Britain’s Middle East minister, Tobias Ellwood, sent out a clear signal to Israel this week that despite Israel’s hopes for a mutual celebration of the Balfour Declaration centenary, Britain would be taking “a measured approach”, mindful of sensitivities in the region, says the Jewish News.
Mr Ellwood was the first keynote speaker of the day in the UK/Israel Shared Strategic Challenges policy conference, jointly convened by the Jewish News and Bicom.
Jewish News reports that the Foreign Office minister spoke in response to a punchy, upbeat address by Israel’s ambassador Mark Regev, who outlined all the reasons that the two countries had for an enthusiastic celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Declaration, on November 2 2017.
Referring to the Bafour centenary, Mr Ellwood said, “The UK’s ties with Israel will come under the spotlight next year”. Though Britain welcomed “the fact that we played an important role in the creation of the state of Israel. We continue to support the principle o a Jewish homeland, just as Balfour did nearly a century ago.”
But, Mr Ellwood went on: “At the same time the UK government must be aware of the sensitivities around the Balfour Declaration, its legacy, and the events that have taken place in the region since 1917. The Balfour Declaration was a product of its time”; its 67 words had been pored over and analysed endlessly in the years since. “Millions, we should recognise, are still affected by the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians — and therefore our perspective should be a measured approach.”
The lesson he took from Balfour, Mr Ellwood said, “is that continents should not be carved up by foreign powers as they were in Balfour’s time.” For the peace process to go forward, he believed, it was necessary for the two parties to negotiate directly, with the support of the international community.