William Hague backs Israel over Uefa football tournament

England under-21 captain Jordan Henderson is likely to feature in Israel (Photo: AP)

England under-21 captain Jordan Henderson is likely to feature in Israel (Photo: AP)

Foreign Secretary William Hague has backed Israel’s right to host this summer’s Uefa under-21 football tournament.

He said the flagship competition – due to take place at stadiums in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Netanya and Petah Tivka in June – would not obstruct peace efforts in the region.

Anti-Israel campaigners have lobbied Uefa and European governments to demand Israel be stripped of the tournament, which will feature the continent's leading young footballers.

Discussing the Middle East peace process in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Mr Hague was asked by Liberal Democrat MP Bob Russell why the government was supporting the tournament.

Mr Russell questioned why Palestinian leaders should trust Britain “when there is not a level playing field — literally — because the government are supporting a European international football tournament taking place in Israel?”.

Mr Hague replied: “I do not believe that sporting fixtures should be an obstacle to political progress of any form, and I do not think they will be in this case.”

He said both Israeli and Palestinian leaders had a “level of trust” in the United States and other countries, including Britain.

Mr Hague will visit the region in the coming weeks in an attempt to “accelerate everything that we are talking about”.

He said rocket attacks on Eilat last week hampered peace efforts. Mr Hague also reiterated the government’s condemnation of Israeli settlement building in the West Bank. He said the development of more settlements could make a two-state solution “no longer practical”.

In June last year Uefa president Michel Platini rejected calls to move the under-21 tournament and rebuked the Palestinian Football Association for lobbying against Israel. He said Israel had “earned the right to host the competition through a fair, democratic vote”.

Last updated: 10:34am, April 24 2013