Cllr Daniel Seal is a Barnet Borough Councillor and an Assistant Cabinet Member for Resources
With William Hague visiting Israel this week on the heels of a high-level UK trade delegation, this should be a good week for the Britain-Israel relationship. That’s not only a good thing for Britain and Israel, but it should be a good thing for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process also. The Foreign secretary’s visit to Israel will be part of an intensive three day trip which will also take in Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.
When he sits down with Israeli officials there will, be plenty of shared concerns to talk about. For Hague personally, a committed friend of Israel since his teens, this is another good opportunity to advance his agenda. As he made clear earlier this year, he is very concerned about the Israeli- Palestinian peace process, and is it therefore likely to feature prominently in his conversations with Israeli officials. His arrival is also preceded by important and helpful efforts to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist entity by the EU – a move thaty will be appreciated by his Israeli interlocutors, and which marks a fulfilment of one of our Government's policy objectives.
A host of other regional issues likely to be on the agenda too. The on-going violence in Syria is of clear concern to both countries. This will be a valuable opportunity for Hague to present to Israeli policy makers his latest thinking of assisting the Syrian resistance. Similarly, it will be important for Hague to understand Israel’s predicament over the volatility on Israel’s northern borders, including attempts by Hezbollah to get its hands on Syrian stocks of ‘game changing’ weapons.
Similarly, this will provide another opportunity for decision makers to share their latest assessments of Iran’s surge towards nuclear weapons, ahead of the latest IAEA report soon to be released. Intelligence cooperation between Britain and Israel in this field is believed to be extremely close.
Away from the diplomatic issues, these are dynamic times for Britain-Israel relations. In a variety of fields including commerce, education and innovation there are a range of exciting developments. Coinciding with Hague’s visit to the region, Rohan Silva, Senior Policy Adviser to David Cameron, is leading a high level UK business delegation being hosted by the UK Tech Hub, an offshoot of the British Embassy in Tel Aviv established to enable British industry to benefit from Israeli hi–tech ingenuity. This week’s delegation is seeking to wed UK’s world-leading retail industry with Israel’s advanced technological knowhow. It is projects like these which help to strengthen the bond between the two countries, whilst at the same time help stimulate the British economy.
In another positive development, Manuel Trajtenberg, a leading Israeli economist, was in London last week launching a new scholarship fund to increase Israeli-Arab participation in higher education. The plan is for the Israeli government to match the donations of international philanthropists. The first such partner will be the UK based Pears Foundation. Next month, the Governor of the Bank of Israel will also be visiting Britain as the keynote speaker at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange London Conference, and as the guest of honour at the British Israeli Business Awards Gala Dinner, alongside Sir Mervyn King.
There is a clear connection between promoting the Britain-Israel relationship and Britain’s engagement in the peace process. As President Obama demonstrated on his recent trip to Israel, displaying a commitment to partnership with Israel and an understanding of its security concerns goes a long way when it comes to encouraging Israel to make painful territorial concessions necessary for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Hague would do well to echo these sentiments loudly and clearly.
The visit comes at an opportune moment for the peace process. Indeed, it coincides with the visit of John Kerry who will be in Israel and the Palestinian Authority for a fourth time in two months. The two men are expected to have similar messages for both Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Since the Israeli election earlier this year, the new Israeli government has shown quiet restraint on new settlement construction in an effort to stimulate talks. This is a sensitive issue for the Israeli government – balancing competing interests within the governing coalition even more convoluted and divided than our own.
Similarly, under US pressure the Palestinians have temporarily shelved plans to launch any further unilateral initiatives within international organisations. The hope is the sides can establish enough good faith to return to direct negotiations as soon as possible. The UK has an important role in leading other EU states in support of the US efforts. Kerry and Hague will no doubt be urging both sides to maintain this restraint and to think creatively about how to further promote trust and establish the basis for returning to bilateral negotiations.
The stronger Britain’s relationship is with both Israel and the Palestinians, the more loudly Hague’s messages will be heard in both Jerusalem and Ramallah.