BICOM and Jewish News host gathering of Middle East experts in London

International Development Secretary Priti Patel, FCO Permanent Under Secretary Sir Simon McDonald, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry and Isaac Herzog MK, were among the speakers at a unique gathering of Middle East experts, officials and diplomats yesterday in Parliament for BICOM and the Jewish News’ third annual conference.

The conference was focused on the centenary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration and 100 years of British involvement in the Middle East. Emily Thornberry, who is visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories next week, said that Britain should recognise the State of Palestine, told attendees that there is “no place in the Labour Party for anyone holding the view that Israel should not exist” and confirmed the party’s continued support for the two-state solution as the best means for solving the conflict. She also spoke about the need for Palestinian terror to end if there is to be progress towards peace and an end to a situation where: “The young Israeli child grows up in a world where air raids, car rammings and stabbings remain a fact of life.”

Sir Simon McDonald told the conference “the second half of Balfour’s Declaration remains unfinished business”. Sir Simon also said that the UK wished for “a just and lasting resolution that ends occupation of the Palestinian territories and delivers security and peace for both Israelis and Palestinians,” adding that “we believe the best way to achieve this is through a two-state solution, based on the 1967 borders with agreed land swaps”.

Development Secretary Priti Patel praised the high level of bilateral trade and collaboration between Israel and the UK, saying: “In my role as DfID secretary, I am keen that we take this collaboration further to a new level.”

On the technological relationship, Deputy Foreign Editor of the Economist Anton La Guardia said: “Israeli hi-tech is mesmerising; the things they have come up with is quite astonishing.”

The conference also included a discussion about Israel’s security challenges, the shifting fortunes of key states such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran and the role of Russia and the US in the region, featuring BICOM CEO James Sorene, Israeli Maj. Gen. (res) Amos Gilad and former UK Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Sir John Jenkins. James Sorene spoke of the need to build a unified approach to Hezbollah, highlighting that the US administration does not draw a distinction between the military and political wings of Hezbollah but the EU and UK engage in “magical thinking” that there are separate organisations and only take action against the organisation’s military wing.

Discussing the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, Gilad said that “Hamas are very weak, that’s why they need reconciliation”.

Israel’s leader of the opposition Isaac Herzog praised the work of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in bringing the two sides together for negotiations, saying: “One cannot create two Palestinian states… The Egyptian effort is commendable.”

Former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Vice-Chair of the PLO committee for interaction with Israeli society Elias Zananiri also addressed the conference.

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