By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent
4 March 2009
Africa-Israel's Kirya Tower in central Tel Aviv.
The British embassy in Tel Aviv has stopped negotiations to lease a floor in Africa-Israel's Kirya Tower because of the company's role in West Bank settlement construction.
The British embassy had been expected to move from its current Hayarkon Street location into the office tower on the corner of Kaplan and Begin. The lease would have cost $162,000 a year, the British press reported.
Africa-Israel is owned by Lev Leviev, a tycoon who recently left Israel and settled in Britain.
After the planned move was publicized in the daily Globes about a year ago, British pro-Palestinian groups began protesting. The press ran several pieces detailing the activities of Africa-Israel and its subsidiary Danya Cebus, and its role in three West Bank construction projects: Matityahu East, Har Homa in Jerusalem, and in Ma'aleh Adumim.
The British press also published several petitions calling on the Foreign Office not to move its embassy to Africa-Israel's building. One such petition, which appeared in the Guardian several months ago, was signed by Palestinian Authority parliamentarians including Hanan Ashrawi and Mustafa Barghouti.
The petition said that moving the embassy into a building owned by a company that builds in the settlements would send a message contravening British policy, and would be tantamount to criminal complicity.
The petitioners also argued that choosing this location would enable Israel to continue violating Palestinian human rights in the West Bank.
Due to the public pressure, a special debate was held in the British parliament several months ago. Kim Howells, then minister of state at the Foreign Office charged with Middle East affairs, was asked to explain plans to move to the embassy into the building.
Ambassador Tom Phillips requested details from Africa-Israel about the nature of its activities in the settlements, and a week ago, the British embassy in Tel Aviv received the information. As a result, plans to move into the tower were frozen.
The embassy in Tel Aviv confirmed the details of the story and explained that its decision stemmed from the fact that Africa-Israel's response regarding its involvement in settlement activity failed to assuage Britain's concerns.
In a letter to Leviev, ambassador Phillips said that the decision was made even though 51 percent of the building no longer belongs to Africa-Israel.
An embassy spokesmen said that the search for a new location in Tel Aviv will continue.