William Hague to visit Israel, but will anyone care?

By Jenni Frazer, October 28, 2010

William Hague is due to make his first visit as Foreign Secretary to Israel next week, expected to include a meeting with leaders of the Palestinian territories.

He will not go to Gaza, although he is due to head to Cairo to meet the Egyptian government.

Mr Hague is no stranger to Israel: he has paid several visits, beginning in 1992, often under the aegis of the Conservative Friends of Israel.

He has described himself as a "candid friend" and proved that in 2007 when he infamously described Israel's military actions in Lebanon as "disproportionate," a charge he has also levelled at its actions in Gaza. He was also unhappy over Israeli responses to the Gaza flotilla in June, though commentators said he was not as strident as he might have been.

The visit is hosted by his counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman. Top of the agenda for the Israelis will be universal jurisdiction, the legal impediment which has prevented Israeli leaders coming to the UK for fear of arrest.

The Conservatives made a pre-election pledge that the law would be changed and have said since they will act, but observers note that there was no announcement in the Queen's Speech.

Mr Hague is likely to make the renewal of the moratorium on building in the settlements the issue on which he will press hardest. It is understood he may meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Opposition leader Tsipi Livni. The meetings were not confirmed at the time of going to press.

Mr Hague is believed to be taking several scientists with him to discuss improved scientific co-operation and bilateral relations.

Israel is keen for the British government to make a definitive statement denouncing the continued delegitimisation and demonisation of Israel, including the escalation in boycotts, and it is hoped that the Foreign Secretary will make such a declaration.

Anshell Pfeffer writes: It is hard to recall a time in which Britain was so inconsequential to the Middle East. Few Israeli diplomats are even aware he is coming and even fewer care.

Tony Blair was a diplomatic star as the closest world leader to the American president. But since Barack Obama's election, British foreign policy lost its greatest asset, its image as the closest US ally. Gordon Brown at least had some international stature, David Cameron lacks even that.

Cameron's Britain is not even viewed as an important member of the EU. Israel is more interested in relations with Germany, which is building two submarines for its navy, and serves as the main negotiator for a possible prisoner swap for Gilad Shalit. It also invests in ties with France, with its influence in Lebanon.

Britain has no tangible assets in the region. Hague needs this visit to show that he is an international player. But for Israel, he is just another visiting foreign minister who wants to make a big show of getting involved.

Last updated: 3:20pm, October 28 2010