Israel believes Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office is deliberately downplaying the centenaries of both the Balfour Declaration and a key First World War battle by sending only junior representatives to anniversary events.
Senior officials believe members of the British diplomatic corps are acting out of concern over Palestinian and Arab protests, despite Prime Minister Theresa May’s pledge to commemorate Balfour “with pride and respect”.
The Israeli officials point to the minimal level of UK government representation for Balfour commemorations in Israel and at an event to mark 100 years since the Battle of Beersheba.
Earlier this year there had been expectations that Britain would take a more prominent role in both centenaries, raising hopes that a member of the Royal Family would make an official visit for the first time since Israeli independence in 1948.
Israel had been encouraged by Mrs May’s warm remarks on Balfour and the fact that so many senior ministers and royals have attended centenary commemorations of other First World War battles since 2014.
The Battle of Beersheba on October 31 1917 marked the moment Allied forces under General Edmund Allenby broke the Ottoman army’s resistance in the Negev desert and began a push through to Jerusalem, Amman and eventually Damascus.
But no UK official representatives other than the ambassador to Israel were expected to attend an event in Beersheba this week or the forthcoming event to mark Balfour in the Knesset.
Meanwhile this week’s Balfour centenary dinner in London, due to be attended by Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Mrs May, is being described as a “private” event.
The full extent of the FCO’s official commemoration of Balfour overseas was a low-key reception last Wednesday at the British ambassador’s residence near Tel Aviv, with no major names in attendance.
A senior diplomat in Jerusalem said last week that, with distractions over Brexit negotiations, it was “hardly surprising” that Ms May did not have the time to push through a more high-profile programme of events.
“Ultimately the Foreign Office line prevailed,” the source said.