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Alastair McPhail

British Consul General to Jerusalem

Part of UK in Israel

27th November 2014 Jerusalem, Israel

There is a Future, in Jerusalem, for Palestinians

Last month one of my friends took me on a tour of the Old City with my son.  We jostled with the crowds shopping at Damascus Gate.  We ate kaek.  We smelt the pungent spices and coffee.  We felt humbled by the sight of Christian, Muslim and Jewish worshippers heading towards their holy sites. Jerusalem is beautiful. I am lucky to live here.

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At the Aqsa Mosque, after a meeting with the Waqf.

But I share the concern of many Palestinians that the Palestinian character of East Jerusalem is being eroded.  I have watched the events of my year here with consternation.  I have seen settlement building outside my window in Sheikh Jarrah.  I have heard the sounds of clashes coming from the Mount of Olives and Wadi al Joz and detected the whiff of tear gas in the air.  I have walked past the empty building of Orient House.  I have crossed several checkpoints surrounding the city.

The Palestinian character of East Jerusalem must be preserved, and the British government is determined to play its role in doing so.  We are committed to a negotiated two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the shared capital.  As EU Foreign Ministers have said, we must safeguard the position of East Jerusalem as the future Palestinian capital.  How are we working to do this?

Firstly, by our presence here.  I and the eight other Consuls General in Jerusalem have a unique role.  We have a responsibility to engage with Palestinian communities in Jerusalem, to understand the challenges that they face and to encourage actions which can help build a better future.  We do not accept the annexation of East Jerusalem.  Until final status negotiations are complete, we will continue to view Jerusalem as a corpus separatum, a city with a distinct status.

Secondly, we support Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem and the vital work they do to serve the people of East Jerusalem and provide local community leadership.  We helped the MADAA creative centre in Silwan to renovate its premises, enabling four hundred young people and women from Silwan to do sports and arts activities.  We provided funding to the Hakawati Palestinian National Theatre to run its puppet festival, providing enjoyment for 2,000 children.  We upgraded the facilities at the Burj al Luqluq centre in the Old City, which is now used by 500 people weekly.

We will continue to call for the re-opening of other Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem which have been closed down, including Orient House, the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce and other institutions in the city.  They have a role to play in serving the people of Jerusalem and taking positive action for the future. And alongside active Palestinian institutions, it is important that there is space for moderate Palestinian leadership in the city.  Palestinian officials should be able to serve Jerusalemites.  And Palestinians living in East Jerusalem should be fully represented.

Thirdly, we support Palestinian development and oppose settlement building in East Jerusalem.  We are working with the Jerusalem Community Advocacy Network to support families separated by residency rules or at risk of losing their homes.  We are supporting the International Peace Cooperation Centre’s work on urban planning in Palestinian neighbourhoods.  Settlement activities in East Jerusalem are not legitimate.  With the international community, we will continue to condemn settlement building in East Jerusalem as illegal and push the Israeli government to stop.

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At a visit to one of the centres run by Jerusalem Network for Community Advocacy (JCAN) today.

However, there can be no justification for violence, including as a way to change or preserve Jerusalem’s status.  We unreservedly condemn all violence, whoever the perpetrators are.  It harms all communities. We welcome the courageous words of President Mahmoud Abbas condemning last week’s terrible attacks on the synagogue in Jerusalem and support all those working to de-escalate tensions and promote calm. This is vital as part of allowing more positive progress to be made.

Last month I listened to the enthusiastic chants of the Al Issawiya girls’ football team and their supporters as they played on their community pitch. A couple of weeks later, sitting at home, I could hear the noise of the clashes in the same neighbourhood.  The Issawiya girls and other young people of Jerusalem, whether Palestinian or Israeli, deserve a future of peace and hope.

When our Prime Minister visited in March, he dared us to imagine the prize of taking difficult steps towards peace and a two-state solution: a future “Palestine without checkpoints”. A place where it is possible to visit family and friends wherever they may be, a place of dignity, freedom and security for the Palestinian people.  Today I dare you to imagine a future Jerusalem without checkpoints.  A shared capital where Palestinians and Israelis can travel freely and without fear to visit family or to shop.  Where neighbourhoods can build parks and new houses.  Where active Palestinian institutions are serving citizens under committed, elected Palestinian leadership. There is a future, in Jerusalem, for Palestinians.

2 comments on “There is a Future, in Jerusalem, for Palestinians

  1. Too bad the British government did not have a similar view of opposing the Jordanian government between 1948 and 1967 when it torn down Jewish homes, businesses and Synagogues in East Jerusalem. Stones from Synagogues where used to build pig pens and as paving blocks, but the Brits cared not.

    The Arabs would like to have East Jerusalem to be Jew free, a position I am sure you agree with. However I am sure you would feel nothing but outrage if the same yard stick were to be applied to West Jerusalem and the Arabs were kicked out.

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About Alastair McPhail

Dr Alastair McPhail CMG OBE was appointed Her Majesty’s British Consul General to Jerusalem in January 2014. Dr McPhail has worked in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for 19 years.…

Dr Alastair McPhail CMG OBE was appointed Her Majesty’s British
Consul General to Jerusalem in January 2014. Dr McPhail has worked in
the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for 19 years. He was HM Ambassador
to South Sudan from independence on 9 July 2011 until his departure in
March 2013. Prior to becoming Ambassador to South Sudan he was HM Consul
General in Juba from March 2011 until South Sudan became independent
and the Consulate General was upgraded to a sovereign Embassy.
From 1996-2000 he worked on the northern Iraqi Kurdish peace process.
He worked on Sudan from 2000-2005, first as Head of the Egypt, Libya
and Sudan Section in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, then as Head
of the Sudan Unit – the UK’s international team charged with supporting
the Sudan peace process – and finally as the UK Special Representative
for Sudan. Dr McPhail attended every round of the negotiations on the
Comprehensive Peace Agreement from the first session at Machakos to the
final session at Naivasha. After that he took up overseas roles such as
Minister and Deputy Head of Mission in the British Embassy in Rome,
Italy and as the UK Special Envoy to Mali during a hostage crisis.