Foreign Secretary, William Hague, made an unannounced appearance at this year’s Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) annual delegates’ reception. His appearance was met with raucous applause from majority of the 200-strong audience.
Hague praised Mr Alistair Burt, Minister of State for the Middle East, who was also in attendance, for his long-standing commitment as a friend of Israel and assured the audience that he was the best man for the job. He then went on to confirm his own deep-rooted membership and support for the CFI.
Mr Hague disclosed that during his recent discussions with Israeli ministers, they agreed that Iran was the foremost problem for the Middle East. He promised the CFI audience and Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor that the current coalition government remains fully committed to amending the existing legislation right on Universal Jurisdiction. Justice Secretary Ken Clarke is expected to table new legislation in the House of Commons in coming weeks. Ken Clarke confirmed this when asked by the Middle East Monitor (MEMO) what plans there were to deal with the issue of Universal Jurisdiction. When asked if the coalition partners were in total agreement he replied that the right to citizen’s arrest will remain but anything more detailed would need to be reviewed by the relevant authorities ‘or else half the leaders of the Middle East would be arrested’. This seems to be in contradiction to a comment from a senior back bench Liberal Democrat who noted that the Lib Dems still remained committed to their goal of upholding Universal Jurisdiction.
Although the Conservative Party have stated that changes to Universal Jurisdiction were not influenced by one particular country, Mr Hague did note that he had phoned Ms Tzipi Livni and this news was received with a very warm welcome from her.
He went on to say that the coalition government have called on the Israeli government to extend the moratorium on the construction of settlements but noted typically, ‘we should respect that this is a difficult issue for the Israeli government’.
He concluded by encouraging business and investment links between Israel and the UK and proudly confirmed that he would be visiting Israel within the next few months for the first time as British Foreign Secretary.
Not surprisingly, Hague he did not make an appearance at the well attended Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC) and Council for Arab and British Understanding (CAABU) fringe meeting. Alan Duncan, Minister of State for International Development, gave an impressive speech stressing that the ‘most vexed’ issues pertained to the ‘illegal Israeli settlements.’ He had earlier expressed the same sentiments at the joint NewStatesman and Medical Aid for Palestinians fringe event.
Whilst it may be encouraging to see a number of fringe events pertaining to Palestine and the Middle East, perhaps a reflection of a slight shift in the foreign policy direction in Conservative party reiterating David Cameron’s comments that ‘Gaza is a prison camp’, the well-attended CFI fringe is evidence that the Conservative party still has a long journey to make.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.