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Shift in mood

    Alistair Burt's strong criticisms of Israel this week mark an interesting shift in the mood music on the Middle East. Mr Burt is a trusted supporter of Israel, and his criticism of settlement building did not stray from established UK policy.

    But it is no accident that the Foreign Office chose to publicise his comments. Still more significant is his decision to back the Arab community's concerns about the Knesset's commission of inquiry into the activities of human rights organisations.

    This is an important marker. Mr Burt is accepting the argument that Israel must adhere to the highest standards in protecting civil society in order to argue its case as the beacon of democracy in the Middle East.

    Despite all the usual carefully worded assurances about support for Israel, 2011 marks a new chapter. Neither William Hague nor David Cameron have shown a willingness to give Israel a free pass.

    With Labour still undecided on the nuances of its stance on Israel, these remain uncertain times for Israel-UK relations.

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