Gov­ern­ment in chaos over ‘land grab’ video

For­eign Office and DFID clash over aid min­is­ter’s in­cen­di­ary re­marks

The Jewish Chronicle - - Front Page - BY MARTIN BRIGHT AND SI­MON ROCKER

THE GOV­ERN­MENT has been forced into an em­bar­rass­ing climb­down af­ter a min­is­ter de­scribed Israel’s se­cu­rity bar­rier as a “land grab” and said that Israel de­lib­er­ately took wa­ter away from the Palestinians.

Last week the For­eign Office and the Depart­ment for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment (DFID) claimed the com­ments by De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Alan Dun­can re­flected UK gov­ern­ment pol­icy.

But this week the two de­part­ments were at log­ger­heads af­ter Mr Dun­can’s views — ex­pressed in a video posted on the DFID web­site — sparked fury from com­mu­nity lead­ers and the Is­raeli Em­bassy.

The row re­sulted in Mr Dun­can or­der­ing the video to be re­moved from the web­site, claim­ing it had been “mis­in­ter­preted”.

The DFID, at­tempt­ing to ex­plain the volte-face, stated: “The video was aimed at high­light­ing DFID’S work to al­le­vi­ate poverty in the OPTS [Oc­cu­pied Pales­tinian Ter­ri­to­ries], as well as some of the key chal­lenges fac­ing the Pales­tinian peo­ple. Un­for­tu­nately, some el­e­ments were mis­in­ter­preted and Mr Dun­can has asked for it to be taken down”.

Asked to spec­ify which el­e­ments had been mis­in­ter­preted, ad­fid spokesman said the depart­ment would make no fur­ther com­ment on the mat­ter.

The JC un­der­stands that DFID of­fi­cials chose to over­ride For­eign Office ad­vice when they took the de­ci­sion to post Mr Dun­can’s com­ments on the web­site. They were orig­i­nally made dur­ing a trip to the West Bank ear­lier this year when the min­is­ter signed an agree­ment with Pales­tinian Prime Min­is­ter Salam Fayyad.

For­eign Office civil ser­vants have made it clear that they did not be­lieve Mr Dun­can had struck the right diplo­matic tone with the lan­guage he had used. How­ever, they did not re­fer the mat­ter to min­is­ters when DFID and Mr Dun­can de­fied the ad­vice.

In the video Mr Dun­can de­clared: “The wall is a land grab. It hasn’t just gone along the lines of the proper Israel bound­ary. It’s taken in open land which ac­tu­ally be­longs to Pales­tine”. he added: “Is­raeli set­tlers can build what they want and then im­me­di­ately get the in­fras­truc­ture so that takes the wa­ter de­lib­er­ately away from Palestinians here.”

The UK has pre­vi­ously told Israel that it be­lieves the se­cu­rity bar­rier en­croaches on Pales­tinian ter­ri­tory and the gov­ern­ment has a con­sis­tent pol­icy of op­po­si­tion to set­tle­ment build­ing.

The Board of Deputies wrote to Mr Dun­can on Mon­day to de­mand the with­drawal of the video, copy­ing in his boss, De­vel­op­ment Sec­re­tary An­drew Mitchell, and For­eign Sec­re­tary Wil­liam Hague.

The video was taken down shortly af­ter­wards. Board pres­i­dent Vi­vian Wine­man com­mented: “Mr Dun­can’s ap­par­ent dis­re­gard for Israel’s le­git­i­mate se­cu­rity con­cerns is of great con­cern.”

An Is­raeli Em­bassy spokesman said: “The re­al­ity on the streets of Israel was one where Pales­tinian sui­cide at­tacks scat­tered the limbs of hun­dreds of in­no­cent civil­ians across buses and restau­rants.

“Claim­ing that the se­cu­rity bar­rier, which has pre­vented the deaths of thou­sands more Is­raelis, is not for se­cu­rity pur­poses, shows a dis­re­spect for Is­raeli life, and we are there­fore con­vinced that this could not be the of­fi­cial Bri­tish gov­ern­ment po­si­tion.”

The JC was in­formed that the For­eign Office would clar­ify the UK gov­ern­ment’s po­si­tion in a state­ment on Tues­day. How­ever, a For­eign Office spokesman later said that the DFID state­ment was the gov­ern­ment’s last word.

Min­is­ter Alan Dun­can in the now aban­doned video, talk­ing about Israel’s se­cu­rity wall and wa­ter ‘theft’

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