Diplomacy - or mixed messages?

By Martin Bright, May 5, 2011

It is becoming increasingly difficult to trace the twists and turns of the government's position on Israel. First, David Cameron used a speech in Ankara to describe Gaza as a prison camp and condemned Israel's boarding of the Turkish flotilla as completely unacceptable; then he told the CST that Israel has the right to search shipping that enters its territorial waters.

The coalition has pressed on with reform of the law on universal jurisdiction in an apparent bid to improve diplomatic relations with Israel, while expressing a growing frustration with the intransigence of the Netanyahu government.

The latest statements from Mr Cameron and Mr Hague welcoming the Fatah-Hamas unity deal take the policy confusion on to a whole new plane.

This is not the first time William Hague has found himself overtaken by history. Before the Arab Spring, the Foreign Secretary was determined to develop better relations with Syria in order to prise the Assad regime away from Iran.

Now he looks like a man out of time. His warm words welcoming the Fatah-Hamas pact were followed with excruciating speed by a statement from the terror organisation condemning the killing of the "Muslim warrior" Osama bin Laden and praying that his soul should rest in peace.

Pressed on the issue in Parliament, the PM also chose to put a positive spin on the agreement. In a now familiar pattern it was then left to Middle East Minister Alistair Burt, a consistent supporter of Israel, to clarify Mr Cameron's words. The new agreement, he explained, was only to be seen in the context of the Quartet principles.

This was an honest attempt to square the circle, but it is difficult to see how it can be sustained. Hamas is a terrorist organisation.

The current "optimistic" position of the UK government is little more than wishful thinking. It would indeed be a positive move if Hamas embraced the Quartet principles. But then it would not be Hamas.

Last updated: 11:10am, May 5 2011