Israel and Jordan’s ambassadors to Britain clashed over Jerusalem at a community event today.
Mazen Homoud, Jordan’s outgoing ambassador to the UK, told guests at a breakfast meeting this morning that his country continue to view the east of Israel’s capital, together with the West Bank, as occupied territory.
Addressing the packed event organized by the United Synagogue, Mr Homoud said: “You can't forget that east Jerusalem and the West Bank are occupied territories under every sort of international law.
“There is nothing which cannot be administered and [the subject of Jerusalem] is still left for negotiation, but we have to remember that under international law it is occupied territory. You cannot pretend that something which is not yours is yours.”
But fellow panelist Mark Regev, Israel’s ambassador to London, fired back in response.
“We will not agree to return to the pre-1967 situation [over Jerusalem],” he said at the event in a central London hotel.
“All religious communities since 1967, all the different faiths have been guaranteed freedom of religious worship and administer that regulation autonomously.”
The disagreement between the two diplomats, who are close friends and speak regularly, was the only discordant note at the unique event, chaired by the United Synagogue’s newly elected president, Michael Goldstein.
Mr Regev praised the late King Hussein for the strength of the Jordanian-Israel peace treaty, now in its 23rd year. He told the audience that he had been based in China at the time the treaty was signed, but after returning to Israel spent three years on the Jordanian affairs desk of the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
“Today there is another member of the Regev family involved in Jordan,” he confided.
His 23-year-old daughter is a captain in the IDF whose job involves patrolling the border along the Jordan River in order to prevent terrorist incursions, while her counterparts in the Jordanian army do the same on the other side.
Mr Regev said the Jordanian treaty was “a model” and said Israel was keen to build on it and expand peace options in the region. That view was echoed by Mr Hamoud who spoke about the QIZ, or Qualifying industrial Zones, set up by Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians.
“We co-sponsor produce and it can go directly into the American market with no taxes levied,” he explained.
The Jordanian diplomat described himself and Mr Regev as “agents for peace”, and said the message from the most recent Arab League meeting in Amman earlier this year was that Arab countries “want peace with Israel”.
He added: “We need this relationship, we want to get on with our lives. We need to integrate, because of the threats in common which we face. It is important for Israel to be part of the Arab peninsula. We need peace, and our people need it.”
Mr Regev agreed and said that Israel is currently speaking to more Arab states than ever before, although he declined to name any. Refusing to specify which Arab country which might sign a peace treaty with Israel next, he said: “Where there is trust, there is also discretion.”
Mr Homoud said he believed Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas “can deliver” on peace, though Mr Regev warned that Israelis were asking ‘how can we repeat what happened in Gaza on the West Bank?’