Britain’s new Middle East minister visits Israel & Palestine… but no mention of 2014 Gaza War
The British Foreign Office minister of state for the Middle East made his first official visit to the area since his appointment in June.
Burt toured Gaza, the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and Israel, meeting with representatives from both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and discussed humanitarian challenges that continue to plague the region.
Speaking after his meeting with top Palestinian officials, including Foreign Minister Riad Malki, the UK diplomat said: “I came to see and hear what has changed since my last official visit in 2013 and to reaffirm the UK’s strong support for a two-state solution to secure peace and prosperity for both Palestinians and Israelis.”
“I am grateful for the hospitality and warmth shown to me across the OPTs, in Gaza, Susiya, Hebron, Jerusalem and Ramallah, and for very constructive meetings with Foreign Minister Malki, Finance Minister Bishara, Education Minister Saidam and PLO Chief Negotiator Erekat.
“The UK will continue to support efforts to improve conditions on the ground for ordinary people and to enable negotiations to resume.
“I look forward to working with the parties and the wider international community, including the UN and the US, to make progress in the months ahead.”
Burt’s trip to the region is significant as it was his first visit since the brutal 2014 Gaza conflict, although the FCO official completely failed to acknowledge its impact.
The conflict began in July 2014, following the kidnap and murder of three Israeli teenagers, allegedly by members of Hamas, and the subsequent punitive operation led against them by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
The seven-week Gaza War, which featured an Israeli ground invasion of the Gaza Strip and massive rocket barrages, culminated in an open ceasefire in late August 2014.
According to a report by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, at least 1,462 Palestinian civilians, 789 militants and 67 IDF soldiers were killed in the conflict, marking the intensive and brutal character of this brief confrontation.
The Israeli actions during the 2014 war received widespread attention in the UK, with the British public calling on the Conservative government of David Cameron to boycott Israeli goods and even break diplomatic relations.
A 2014 BBC World Service poll revealed the majority of Britons overwhelmingly viewed Israel negatively, with 72 percent of respondents voicing their contempt for the Israeli government.
The UK government itself came under fire for its weak response to the crisis and insufficient criticism of the Israeli actions.
Britain maintains close and diverse links with Israel, which remains a key ally in the Middle East and a major economic partner with annual bilateral trade exceeding £3.5 billion (US$4.5 million).
During his visit, Burt reaffirmed the special nature of the British-Israeli relationship, stating that “the UK is a great friend of Israel” and is committed to “peace and stability in the Middle East.”
“We will continue to work with and support those in Israel and beyond who want to achieve a viable solution.
“We have a longstanding relationship with Israel and I have witnessed first-hand the strength of this partnership in many areas from trade and investment to technology and innovation.
“This relationship will continue to grow and benefit both of our nations.”
It is likely that the importance of Britain’s “special relationship” with Israel precluded Burt from raising the topic of the 2014 war, despite the massive civilian casualties and ongoing public resentment.
In fact, the British government appears to make a habit of going out of its way not to offend Israel, or even come to terms with its own colonial history in Palestine.
November 2, 2017, will mark 100 years since the Balfour Declaration. Then-Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour issued a 67-word declaration setting out Britain’s support for the establishment of a “national home” for the Jewish people in Palestine, disregarding the concerns of the local Arab population.
The Conservative government is under mounting pressure to use the centenary as an opportunity to apologize for colonial rule, which eventually led to the displacement of Palestinians.
A petition was launched calling on the UK government to acknowledge its failure to protect the rights of non-Jewish population and to apologize for the Balfour Declaration.
Lord Norman Warner, a life peer in the House of Lords, joined the public sentiment, expressing his support for an official apology to the Palestinians.
“Should we not mark the centenary with a gracious apology from the British government in Parliament for the suffering that that failure has caused and try to make amends ... with a clear commitment to recognition of a viable independent Palestinian state?” Warner asked during a parliamentary debate.
However, in an official response to the petition, the Foreign Office again dismissed the public outcry, refusing to apologize.
“The Balfour Declaration is an historic statement for which HMG (Her Majesty’s Government) does not intend to apologize,” the response read.
“We are proud of our role in creating the State of Israel. The task now is to encourage moves towards peace.”
It is unclear how the UK will inspire “moves towards peace” if it continues to refuse to acknowledge its own role in the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict.