The British government's plan to rent new premises in a Tel Aviv skyscraper has sparked a wave of protests that their prospective landlord is a major participant in Jewish settlement-building in the West Bank, the London-based The Independent reported Saturday.
The British Embassy has been in negotiations to lease three floors in Kirya Tower from Africa Israel Investments, a company controlled by property and diamonds billionaire Lev Leviev.
According to the report, Pro-Palestinian organizations are urging the British Foreign Office to cancel the plans, arguing that one of the company's subsidiaries is prominent in settlement building and that Leviev is a big contributor to the Land Redemption fund, which acquires Palestinian land for Jewish settlements.
Daniel Machover of the UK-based Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights organization said in a letter to The Independent that renting space from Leviev is "tantamount to HM Government condoning Israel's settlement building, supporting clear violations of international law, which in some cases (amounts) to grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and hindering the possibility of peace in the Middle East".
According to The Independent, most Western governments – including Britain's – regard settlements as illegal under international law.
Machover pointed out that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown strongly criticized continued settlement expansion on his visit to the Middle East this year.
Danya Cebus, a construction subsidiary of Africa Israel, has been accused by human rights activists of building homes in a number of West Bank settlements including the ultra-Orthodox settlement Modiin Illit, close to the Palestinian village of Bilin, the report said.
Several months ago, the UN children's fund UNICEF decided to to review its relationship with Leviev after a campaign by Adalah-NY and found "at least a reasonable grounds for suspecting" that the billionaire's companies were building settlements in occupied territory.
"I can confirm that UNICEF has advised Adalah in New York that it will not be entering into any partnerships or accepting financial contributions from Lev Leviev or his corporate people," Chris de Bono, a senior adviser to the executive director of UNICEF, told Reuters at the time.
"We are aware of the controversy surrounding Mr. Leviev because of his reported involvement in construction work in the occupied Palestinian territory," de Bono said, adding that it was UNICEF's policy to have partners who were "as non-controversial as possible."