Ambassador ‘torn over Israel flags in NI’

Union Jack and Israeli flags at the corner of Fountain Street and London Street.
Published on Thursday 21 February 2013 11:05

ONE of Israel’s most senior diplomats has said that he feels saddened that the country’s flag is flown to mark out some loyalist areas in Northern Ireland – but that he understands why many people identify with his people’s long struggle to survive. Israeli and Palestinian flags have long been flown in loyalist and republican areas of Northern Ireland respectively and the issue of flags has become increasingly debated following December’s vote in Belfast City Council to restrict the flying of the Union Flag from Belfast City Hall.

During a visit to the News Letter’s Belfast offices yesterday, Ambassador Daniel Taub said of flying of Israeli flags from lampposts in some areas: “In one sense, it’s sad for me to see. “We unfortunately find ourselves in a conflict in our area and we certainly don’t want to export conflict from our part of the world, we would rather try and be part of reconciliation and understanding. “On the other hand I have respect for people who have a parallel between their story and the story of the people of Israel.

“The fact is the people of Israel are people who came back after 3,000 years’ exile to their land, in many ways they were pioneers, they tried to build a society that was based on ambitions that had sustained them for all of those years. And I think that is something that has a tremendous resonance for a lot of people.”

He added: “In a sense when you have a story you lose control over it and it becomes part of the cultural heritage of mankind.” The Ambassador also said that Israel would negotiate with Hamas in the absence of decommission-
ing – in a similar way to how the British Government negotiated with the IRA prior to a handover of weapons. The diplomat said that his country, supported by the international community, had other tests for Hamas to pass before entering talks, including that it renounce the use of violence and accept the right of Israel to exist.

The Ambassador, who in a previous role visited Northern Ireland with a Palestinian diplomat several years ago, said: “I think that for Israelis and Palestinians to see the camps [in Northern Ireland] so clearly divided here is a little bit confusing because in our region it’s becoming clearer to us that it’s not a zero-sum game. “Israelis really want there to be a flourishing Palestinian state next to them; a lot of Palestinians also want to have good relations with Israel.

“We have unfortunately divisions within each camp, particularly in the Palestinian camp we have Hamas who are very much opposed to the idea of an accommodation and haven’t given up on the idea that we’ll disappear or be pushed into the sea.” When asked if he saw a time when Israel would negotiate with Hamas while the terror organisation holds on to its weapons – as happened with the IRA in Northern Ireland – the Ambassador said that the international community has set out actions which Hamas would have to take before it could be “a legitimate player”.

He said: “Interestingly, it’s not decommissioning that they’re asking for; what they’re asking for are a number of very simple tests: First to renounce the use of violence as a tactic, secondly to recognise that Israel has a right to exist – not necessarily to agree on the borders but to give up calling for a total destruction of Israel – and then not to reject all the agreements that we’ve reached so far... if Hamas were to agree to those principles there’s no reason why they should not become a partner in dialogue.”

When asked whether the Israeli government could carry its people’s support for negotiations with Hamas if the group accepted those international conditions, the Ambassador said that many Israelis believed that the organisation would never renounce terrorism but said that if those changes came about “it would be a very different Hamas to the Hamas that we have today”.

The British-born, Oxford-educated Ambassador’s mother was a refugee from Germany and her parents were refugees from Poland. He said: “When I presented my credentials to Her Majesty, she said: ‘How does it feel to be representing your country in the country that you were born in?’

“So I said to her: ‘I feel tremend-ously privileged that it fell to me to raise my children in their historic homeland after an exile of 2,000 years but I’m also very aware that in my family’s history, that arc of 2,000 years, the period of greatest opportunity and greatest hope was found here, in Britain. So I very deeply feel that what I want to do is express my appreciation by deepening the relations between the countries.”