Blair addresses “Balfour to Brexit” conference in Jerusalem

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Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke yesterday at the “From Balfour to Brexit” conference in Jerusalem to mark the centenary of the Balfour declaration.

Blair said he thought the UK had never been constrained by the EU on foreign policy issues but noted an anomaly that from Margaret Thatcher onwards all British Prime Ministers had embraced the single market but Eurosceptics were fiercely opposed to EU defence commitments. It now appears reversed as Brexit will take the UK out of the single market but Brexiteers were embracing EU defence cooperation.

On Israel-Palestinian relations Blair was optimistic that there was new leadership emerging in the Middle East among the Sunni states that could precipitate positive long term change. Blair said in his conversations with Arab leaders he was seeing a new commitment to a “rule based economy” and the rule of law. He also said they recognised that the politicisation of Islam was a mistake and in the future one needs religious tolerance within society. Blair said that “changes in the region are creating new alliances and new opportunities,” and that “there is an Arab leadership starting to formulate a view of their history which does not involve the demonisation of Israel.”

Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni praised security cooperation between Israel and the UK and told the conference that in a recent discussion with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson about Israel and the Palestinians she urged him not to “choose sides, but be pro peace.  The Palestinians have already agreed to a demilitarised state, so support Israeli security and the right to defend itself.  That then gives you more traction to criticise specific policy you disagree on.”

A panel discussion involving Israeli Ambassador to the UK Mark Regev, Deputy UK ambassador to Israel Tony Kay, BICOM CEO James Sorene and former Sky News Foreign Editor Tim Marshall discussed UK-Israel relations after Brexit.

Regev argued that the UK still punches above its weight, relative to other European countries, that they are the most important European state and though it is too soon to know he does not expect a significant change in policy post-Brexit. Regev noted that Israeli Bonds have been sold on the London Stock Exchange twice this year, have raised 2.25 billion Euros and been oversubscribed.

Deputy Ambassador Tony Kay quoted Prime Minister Theresa May from earlier this week when she said: “We look forward to the centenary of the Balfour Declaration in November. Born of that letter, the pen of Balfour, and of the efforts of so many people, is a remarkable country. Of course, there are great challenges in the region, and we will do everything we can to support efforts towards building a two-state solution and the lasting peace that we all want to see.

“But as Prime Minister, I am proud to say that I support Israel and it is absolutely right that we should mark the vital role that Britain played a century ago in helping to create a homeland for the Jewish people.”

The “Balfour to Brexit” conference also launched a new Centre for UK-Israel relations at Mishkenot Shaananim that has been established in memory of the late Sir Naim Dangoor.