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Israel shedding allies as government goes 'from bad to worse'

The east Jerusalem Jewish settlement of Pisgat Zeev is seen behind a section of Israel's controversial separation barrier in east Jerusalem.

Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images/Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images

The list of Israel's friends is quickly becoming a lot shorter than that of its former friends. To the second category can be added a number of OECD member countries and officials, a leading British film director and the King of Morocco -who have all in the past few days cited increasing unease with Israel's policies toward Palestinians.

Morocco's King Mohammed VI has always been, like his father King Hassan XII, a quiet friend of Israel and the Jewish people. Just last month he reportedly donated millions of dollars to refurbish Jewish cemeteries in Morocco.

The King and his father felt a particular kinship with Israeli President Shimon Peres. So as Morocco prepared to host next week a session of the World Economic Forum, at which Mr. Peres was to be a participant, it was natural to invite the Israeli to the palace for a visit.

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That, according to members of Mr. Peres's staff, was the way things stood until the government of Benjamin Netanyahu ended the freeze on Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank at the end of last month. Then last week, the government announced tenders for more than 200 housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

On Saturday night, Mr. Peres received the word: He was not welcome at the Moroccan palace at this time.

"It is reasonable to think that the President is furious, and rightly so," wrote Shalom Yerushalmi in Monday's Maariv newspaper. "Last Monday, Peres criticized Netanyahu, saying 'Now is the time for leadership that will take historic decisions,'" Mr. Yershalmi recalled, adding that, "until a short while ago, Peres believed in Netanyahu - not any more."

Word of that international setback had barely emerged Monday when news came that celebrated British director Mike Leigh had cancelled plans for his week-long visit to Israel next month owing to Israeli government policies. The director of Secrets and Lies and Vera Drake had agreed to deliver a master workshop to Israeli film students and to meet with film people in several centres.

In a letter to his Israeli host, Renen Schorr, director of the Sam Spiegel Film and TV School, Mr. Leigh wrote that he had almost cancelled his plans after the flotilla incident in May, when Israeli commandos boarded a ship bound for Gaza and several people were killed.

"Since then, your government has gone from bad to worse," he told Mr. Schorr. He cited "the resumption of the illegal building on the West Bank," and the matter of an oath of loyalty to the "Jewish state" the government proposes to administer to all non-Jews who seek to become Israeli citizens (primarily directed at people who marry Arab Israelis).

"This is the last straw," Mr. Schorr said.

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Meanwhile, OECD officials are arriving in Jerusalem for a conference on tourism that almost was cancelled as well.

Less than half of the OECD's 33 member countries are sending delegates, and some of those missing are believed to have been uncomfortable with staging a conference here at this politically charged time.

They and several OECD officials became particularly alarmed when Israel's Minister of Tourism, Stas Misezhnikov, a member of Avigdor Lieberman's right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party, announced that holding the conference in Jerusalem was "a seal of approval on the fact that we have a state whose recognized capital is Jerusalem."

The declaration was said to have upset OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria, who only a few months ago had presided over the acceptance of Israel's membership in the club of developed nations. None of those states has accepted Israel's claim to all of Jerusalem, much of which was occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War.

"By hosting the OECD conference in Jerusalem, Israel seeks de facto recognition of its illegal annexation of East Jerusalem," said Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator in peace talks with Israel. He added Monday that it "creates the perception that the OECD is complicit with Israel's provocative and unlawful actions in this occupied city."

It is reported that in exchange for allowing the conference to go ahead in Jerusalem, the Israeli government pledged it would maintain a low political profile at all events related to the OECD meeting. Planned excursions for delegates to sites such as the Dome of the Rock and Western Wall were cancelled, since they are located in the occupied sector of the city.

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About the Author
Global Affairs reporter

As Global Affairs Writer, Patrick Martin’s primary focus is on the turbulent Middle East, to which he travels regularly. He has twice been posted to the region – from 1991-95 and from 2008-12. More

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