Alistair Burt: 'This year should be a year of peace'
I hope that the UK and Israel can continue to expand our co-operation in 2013.
Israel and the UK have been building new ties in fields such as life sciences, medicine and hi-tech. Only last month the UK appointed our first tech envoy in the world — to Israel. Our co-operation creates jobs, expands understanding and improves lives. We will redouble these efforts.
Developing our economic partnership goes hand in hand with our unwavering commitment to Israel’s long-term security. We understand Israel continues to face clear dangers as a result of regional turmoil: an Iranian nuclear programme; the effect of instability in Syria and beyond; and the threat of terrorism, as I saw in November when I visited areas of southern Israel, and victims, targeted by the rockets from Gaza.
The British government is clear: the people of Israel have a right to live peacefully and free from terror.
The best and indeed only sustainable way to achieve this is through a negotiated two-state solution, giving Israelis the peace and security to which they are entitled, and the Palestinians the state they need and deserve.
It is critical and urgent to achieve peace before the window on a two-state solution finally closes. We are therefore calling on the international community, led by the US and supported by Europe, to make a huge effort to revive the peace process. Britain wants, in 2013, the most intensive push for peace since the Oslo Accords. For that we will need bold and courageous leadership from both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, prepared to engage in serious negotiations without preconditions.
For Israel this also means stopping illegal settlement building, which undermines trust and makes peace harder to achieve. Whilst it would be convenient not to mention it, it would be wrong. Recent settlement announcements have damaged Israel’s standing and inspired widespread condemnation. Whilst the UK has no doubt about Israel’s good faith in advancing peace, it worries me that others now question this.
A peace agreement with the Palestinians would be the very best answer to those who seek to challenge the security or legitimacy of Israel. The UK’s fundamental support for Israel’s security and legitimacy is the bedrock underpinning our relationship. It is the basis on which I hope to see 2013 as the “year of peace” for Israelis, Palestinians, and all people of the region.
Alistair Burt is Minister for the Middle East