GUESTS ATTENDING the Queen's birthday reception hosted by British Ambassador Tom Phillips were somewhat surprised to hear Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni speaking in favorable terms of the period of the British Mandate. But then it all became clear. Livni explained that her parents had met while robbing a British train, but had served time in different prisons.
Were it not for the Mandate, she might never have been born, she said, raising a laugh. (Livni did not elaborate, but Eitan and Sarah Livni were both pre-state Irgun activists - her father was an operations chief and her mother, who died recently, aged 85, was involved in several major operations. "I was disguised as a pregnant woman and robbed a train carrying £35,000," Sarah said in an interview shortly before she died.)
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Among the other guests were three representatives of the "Yesha" setters' council - chairman Danny Dayan, Shaul Goldstein and Yisrael Medad - who had been invited for the first time.
When Phillips was asked by this columnist whether the invitation signified a change of policy on the part of his government, his reply was: "We've always talked to them."
"Yes, but there's a difference between talking to them and inviting them."
Phillips smiled, retorting: "They know where we stand."
British Embassy invitations upset Palestinians
By Carolynne Wheeler
Last updated: 10:09 PM BST 18/06/2008
The British Embassy in Israel has shocked Palestinians after members of a hard-line Jewish settlers group were invited to a reception marking the Queen's birthday.
The British ambassador, Tom Phillips, hosted the event last week, inviting British expatriates and members of the Israeli political elite.
But the presence of the three guests from the Yesha Council, which represents Jewish settlers in the West Bank, has raised fears about a change in British policy. Britain has long held that Jewish settlements on the West Bank are illegal and an obstacle to peace.
Dani Dayan, the chairman of the Yesha Council, said: "We represent an integral and important part of the Israeli population, of more than 300,000 citizens, and we are glad to see the British embassy recognise this fact."
A spokesman for the embassy said: "In a way, it's very important for us to hear from them what's going on in the settlements."
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said: "The settlements are illegal and the European policy has not changed. To invite the [representatives of] settlements to parties... I think the British government should answer this question, not me."
Well, I'm shocked, I tell you, just shocked!