UK’s Hague: Now’s no time for tough talk from J’lem

British foreign secretary says there is legitimate fear that Middle East peace process will lose further momentum and be put to one side.

William Hague looking serious 311 (photo credit: AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
William Hague looking serious 311
(photo credit: AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
LONDON – British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned on Wednesday that it was not the time for “belligerent” language from Israel and that the public protests which have swept the Arab world could put the Middle East peace process in jeopardy.
Speaking during a trip to Yemen, where met with President Ali Abdullah Saleh – who has responded to anti-government demonstrations by announcing he won’t run for another term in elections scheduled for 2013 – Hague told The Times he feared current protests could hamper already sluggish progress on the Middle East peace process.
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“Amidst the opportunity for countries like Tunisia and Egypt, there is a legitimate fear that the Middle East peace process will lose further momentum and be put to one side, and will be a casualty of uncertainty in the region,” Hague said in an interview with the newspaper.
“This should not be a time for belligerent language,” Hague argued when asked about Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu call to prepare for “any outcome” and comments that he would “reinforce the might of the State of Israel” should it prove necessary.
“It is a time to inject greater urgency into the Middle East peace process,” the foreign secretary told the Times. He called for “strong leadership from the US” and “equally bold steps by Israelis and Palestinians.”
Hague said Israel’s stance on settlement activities in the West Bank was “disappointing” and that peace may become “impossible” within a few years.
He also voiced concern that a conflict might break out between Israel and Hizbullah in the aftermath of last month’s collapse of the Lebanese government.
“The scale of any military conflict that may happen between Israel and Hizbullah is growing, because of the growth of armaments in the area,” Hague told the newspaper.
Hague told The Associated Press in Munich last week that pro-democracy demonstrations would likely lead to a more complex political landscape in the Middle East, urging Israel and the US to accelerate progress on peace talks.
“I hope that it underlines to Israeli leaders the need to do that, because events may complicate still further the politics of the Middle East,” he said.
In Yemen, Hague also met opposition figures as part of a three-day, five-country tour of the Middle East and North Africa, intended to offer British support as nations respond to the public outcry for democracy.
His comments follow a low-key statement from the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers at a meeting in Germany on Saturday. The Quartet said envoys would hold separate talks with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators before another meeting next month.
The Foreign Office said he had discussed security and political reforms during talks in Yemen. He visited Tunisia and Jordan on Tuesday and planned further meetings in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.
Hague will not be visiting Egypt, however, saying it would be inappropriate while negotiations on reforms continue between the government and opposition leaders.
In an analysis, Michael Weiss, executive director of Just Journalism, a London-based independent research and media monitor organization focused on how Israel and the Middle East are reported in the media, said that a sense of “urgency” has always been integral to the peace process.
“I’m not quite sure what the foreign secretary meant by “inject greater urgency” into the peace process,” Weiss said. “A sense of ‘urgency’ has run through 40 years of international diplomacy and has yet to produce any real results.”
If Israel had to increase defense spending, in the event that its peace treaty with Egypt was annulled, would the British consider this a “belligerent” act? Weiss asked.
“Hague doesn’t seem to understand the context of Netanyahu’s remark. After Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt was signed, Israel’s defense budget dropped from 30 percent of its gross national product to 7%. If that treaty is dissolved – as the Muslim Brotherhood have already made clear they’d like to see happen – then clearly Israel will have to re-up its defense spending. Now that might be interpreted as belligerence by a British government that can now afford to share its aircraft carriers with France. But for the Middle East’s only democracy, it’s called sanity,” Weiss said.