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New UK Government Leans Pro-Israel, But Uncertainty Remains

May 20, 2010

by: Joshua Spurlock

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David Cameron

Another wild card is the minor partner in the coalition government, the Liberal Democrats, the least supportive of Israel among the UK’s three major parties. The Liberal Democrats’ role is expected to be marginalized with regards to foreign policy according to Rynhold. However, the issue of universal jurisdiction in the UK is one where domestic and foreign policies meet. British universal jurisdiction allows arrest warrants to be filed against foreigners then on UK soil for war crimes committed anywhere in the world. Last year, Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni canceled a trip to the UK, against the backdrop of concerns such a war crimes charge would be brought against her for her involvement in the government during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

Though the Conservatives have supported additional guidelines to limit excessive use of universal jurisdiction, something former Prime Minister Gordon Brown wanted to do as well, the Liberal Democrats are “not keen to move ahead quickly on this,” according to Rynhold.

“I think the first test [of the government’s approach to Israel] will not be so much what goes on in the Middle East but whether the Conservatives are willing and able to quickly change the law in the UK to make it so that only more senior legal figures can actually move the [universal jurisdiction] process forward, and this should prevent the embarrassment and the difficulties [for Israelis traveling to the UK] that have occurred in the last couple of years,” said Rynhold.

Another possible question could be new Prime Minister David Cameron. Though Cameron is leader of the pro-Israel Conservative party, Rynhold suspects he doesn’t have the personal commitment to Israel that Brown or even former Prime Minister Tony Blair had. Rynhold said Cameron could be “keen to retain a certain balance” with the Arabs and Israel due to Muslim voters, or he might not interfere as strongly on Israel’s behalf as he could. Then again, Rynhold notes Cameron does have around him people that support Israel in the face of extremists such as Iran, and more of them than Brown had.

New British Foreign Secretary William Hague, meanwhile, “has generally had a reasonable record of supporting Israel,” and will likely be more pro-Israel than former Foreign Secretary David Miliband, according to Rynhold. Hague was very critical of Israel during the Second Lebanon War, but Rynhold said he has returned to a position more generally sympathetic to Israel since then. Rynhold said foreign office Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Alistair Burt is a good friend of Israel, although he may not have much power.

As for Iran, the new UK government is likely to again be one of Israel’s best friends on this issue, but Rynhold said the restraints of a struggling economy “shelved” the prior government’s interest in an embargo of gasoline into Iran. The new government may not be able to do much on the issue either. “Without American leadership, even though Britain and France are willing to act firmly, I don’t think we’ll see strong action,” said Rynhold.

The new UK government wasted little time to address the Iranian situation, with Hague saying last Friday [May 14] while in the US, that the military option for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program has not been taken off the table, according to the US State Department Web site.

“We’ve never ruled out supporting in the future military action, but we’re not calling for it. It is precisely because we want to see this matter settled peacefully and rapidly that we call for the sanctions and we support the idea of a [United Nations] Security Council resolution. So that is our perspective on it,” said Hague.

Posted on May 20, 2010

Source: BFP Israel Mosaic Radio, May 18, 2010

Photo Credit: en.wikipedia.org

Photo License: Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike Licence

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