements issue with the aim of becoming the leading European player over Israel and Palestine.
“This is clearly politically motivated as Gordon Brown wants to be Barack Obama’s natural partner when the new US administration takes control. That is why they are ahead of themselves on settlements,” said one diplomat.
Last month, Britain infuriated Israel by circulating a memo to European Union members urging pressure on Israel over the labelling of goods manufactured in the settlements.
Gordon Brown also raised the issue in his meeting with Mr Olmert last week and he criticised Israel’s position on the settlements during the Palestinian Business Conference he hosted in London.
The Foreign Office maintained this week that the advice does not signal a change in policy but is merely “a reiteration of the government’s long-standing position that the settlements are illegal and an obstacle to peace”.