After nearly four years in office, British Prime Minister David Cameron is to make his first visit to Israel as prime minister on Wednesday. He is scheduled to spend some 22 hours in Israel and another seven hours in the Palestinian Authority.
Cameron, who postponed his scheduled visit last month because of floods in Britain, is going ahead with the visit despite Foreign Ministry sanctions.
The logistics for the visit are being handled, as a result, by the Prime Minister’s Office.
That this is Cameron’s first visit here shows the degree to which Cameron, unlike Tony Blair and even to a lesser extent his immediate predecessor Gordon Brown, has opted against taking a very active role in the Middle East diplomatic process.
As much as Blair was identified with the Middle East peace process and involved, one official said, Cameron has kept his distance, perhaps as a way of doing the “un-Blair thing.” He is not personally involved, and has no desire to be in a mediating role, the official added.
The official said French President Francois Hollande has taken a similar posture, much less involved in Middle East diplomatic issues than was his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy. Unlike Cameron, however, Hollande visited Israel about a year and a half after his May 2012 election, coming here last November.
During his visit, Cameron is expected to express support for US Secretary of State John Kerry’s diplomatic efforts, and – alongside with expressing understanding and support for Israel’s security concerns – will likely criticize construction in the settlements and in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line.
While this is Cameron’s first visit here, he visited Egypt in 2011 and has visited Persian Gulf States on a number of occasions.
Cameron is scheduled to meet with President Shimon Peres soon after his arrival, followed by an address to the Knesset, a visit to Yad Vashem, and a dinner meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
The British prime minister, who will be accompanied on his trip by British businessmen, is scheduled to participate in a business event Thursday morning, as he hopes to boost bilateral economic and scientific ties. Currently, bilateral trade is some $8.5 billion.
He is then scheduled to go to Bethlehem and meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and senior Palestinian officials.
Iran and the diplomatic talks with the Palestinians are expected to be the two main topics on the agenda of Cameron’s talks with Netanyahu, with Netanyahu expected to continue using the interception of the Klos C to press the point that Iran has not changed and cannot be trusted.
Diplomatic officials said that for the most part Britain follows the US lead regarding Iran and pointed out that, unlike Italian and German businessman, British businessmen have not used the thaw in relations with Iran to make their way to the country looking for business opportunities.