Britain has accused Israel of allowing extremist Jewish settlers to disrupt attempts at relaunching the peace process after police evicted more than 50 Palestinians from their homes in Jerusalem.
As Jewish settlers moved into the Palestinian homes, the British consulate said it was appalled by the evictions, which took place a few hundred yards from the diplomatic mission, after an Israeli court decided in favour of the settlers.
“Israel’s claim that the imposition of extremist Jewish settlers into this ancient Arab neighbourhood is a matter for the courts or the municipality is entirely unacceptable,” the consulate said in a statement. “Their actions are incompatible with Israel’s desire for peace. We urge Israel not to allow extremists to set the agenda.”
The evictions came at a sensitive time, with the US Administration pushing a reluctant right-wing Israeli government towards a freeze on new settlements in Palestinian areas, in the hope of reviving peace talks.
Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said that the decision to push out Palestinian families, who have lived in the houses for more than half a century, in favour of religious Jewish settlers who claim the whole of the Palestinian territories as their own God-given land, showed that Israel was not serious about renewing peace talks.
“While Israeli authorities have promised the American administration that home demolitions, home evictions and other provocations against Palestinian Jerusalemites would be stopped, what we’ve seen on the ground is completely the opposite,” he said.
Tensions have flared between Israel and Britain recently, with Israel demanding clarification of alleged statements by a diplomat who was quoted in the Arabic media as saying that Britain was financing Palestinian property projects in east Jerusalem to block Jewish settlement expansion.
“We are financing projects aimed at stopping settlement activity,” Martin Day, an Abu Dhabi-based British diplomat, told the Al Arabiya television network last month, according to a transcript supplied by the Israeli authorities.
“One of these projects aims at building a new Palestinian neighbourhood in east Jerusalem and at protecting Palestinian homes from being demolished,” he reportedly said, adding that Britain provided “funds to organisations who monitor settlement activity.”.
However, a British official told The Times the quotes were not translated accurately, and that the projects were urban renewal projects already approved by Jerusalem city council.
The official said that the latest spat reflected Israeli anger at Britain’s funding of anti-occupation groups such as Breaking the Silence, which is run by former Israeli soldiers who gather testimony of alleged Israeli military abuses in the Palestinian territories.