Former Middle East Minister Alistair Burt has said the UK could “step in” to the peace process now that the United States has changed its role.
Burt, who resigned as minister over Brexit in March this year, was speaking at a one-day Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) conference earlier this month, organised by think-tank BICOM, exploring UK strategy in the Middle East after Brexit.
He said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be “kept on the shelf somewhere, unresolved,” adding: “If it is not settled, justly for the Palestinians and with security for Israel, something bad is going to happen.”
On the UK’s involvement, Burt said: “The failure to handle this longstanding dispute creates another layer of uncertainty. As the US changes its role in the peace process, who steps in? Here I can see a role for us.”
Other speakers included Baroness Catherine Ashton, the EU’s former foreign policy chief, and Sir Mark Lyall Grant, a former senior diplomat who was the UK’s former national security advisor and top envoy to the United Nations.
Burt, who has twice served as Middle East Minister in the past nine years, explained that he had been “interested in the Middle East since I was at school as a child during the Six-Day War with many Jewish friends in Manchester”.
He said: “As I got older, my understanding of the Palestinian issue became much more nuanced. I have realised that you have to see every issue from all points of view.”
With talk of war with Iran, Burt warned that “nobody wins wars in the region anymore,” adding: “Iran gained from the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen without doing much except taking advantage of the situation.”
BICOM researcher Dr Toby Greene, who lives in Modi’in in central Israel, said increased tensions in the Gulf were likely to be on the minds of Israeli military planners.
“There’s a hill about a mile from my apartment building where they have a base for the Iron Dome. The actual missile defence battery isn’t there all the time. There’s only a finite number and the IDF moves them around, depending on where it thinks the threats and the needs might be.
“You can see from the road if the missile battery is there or not. When it shows up, it puts us on notice that the IDF thinks there is an increased possibility of missiles. A week ago, in the context of tensions in the Gulf between the US and Iran, what do you know – the Iron Dome battery showed up on the hill.”
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