‘Israel faces growing isolation if US peace push fails’

On visit to region, British minister says his country ‘would be extremely worried’ if Kerry’s initiative fell through

Alistair Burt in Jerusalem, January 2012 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Alistair Burt in Jerusalem, January 2012 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israel will face unprecedented isolation if the current attempts at restarting the peace process fail, British Under Secretary of State Alistair Burt warned on Wednesday.

“The pressures will mount,” Burt said in an interview with Army Radio. “Israel’s risk of isolation becomes ever greater, unless a solution is found.”

Burt met with senior Israeli officials but did not see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or President Shimon Peres. On Wednesday, he visited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Since taking office on February 1, US Secretary of State John Kerry has made four trips to Israel and the Palestinian territories, more than any other destination, in an ongoing attempt to bring the two sides together for talks after a years-long hiatus. Kerry was scheduled to make a fifth trip to Israel this week, but postponed it to attend meetings in Washington on the Syrian civil war.

Burt, a former member of Conservative Friends of Israel who currently holds the Middle East portfolio at the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, expressed his opposition to Palestinian demands for a building freeze in the West Bank as a precondition to negotiations. “Neither side should be in the business of demanding preconditions,” Burt stressed. “Both sides should recognize that if a two-state solution is to be the answer, then the time to get on with that is very much now.”

“Should this not be successful,” he added, “I think the United Kingdom would be extremely worried about the outcome.”

In a meeting Monday with the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s rejection of Palestinian preconditions. His comments came in the wake of news that the Palestinians had rejected an offer last year to return to talks in exchange for the release of prisoners.

While in Israel, Burt met with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is in charge of peace negotiations with the Palestinians, if they occur, International Relations and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz and Netanyahu’s personal envoy Isaac Molcho. He also met with senior Foreign Ministry staff in Jerusalem, including director-general Rafi Barak.

According to Foreign Minister officials, Burt discussed bilateral and regional issues and efforts to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Netanyahu, who is also acting foreign minister, did not meet with Burt. The Prime Minister’s Office did not reply to a request for comment. Burt did not meet with Peres either. According to the President’s Residence, the UK official did not request a meeting.

In the Palestinian territories, which Burt in Twitter calls the “OPTs” (Occupied Palestinian Territories), the minister visited the village of Nabi Salih — a flashpoint of weekly clases between soldiers and protesters over Israeli land confiscations — and met with Abbas in Ramallah.

Israeli diplomatic officials said it was not unusual that Burt did not speak to Netanyahu and Peres, as they cannot meet every foreign dignitary who arrives in the country. Both leaders recently met with UK Foreign Secretary William Hague in Jerusalem. Netanyahu and Peres were, however, scheduled to meet with Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, whose roll in Middle East affairs is far smaller than Burt’s.

The British embassy in Tel Aviv did not reply to a request for comment.

Burt did attended a biomedical conference in Tel Aviv, and joined Jewish and Arab children in Jerusalem to launch a coexistence project around soccer. He also attended a soccer match between England’s and Israel’s U21 national squads in Jerusalem.

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