Editorial, The Guardian – 24 March 2010
The forging of British passports is the work of a country which believes it can act with impunity when planning the murder of its enemies
Expulsions of Israeli diplomats from Britain are few and far between. The last one took place in 1988 and only after serial provocations – when a Mossad agent left an envelope containing eight forged passports in a German telephone box, and when, a year later, a Palestinian working as a Mossad double agent was found with six suitcases of arms and explosives in Hull. The affair was swiftly hushed up. This time, the expulsion yesterday of an Israeli diplomat over the use of cloned British passports used by a Mossad murder squad, was accompanied by an unprecedented statement by the foreign secretary, David Miliband.
He all but accused the Israeli government of participation in a criminal, terrorist conspiracy. He said that given that high-quality forgeries were made of British passports, it was “highly likely” the forgeries were made by a state intelligence service and that, taken with other inquiries from the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), there were compelling reasons to believe that Israel was responsible for the misuse of British passports. The inference was clear. If Israel as a government was responsible for the forgery of passports, it was responsible too for the murder of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the founder of Hamas’s military wing, in Dubai.
As Mr Miliband was speaking, the gap that had opened up between the United States and Israel over its refusal to stop building in East Jerusalem, widened still further. This is land which Israel has annexed but which the rest of the world regards as occupied Palestinian territory. Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, warned that the peace talks could be delayed for another year unless Palestinians dropped their “illogical and unreasonable” demand for a full settlement freeze. The day before he said that if the Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago they could build there today, and the nearly 250,000 Jews living in neighbourhoods beyond the green line today were an “integral and inextricable” part of modern Jerusalem.
Jerusalem was not a settlement, he said, it was the capital of Israel. These are not the words of a government prepared to negotiate what all Israelis know is a central demand of final status negotiations – Jerusalem becomes the capital of a Palestinian state. King Abdullah of Jordan, one of only two Arab states that has signed a peace treaty with Israel, called the sovereignty of the holy city a red line. Israel’s statements on East Jerusalem condemn the talks before they have even begun.
Both events in London and Washington are the marks of an arrogant nation that has overreached itself. The forging of British passports is the work of a country which believes it can act with impunity when planning the murder of its enemies, while simultaneously claiming to share the values of a law-based state. Mr Netanyahu’s statements in Washington, made as he was preparing to meet Barack Obama, are the mark of a leader who thinks he can openly defy the will of Israel’s closest military ally. As Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said, continued construction in East Jerusalem undermines America’s ability to play any effective role in the peace process. She could not have been more explicit in her warning that the chances of America being able to persuade the Arab world to recognise Israel were diminishing by the month. In neither case does Mr Netanyahu see that he is eroding the very ground on which he stands.
Mr Netanyahu has to face the consequences of an ideological stand over East Jerusalem which precludes any other. Here, as in the rest of the West Bank, where the number of Jewish settlers has more than doubled since the Oslo peace accords were signed in 1993, Israel is pre-empting the shape of the final agreement by creating facts on the ground. No deal with the Palestinians can be made in these conditions.