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With Comparison of Israel to Iraq, British Official Sparks War of Words

April 4, 2003
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Israel is furious that England’s top diplomat is comparing it to Iraq.

In a radio interview last week with the BBC World Service, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the West had been guilty of “double standards” by pressing Iraq harder than Israel to obey the United Nations.

“There is real concern that the West has been guilty of double standards, on the one hand saying the United Nations Security Council Resolutions on Iraq must be implemented; on the other hand sometimes appearing rather quixotic over the implementation of resolutions about Israel and Palestine,” Straw said.

Israel immediately protested to Britain’s ambassador to the Jewish state, calling Straw’s comments “worrisome and outrageous.”

“They do not contribute to the peace process, and might even hinder progress toward achieving a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict,” the director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry told Ambassador Sherard Cowper-Coles.

Israel rejected the “baseless attempt to create a linkage between the” Israeli-Palestinian conflict “and the international campaign against the Iraqi regime and its attempts to arm itself with weapons of mass destruction.”

A top adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon rejected Straw’s comments in the influential British daily the Financial Times.

“Mr. Straw appears to believe that comparing one of the world’s worst aggressors to Israel is appropriate,” Dore Gold wrote April 1.

“Such expressions,” Gold wrote, “hardly strike anyone acquainted with recent Middle East history as conveying any sense of justice.”

He pointed out that U.N. resolutions regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict put obligations on both sides, while resolutions on Iraq require action only of Saddam Hussein — an argument Straw himself has made recently in Britain’s Parliament.

Israel argues that the Arab parties have not met their obligations under the U.N. resolutions, while Israel alone is criticized for not complying.

An Israeli embassy spokeswoman said Britain has not apologized for Straw’s statement.

Britain has taken the lead recently in trying to restart the Middle East peace process, often angering Israel along the way.

Observers say that British Prime Minister Tony Blair needs to placate British public opinion, which tends to be more sympathetic to the Palestinians than is public opinion in the United States.

Blair is under particular pressure from the left wing of his own center-left Labor Party.

In January and February, London hosted two conferences aimed at reforming Palestinian Authority institutions.

Israel was not invited to the first one, and barred Palestinian delegates from attending after a double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv killed 23 Israelis and foreign workers days before the conference.

In his BBC interview, Straw called the travel ban on the Palestinians “quite unreasonable,” arguing that Palestinian reform was an essential step in the peace process.

“We are 100 percent committed to the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. To have a viable Palestinian state you’ve got to have viable institutions inside Palestine,” Straw said.

He also condemned Palestinian terrorism against Israel.

“I feel upset and angry about the plight of the Palestinians, but I also am angry and upset about the terror under which the Israelis have had to live and the way in which a combination of injustice to Palestinians and terror against Israelis have made it so difficult for those two fine people to live in peace,” he said.

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