Short of cash, pro-Arab lobby in Britain plans to close doors

LONDON — Britain's pro-Arab political lobby will shut its doors in July, according to the lobby's director.

The Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding, which was established soon after the 1967 Six-Day War, issued a statement that it is experiencing "extremely difficult financial circumstances" and is planning to close by July 31.

The lobby's director, veteran legislator Sir Cyril Townsend, said the group's demise "now means that there will be no full-time body in Britain working to promote Arab interests and an understanding of the Arab world in Parliament, in government, the media, and in schools — just when it is most needed."

One of the lobby's final acts is an attempt to influence an upcoming visit to Israel by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The lobby, which continues on a volunteer basis, has called on its members to urge Blair not to visit holy sites in Jerusalem "under the auspices and control of Israeli officials" or to attend any events in Jerusalem that are designed to mark Israel's 50th anniversary celebration.

Members have also been asked to urge Blair to continue British opposition to Israeli settlement expansions and press for redeployments from the West Bank.

The lobby wants members to call on Blair to offer "full and unhesitating" support for Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, whose meeting last month with a Palestinian official at a proposed Jewish neighborhood in southeastern Jerusalem resulted in a diplomatic confrontation with Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu withdrew a dinner invitation after Cook's visit to Har Homa, which was widely described in Britain as a diplomatic debacle.

Meanwhile, Cook has been busy trying to repair relations with Israel and the British Jewish community — a move seen as an attempt to clear some of the diplomatic wreckage before Blair's scheduled trip to Israel.

Meeting with Jewish community leaders, who last week postponed a dinner at which he was to have been guest of honor, Cook stressed Britain's commitment to Israel and its "balanced approach" to the peace process.

He also agreed on the importance of joint efforts to reinforce the positive relationship between the British government and the British Jewish community.

Cook offered to address the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the community's representative organization, to elaborate his views on Israel and the region.

Board president Eldred Tabachnik, who led the five-person delegation, described the encounter as "most constructive and friendly."

Cook also held a separate meeting with Dror Zeigerman, Israel's ambassador to London, at which they agreed to put Cook's Har Homa visit behind them.

Cook, who described himself as a friend of Israel, briefed Zeigerman on a planned British Trade Week, to be held in Tel Aviv from May 10 to 14 to mark Israel's 50th anniversary.