Last update: 22/5/2013, 10.30 am GMT
- Foreign Secretary William Hague will visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority on 23-24 May, following a meeting in Jordan on 22 May of foreign ministers from the ‘Friends of Syria’ group.
- The visit to Israel and the PA will reflect both the high level of significance Britain attaches to advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and Britain’s bilateral relations with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
- The visit comes during a narrow moment of opportunity in the peace process, with US Secretary of State John Kerry engaged in intensive diplomacy to bring the parties into negotiations, and visiting the region at the same time.
- The visit also coincides with a UK government sponsored delegation bringing leading British retailers to connect with Israel’s hi-tech sector, led by Rohan Silva, a senior policy advisor to David Cameron. Hague himself is expected to emphasise the value of the Britain-Israel bilateral relationship, in the context of growing bilateral trade and scientific cooperation.
Why is the foreign secretary visiting the region?
- This will be William Hague’s second visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories since becoming foreign secretary in 2010. Though he was in Jordan in July 2012, he has not visited Israel and the Palestinian Territories since November 2010. Given that the foreign secretary said in February, that there “is no more urgent foreign policy priority in 2013 than restarting negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians,” it makes sense that he has chosen to make his presence felt personally.
- The tone of this visit is likely to balance clear expressions of support for Israel and commitment to the UK-Israel bilateral relationship, with a reaffirmation of British commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state, and a strong appeal to both Israelis and Palestinians to respond positively to US diplomatic efforts. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders around the same time.
- There are also some clear areas of common strategic concern between Britain and Israel that will be on the agenda. These include the on-going Syrian civil war and the resulting humanitarian crisis, regional instability, and potential weapons proliferation; as well as the Iranian advance towards nuclear weapons capability.
- The visit comes immediately after news that Britain has requested an EU wide proscription of the ‘military wing’ of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation, a development that will be welcomed in Israel.
What will the foreign secretary be doing?
- The foreign secretary will be in Jordan on Wednesday for a meeting of the ‘Friends of Syria’ group, before arriving in Israel on Thursday. Over Thursday and Friday he is expected to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, and several cabinet members. Due to the ongoing trial of Avigdor Lieberman, Prime Minister Netanyahu is acting foreign minister, and Hague is also expected to meet Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is responsible for the peace process, and key coalition partner and finance minister, Yair Lapid.
- The Foreign Secretary is also expected to reinforce the bilateral relationship, including through a visit to Hebrew University that will highlight the growing cooperation between Britain and Israel in science.
- Hague will also be meeting with representatives of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. He will likely pledge continuing political and practical support for the establishment of a Palestinian state whilst urging PA President Mahmoud Abbas to re-enter negotiations with Israel. He is likely to reiterate his opposition to Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank, and may seek to reinforce European calls for the PA to have more scope for development in Area C, which is under full Israeli control.
- The Foreign Secretary’s visit coincides with a UK government sponsored delegation bringing leading British retailers to make connections with Israel’s hi-tech sector, led by Rohan Silva, a senior policy advisor to David Cameron. This is a project of the UK-Israel Tech Hub established by British Ambassador Matthew Gould in 2011. They will be visiting Israeli hi-tech companies and incubators to find new investment opportunities and areas of cooperation.