THE BLOG
12/01/2012 17:56 GMT | Updated 13/03/2012 05:12 GMT

UK Action on Israel/Palestine

Okay, so it's always easy to be cynical about signs of life in the Israeli/Palestinian peace process. But (and it is a big but), I can't help feeling encouraged by the moderate success - or lack of failure - of recent talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Jordan.

Okay, so it's always easy to be cynical about signs of life in the Israeli/Palestinian peace process. Experience teaches one to be cautiously pessimistic about the chances of achieving anything any time soon. But (and it is a big but), I can't help feeling encouraged by the moderate success - or lack of failure - of recent talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Jordan, with Reuters saying:

The next two weeks may be crucial. Negotiators from the two sides are already holding exploratory talks under the auspices of Jordan's King Abdullah, who will visit US President Barack Obama next week to discuss the latest developments. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will travel to London, Berlin and Moscow - key stops to talk to members of the so-called Quartet of peacemaking powers pressing him to restart negotiations with Israel.

This comes at a time when the UK's Middle East Minister, Alistair Burt, has just visited Israel/Palestine, saying ahead of his visit:

Last week the efforts of King Abdullah of Jordan and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh saw the welcome return to talks by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. The UK strongly supports this development. During my visit I will be encouraging both sides to seize this opportunity and make real progress towards a negotiated two-state solution.

It's interesting to see that Mr Burt's visit has been welcomed in press releases from both Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Palestinian Authority's (PA) official news agency WAFA. Of equal interest is the fact that our own Foreign & Commonwealth Office's (FCO) press release on Mr Burt's visit to Israel is matched by another one on the website of the British Consulate-General in Jerusalem (our de facto embassy to the PA), about his meetings with senior Palestinians.

In another press release, the FCO is rightly keen to highlight Mr Burt's speech at Israel's Bar Ilan University, in which he made what I think is a good re-statement of where the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition Government stands on Israel/Palestine and the wider Middle East, including Iran. Of particular interest is his saying:

I have to tell you that the absence of progress towards peace, together with the almost weekly announcements of this tender or that planning permission for new building, has a real effect on how the world sees Israel.

There's a lot of talk of delegitimisation in Britain and elsewhere. And it's true that there are some people who are implacably opposed to Israel - to Israel's very existence. There have been since the first days of Zionism, and since Israel's creation in 1948, and I fear there always will be. There are some of my Parliamentary colleagues who will stand up condemn Israel at any opportunity. But these are not the ones you need to worry about.

The ones you need to worry about are the ones in the mainstream, the centre ground. The ones who used to stand up and support Israel, but now stay silent. Or the ones who used to be silent, but are now critical.

Because opinion is shifting - among my colleagues in Parliament, among the British public, and more widely. It's not yet catastrophic, and it's not quick. But it is happening, and you should care, just as I care as someone who has for decades counted himself as an ardent friend of Israel.

We can argue for hours about who is to blame for the failure to make peace. It won't get us very far, and if you go back far enough some of you might say it's the fault of the British anyway.

But stepping aside from the blame game, some 25 years in the British Parliament have made me realise that for as long as there is no progress towards peace, and for as long as Israel continues to build across the Green Line, Israel risks losing friends.

To those in any British political party who, in place of all this diplomatic activity and reasonable attempts at discussion, would rather engage in the emotive politics of one-sided denunciation, I would say: "Shut up, the grown-ups are talking." The grown-ups are indeed making another attempt at constructive British engagement in the Israel/Palestine peace process. It must be hoped that they succeed.