New Times,
New Thinking.

David Cameron is taking Middle East policy in a new direction

The Foreign Secretary isn’t hamstrung by party factions in the way Keir Starmer is.

By Freddie Hayward

David Cameron was reportedly made Foreign Secretary to alleviate the diplomatic burden placed on Rishi Sunak. To that end, he has been welcomed on the international circuit, quickly restoring the relationships he built back in the day. He has lunched with his old acquaintances the king and queen of Jordan and caught a ride home on the French defence secretary’s plane from Kuwait, as Katy Balls reports in Tatler.

At a Westminster reception before Christmas he said his time as prime minister had been “the best apprenticeship for this job”. Very droll. But also true. He brings a ballast and authority few in the cabinet can match. He is unburdened by the need to manoeuvre for the top job because he’s done it before.

In the same way, he does not need to manage divisions in his party over the Israel-Hamas conflict, as Keir Starmer spends so much of his time doing. The Labour leader has been fighting to maintain discipline since he said during party conference that Israel had a right to withhold water and power from Gaza. Labour MPs who have deviated from the party line on this issue have been punished. Starmer must balance the need to restore Labour’s reputation on foreign policy with placating his otherwise pliant backbenchers.

Not so, Lord Cameron. He’s not even an MP. The fascinating thing is that this seems to be having serious consequences for British foreign policy. His freedom from ambition and party unity seems to have enabled him to be more strident than he otherwise might be. There has been a marked shift in British policy towards Israel since he took over the Foreign Office. While British foreign policy remains under the influence of Washington, Cameron has said the UK will “look at the issue of recognising a Palestinian state, including at the United Nations”, which he hopes could make the peace process “irreversible”.

Last night, the Palestinian ambassador to the UK Husam Zomlot told Andrew Marr on LBC the move was “historic”. He said: “This is a very significant moment. This is the first time a UK Foreign Secretary does say that the recognition of the state of Palestine is not linked to a final agreement with Israel, ie: finally removing Israel’s veto over Palestinian statehood.”

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The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ruled out any moves towards the creation of a Palestinian state. That’s partly why Starmer’s promise in his Chatham House speech last year to get peace in the Middle East struck some as quixotic. On top of the obvious international obstacles, any solution a Labour government pursues will have to appease his backbenchers (albeit this would be dependent on the size of the majority). That’s before you consider the implications of a Trump presidency.

Instead, it could be Cameron – unshackled, as he is – who makes some progress towards a two-state solution. This is one aspect of a Conservative inheritance Labour would gratefully accept.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; receive it every morning by subscribing on Substack here.

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