10 January 2011
Dear Mr. Hague,
The UK Ambassador to Israel Hon. Matthew Gould
I was amazed to learn that the British Ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, on the 2 January 2012, made an unwarranted press statement condemning Israel based on false information provided by a UK FCO funded Israeli NGO, Ir Amim.
There are several aspects of this matter which are unacceptable:-
1. The fact that the British Ambassador relied upon information that had not been corroborated by any Israeli authoritative source and had not appeared in the Israeli media.
2. The Ambassador clearly made no attempt to obtain confirmation from either internal or external Embassy sources before issuing this condemnation
3. The Ambassador on behalf of HM government made such a statement without first consulting with his superiors in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
4. The Ambassador relied solely on information provided to him by an Israeli NGO, that itself is supported by the FCO slush fund distributed in Israel direct from the UK Embassy in Israel based on recommendations of the Ambassador ( in this case the NGO in question has been funded since 2004 to the tune of £357,985 to the financial year 2009/10)
5. The information had been previously released during the planning stages by the various Israel Planning Committees and Ir Amim deliberately released this information, as if it was new, to coincide with the renewed preliminary Quartet talks in Amman, Jordan, taking place that day, so as to cast the Israeli Government in a bad light and acting in bad faith.
6. The condemnation was subsequently relied upon for the French President to follow suite.
7. No such statements are made about any actions of any other country by the accredited UK Ambassadors, even when gross denial of human rights takes place as well as the cold blooded murder of law abiding citizens as is happening in places as far apart as Syria and Sudan
8. The Ambassador’s attempt to back track when it was discovered he had made a faux pas only exacerbated the situation
9. The stated purpose of funding Ir Amim according to the answer to a question by Robert Halfon MP to Alistair Burt MP of the FCO on the 6 September 2010 was “To influence the nature and quality of public policy debate and ultimately Israeli policy in line with political options for a sustainable two-state solution.” (See extract from Hansard 6 September 2010 Column 219W enclosed). Well they certainly did not follow this objective on this occasion.
I have enclosed background information which was obtained from the Jerusalem Post and the Editorial clearly sums up the untenable position of HM Ambassador in Israel.
I should therefore like to enquire of HM government and the Foreign Secretary in particular, why the Ambassador has been permitted to act in such a fashion, shooting his mouth off in public, and what action HM government will take to immediately stop the funding to Ir Amim. If a decision is made to continue the funding the reasons why.
UK envoy slams, retracts criticism of J'lem building
By HERB KEINON AND MELANIE LIDMAN
The only problem is that there was no new announcement of a new construction project beyond the Green Line.
British ambassador Matthew Gould took Israel to task Tuesday for announcing new building projects beyond the Green Line in Jerusalem, but then retracted the criticism after learning there had been no such declaration.
Gould, at a briefing with journalists, said the announcement of new construction beyond the Green Line was “unhelpful” on a day when Israeli and Palestinian officials were meeting in Amman.
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“This is unhelpful and a disappointment to those who want to see the sides turn a corner,” the ambassador said to the reporters, who were unsure of what projects he was referring to. Gould said the announcement of a new construction project in the settlements “took the shine off” the Amman meeting between Yitzhak Molcho and Saeb Erekat.
The only problem is that there was no announcement of a new construction project beyond the Green Line. What there was, however, was publication by the Israel Lands Authority (ILA) of tenders for 312 housing units in Pisgat Ze’ev and Har Homa. These tenders were already announced a week ago.
After his initial condemnation, Gould clarified the matter and issued a statement saying that the Israeli government “has made clear to us that there has been no new announcement of tenders for building in east Jerusalem today, and that reports of such new tenders were incorrect. This is a welcome reassurance.”
One official said this incident reflects confusion over how the country’s planning process works, with the same project – which must go through numerous steps on its way from initial design to final approval – often being condemned at every new station along the way as an “announcement of a new settlement project.”
A British embassy representative said Gould based his initial condemnation on a statement put out by Ir Amim, a left-wing NGO that monitors building in Jerusalem.
According to that statement, “Today, January 3, as Israeli and Palestinian representatives meet in Jordan at the behest of King Abdullah in order to restart negotiations, the Israel Lands Authority published tenders for 312 units in east Jerusalem – in Har Homa B and Pisgat Ze’ev. The timing of this notice is a slap in the face to Jordan...”
The tenders published by the ILA represent the last step in the complicated approval process for construction in Israel, which can take up to a decade to complete.
The Har Homa and Pisgat Ze’ev projects have passed all of the approval steps from the Jerusalem municipality and the Interior Ministry, and have already been condemned by many in the international community.
After the ILA publishes these types of tenders, different contracting companies submit bids to build the projects. In special circumstances, including politically sensitive situations, the Prime Minister’s Office can ask the ILA to halt the publication of a specific tender, said ILA spokeswoman Ortal Tzabar.
Tzabar said there were instances in the past when the Prime Minister’s Office has intervened to stop publicizing the tenders, including in the Har Homa and Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhoods.
Tzabar called Gould’s comments “cheeky,” and added that the ILA considers Har Homa and Pisgat Ze’ev part of Jerusalem.
“There are people outside of Israel that really don’t understand [the process], and just follow whatever the Arabs are saying,” she said.
Gould’s hullabaloo By JERUSALEM POST EDITORIAL
Yesteryear’s aggression shouldn’t determine today’s legalities.
As it turns out, UK Ambassador Matthew Gould’s righteous indignation last Tuesday was uncommonly instructive.
At a press briefing he hauled official Israel over the coals for supposed new building projects in beyond-Green-Line Jerusalem. Subsequently, however, his severe censure proved a tad embarrassing as it emerged that no new plans had been announced, no new tenders issued and no new pretexts for disapproval furnished. Gould’s blunder, of course, isn’t the heart of the matter.
What’s compellingly enlightening is the exceptional opportunity he afforded Israelis (and fair-minded observers everywhere) to peek into the actual mechanisms of demonization. By rushing to judgment, Gould (followed a day later by France, although the farce had already been exposed) showed all and sundry precisely how Israel is condemned, facts notwithstanding. Israel can apparently only do wrong – even when it does nothing.
Contending that new housing permits were publicized that Tuesday for Pisgat Ze’ev and Har Homa, Gould waxed irate: “This is unhelpful and a disappointment to those who want to see the sides turn a corner.” This, he charged, “took the shine off” that day’s Amman meeting, geared to restart moribund negotiations.
In other words, there’s already a designated culprit –Israel – for whatever might go awry. Even after Gould’s halfhearted retraction, the gist remains – Israel is in the dock, potentially guilty. And, as France showed, slander sticks.
This episode too, as in other cases in which Israel is besmirched, was instigated by an Israeli NGO’s alacrity to telltale. In this instance it was Ir Amim – Jerusalem’s left-wing, self-appointed monitor of Jewish construction, which reportedly enjoys EU/British financial largesse.
Ir Amim unequivocally proclaimed that new construction tenders were issued just as Israeli and Palestinian representatives convened in Amman. The timing, asserted Ir Amim’s communiqué, “is a slap in the face to Jordan.”
Gould evidently treated this unverified “revelation” as gospel. Ir Amim’s word alone sufficed to trigger a harsh rebuke of Israel. Presumably, checking up on the NGO’s claims was not warranted, to say nothing of the fact that Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its unified capital under its sovereignty. Israel isn’t even granted the indulgence accorded other democracies, where no venture is decreed overnight by a despot’s whim but where bureaucratic due process dictates the slow, labored implementation of any policy. Nonetheless, here, too, urban development isn’t the product of erratic impulses. We are an orderly society, bound by red tape and regulations galore.
Yet in our case we’re chided anew for each plodding step along the arduous road from blueprint to formal authorization. The projects that so peeved Gould (and France) were in the works for an extended period before construction tenders were published – way before Gould’s hullabaloo. Such tenders constitute the culmination of complex approval procedures for construction in Israel. These take up to 10 years to complete and aren’t under the government’s direct or constant supervision or control.
Although during his briefing Gould hotly denied an inherent anti-Israel bias in London and other European capitals, his knee-jerk eagerness to scold Israel powerfully indicates otherwise. The pattern is undeniable: first comes the stern supercilious admonishment and only later – perhaps – an unenthusiastic examination of whether the upbraiding was justified.
We may be forgiven for doubting that this is the order of things when Britain approaches other countries and other conflicts. Equally as disturbing was Gould’s retraction, which characterized the absence of new tenders as “a welcome reassurance.”
(Subtext: Israeli construction in parts of the Israeli capital remain intrinsically illegitimate. Gould thereby underscored his fundamental displeasure with Israel’s presence in given Jerusalem neighborhoods.)
Even if one doesn’t accept our attachment to the whole of Jerusalem – where an overwhelming Jewish majority existed since the first 19th-century census – plain decency should command the British envoy to at least portray it as disputed territory rather than as outrightly occupied. Media Eye comment – so much for HMG Ambassador’s ascertain of being a proud Jew and how delighted he was that his daughter was born as a Sabra!!!!!
After all, it was the Arab Legion in 1948 – under British leadership and active assistance – that conquered east Jerusalem, expelled its Jews and occupied it for 19 years in brazen contravention of 1947’s UN Partition Resolution. Yesteryear’s aggression shouldn’t determine today’s legalities.
Robert Halfon: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how much his Department paid to (a) B'Tselem, (b) HaMoked, (c) Yesh Din, (d) Ir Amim, (e) Bimkom, (f) the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, (g) the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition, (h) Gisha, (i) Association for Civil Rights in Israel, (j) Peace Now, (k) Mossawa and (l) Breaking the Silence in each financial year since 2005-06; for what purposes those payments were made; and what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of his Department's spending on each such programme or project undertaken by each such organisation. 
Alistair Burt: The tri-departmental Conflict Pool and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Bilateral programme funds support the Government's aim of reducing conflict in the middle east and North Africa region in order to help safeguard British national security. Our Conflict Prevention programmes in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories are jointly managed by the FCO, the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence. They work to improve the political environment in support of the peace process, including tackling difficult issues such as settlements and alleged human rights violations on both sides. Our Bilateral programme strengthens our relations with countries in the middle east and North Africa region. We work with both the Palestinian Authority to enhance their capacity for tackling violence and with Israeli institutions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
Many of the initiatives we support work to promote equality and human rights, build trust between communities, reduce violence inside the Occupied Palestinian Territories and advance peace. The NGOs we work with have helped to raise awareness of Israel's obligations under international law with regard to settlement activity and human rights violations. They also work to ensure due legal process is adhered to by Israeli authorities. Regular
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monitoring and evaluation of the effectiveness of all programmes is a requirement for all our funding commitments. Since we began supporting these programmes there have been a number of changes to Israeli civil and military judicial practice and decisions, and increased public debate on these issues.
A vibrant, independent and diverse civil society is one of Israel's great strengths and we believe that continuing British support will assist in strengthening democratic processes. By raising awareness and creating an environment where people are able to learn more about the situation and realities on the ground, the projects we support play a crucial role in creating sustainable conditions for peace.
Of those NGOs referred to in my hon. Friend's question, the following have been funded through our Conflict Prevention programmes (the Middle East and North Africa Conflict Pool-MENA CP):
Project purpose: Using film and video documentation as a tool for accountability to improve the human rights situation in the west bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Funding: 2010-11-£135,000 (provisional allocation).
B'Tselem & HaMoked (jointly)
Project purpose: To support freedom of movement for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories through legal and administrative action, advocacy and public education. Funding: 2005-06-£140,000, 2006-07-£150,000.
Project purpose: (2006 to 2008) Using legal action and public advocacy to challenge and ensure compliance with due process within Israeli military courts.
Project purpose: (2008 to 2010) To challenge Israeli settlement construction and increase Palestinian access to lands in the west bank through legal actions and public advocacy. Funding: 2006-07-£55,529, 2007-08-£74,256, 2008-09-£125,000, 2009-10-£142,000, 2010-11-£83,755 (provisional allocation).
Project purpose: To influence the nature and quality of public policy debate and ultimately Israeli policy in line with political options for a sustainable two-state solution. Funding: 2005-06-£70,000, 2006-07-£100,133, 2007-08-£60,000, 2008-09-£127,850.
Project purpose: (2006 to 2010): To provide comprehensive information on the planning situation of Palestinian villages in Area C, to support the prevention of house demolitions and improve living conditions of residents. Funding: 2006-07-£11,366, 2007-08-£45,956, 2009-10-£22,978.
Project purpose: To use legal actions and public advocacy to support free movement and access to goods, and to document human rights violations in Gaza. Funding: 2008-09-£70,010.
Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI)
Project purpose: (2006 to 2008) To raise awareness of Israeli obligations under international law to safeguard the rights of Palestinians in Hebron, through public advocacy and legal actions.
Project purpose: (2008-2009) To raise awareness of Israeli obligations under international law to safeguard the rights of Palestinians and to reduce incidents of violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms of Palestinians in the west bank through public advocacy and legal actions Funding: 2006-07-£42,000, 2007-08-£36,742, 2008-09-£73,000.
Project purpose: To record, highlight and challenge settlement expansion activities, through legal action, public advocacy and dialogue with Israeli officials. Funding: 2006-07-£109,990, 2007-08-£52,696, 2008-09-£117,000, 2009-10-£100,000, 2010-11-£93,000 (provisional allocation).
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Breaking the Silence
Project purpose: To raise international and Israeli public awareness of human rights violations in the Hebron area. Funding: 2006-07-£19,144, 2007-08-£32,856, 2008-09-£26,701, 2009-10-£56,455, 2010-11-£74,434 (provisional allocation).
Two of the NGOs referred to were supported by our bilateral programme funds. They were:
Project purpose: (2005-06): To investigate planning considerations of the route of the Separation Barrier and assist Palestinian communities to raise concerns. Funding: 2005-06-£30,000.
Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI)
Project purpose: To increase legal aid and advocacy work in cases of alleged torture and to support adoption of a human rights-based agenda. Funding: 2006-07-£15,000, 2007-08-£29,955.
Israeli Committee against House Demolition (ICAHD) and Mossawa have not been funded by either the MENA CP or the FCO Bilateral programme fund.