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July 20, 2015 10:10 am

Dear UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond

avatar by David Harris

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British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond claimed Israel does not want a nuclear deal but a "permanent state of stand-off." Photo: Harland Quarrington, Ministry of Defense.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond claimed Israel does not want a nuclear deal but a “permanent state of stand-off.” Photo: Harland Quarrington, Ministry of Defense.

Dear Foreign Secretary Hammond,

Speaking in Parliament last week on the eve of your visit to Israel, you said the following:

“The question you have to ask yourself is what kind of a deal would have been welcomed in Tel Aviv. The answer of course is that Israel doesn’t want any deal with Iran. Israel wants a permanent state of stand-off…”

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Frankly, your statement was disappointing, all the more so coming from a friendly country under the admired leadership of Prime Minister David Cameron.

First, there was the reference to Tel Aviv.

Was it necessary to mention the city, or just the slightest bit gratuitous?

After all, even if the United Kingdom does not recognize the reality of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, why add fuel to the fire by inventing a would-be capital, Tel Aviv?

Was it to Tel Aviv that you travelled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? Of course not. You saw him in his office in Jerusalem, and then held your joint press conference there.

And, as you well know, Israel’s President, Parliament, Supreme Court, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and just about every other official office is located in Jerusalem.

That’s to be expected, of course.

It is Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv, that represents the geographic, spiritual, metaphysical, and historical center of both Israel and the Jewish people.

It is Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv, that is mentioned 669 times in the Hebrew Bible.

It is toward Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv, that Jews worldwide pray.

It is the words “Next year in Jerusalem, not “Next year in Tel Aviv,” that conclude the Yom Kippur service and the Passover Seder.

It is Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv, that is mentioned in the ancient Psalms, in such verses as “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (122); “Jerusalem is surrounded by mountains as God surrounds his people forever” (125); “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning” (137); and “The builder of Jerusalem is God…” (147).

And the traditional consolation for a Jewish mourner is “May you find comfort among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem,” not “Zion and Tel Aviv.”

It’s painful enough that the U.K. and other Western nations single out only Israel, among all the world’s countries, by refusing to acknowledge its capital, even though that’s where business has been conducted for decades, but then throwing Tel Aviv into the mix in the way you did, frankly, only adds insult to injury.

And second, you declared, even before you had the chance to sit down with the Israeli leader shortly after the P5+1 deal with Iran was announced, that “Israel doesn’t want any deal with Iran,” but rather “a permanent state of stand-off.”

I beg to differ.

Yes, Israel is unhappy with the agreement announced in Vienna. That’s no secret. And, remarkably, in a democratic country where politicians are usually at each other’s throats, government and opposition leaders stand pretty much as one on this issue. And, according to the latest polls, up to four-fifths of Israelis see their country endangered by the deal.

Their concern should, at the very least, be respected, even if the factors motivating the P5+1, I realize, go well beyond the security of Israel.

After all, Israel’s geography is immutable, and its neighborhood is not the most pleasant or secure.

Iran continues to call for Israel’s annihilation – yes, even after the deal was sealed in Vienna. Nothing has changed on that front.

The international community’s original vision of dismantling the sanctions regime in exchange for Iran’s dismantling of its nuclear infrastructure gave way to a conceptually different kind of arrangement, which does buy valuable time, but, in the end, delays but does not eliminate the emergence of Iran as a nuclear threshold state.

Meanwhile, Iran will receive in short order up to $150 billion in frozen assets, plus new trade and investment opportunities. How much of the cash bonanza will be distributed to Hamas, Hezbollah, the IRGC, and other implacable enemies of Israel (and its Arab neighbors), making life still more difficult for the Jewish state and the region? Even if, for argument’s sake, it’s just five to ten percent, that represents a huge windfall for these nefarious groups.

The Western response to allay Arab countries’ anxieties about the Iran deal – which, of course, are no less than Israel’s – includes sending still more weapons, making the most arms-laden area in the world potentially still more dangerous and combustible.

And last but by no means least, Israel’s aim is, and always has been, peace, not war.

Israel was not reborn in 1948 to be in “a permanent state of stand-off” with anyone, but rather to fulfil the prophetic vision of peace and coexistence, which had largely eluded the Jewish people for 2,000 years in the diaspora.

Israel’s leaders across the board believe that a better deal on the key provisions could have been struck with Iran.

They argue that the P5+1 held most of the cards. Between the devastating impact of sanctions and slumping oil prices, Iran was on the ropes and could have conceded more, but it shrewdly outnegotiated its adversaries.

That’s a far cry from suggesting that Israel does not want to see a deal under any circumstances.

In the end, if the current agreement goes forward and proves better than expected, Israeli leaders would, I hope, admit they erred and offer suitable apologies.

But if it goes worse than advertised, then it will be Israel, plus its Arab neighbors, that will pay the heaviest price. At that point, apologies from the P5+1, I fear, won’t be of much help.

Respectfully,

David Harris

This article was originally published by The Times of Israel.

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