Palestinian envoy dismisses UK approach to resolving Israeli occupation as 'charade'

Exclusive: Invitation for Speaker of the Knesset to speak in Parliament draws scathing response from ambassador

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The Palestinian envoy to Britain has dismissed the Government’s approach towards resolving Israeli occupation as a “charade” and attacked an invitation for the Speaker of the Knesset, who lives in an illegal settlement, to speak in Parliament.

Yuli Edelstein, who presides over the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem and lives in the Jewish settlement of Neve Daniel in the West Bank, will address MPs and peers at an event organised by the British  Group Inter-Parliamentary Union next month. 

But Manuel Hassassian, who serves as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s UK ambassador, believes his appearance will be seen as legitimisation of Israeli occupation. 

“Mr Edelstein lives on an illegal Israeli settlement built on Palestinian land and he publicly opposes Palestinian statehood,” he writes in an article published by today. “He even supports initiatives such as Lobby for Greater Israel, whose members want to colonise what is left of Palestinian land.”

He added: “I am quite incredulous that Mr Edelstein is being given a platform in Parliament itself… the self-same Parliament that only a short time ago voted to recognise the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and a state of their own.”

Who is Yuli Edelstein?

Born in Ukraine in 1958, Yuli Edelstein was a Jewish dissident who was arrested by the KGB in 1984 on false charges of drug possession and sentenced to three years in a labour camp. He emigrated to Israel with his family after his release in 1987 and later described being “routinely beaten black and blue” during his time in prison. Mr Edelstein was a founding member of the right wing Yisrael ba-Aliya party, and served as Minister for Immigrant Absorption in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. He was also the Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs between 2009 and 2013. The speaker of the Knesset for the past three years, he is a widower and has two children.

More than 230 Israeli settlements are home to 680,000 people, in what Mr Hassassian says “constitutes a creeping annexation”. 

Tobias Ellwood, the Foreign Office minister for the Middle East, said in November: “The UK’s position on settlements is clear. They are illegal under international law, present an obstacle to peace and take us further away from a two-state solution.”

But Mr Hassassian said: “The current British Government is reneging on its long-held policy positions on illegal Israeli settlements and on the two-state solution. Are these positions just empty words?”

Mr Edelstein, Speaker of the Knesset for three years, has been a minister in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. His appearance in Westminster comes amid consternation among political activists at guidance issued by the Cabinet Office to stop “inappropriate procurement boycotts by public authorities”.

There are concerns it will interfere with the long-running Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israeli products, after the Cabinet Office said: “Any discrimination against Israeli suppliers involving procurements would therefore be in breach of the agreement.”

But Mr Hassassian said: “It is the failure of British Government to hold Israel to account for contravening international law that has led to popular action by the British public to make ethical choices and support BDS. 

“This is being criminalised by the Government in its new ‘guidance’ on the Boycott movement, allowing Israel to act with total impunity.”

The Foreign Office said: “The UK’s position on Israeli settlements is clear and unchanged: they are illegal under international law  and are an obstacle to peace.”