While the priority in any Israeli-Palestinian accord has to be “the safety and security” of Israel, the choice is either two states or apartheid, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told The Jerusalem Post in an interview on Wednesday.
“What we are saying is that you have to have a two-state solution or else you have a kind of apartheid system. You have to go for a two-state approach, that is the long-standing position of the government,” Johnson said when asked about US President Donald Trump’s recent comment that he did not care whether an agreement was reached for one state or two states, as long as the sides agreed.
“Israel is a country of great creative genius, and the priority has to be the safety and security of the people of Israel. If you can guarantee that, maybe there is some way of also giving autonomy to the Palestinians,” the foreign secretary said shortly after meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. By autonomy, Johnson said he meant statehood, and that the question of demilitarization of that state will have to be dealt with directly by Israel and the Palestinians.
PM Netanyahu meets with British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson (credit: GPO)
Johnson arrived Tuesday evening and left the country less than 24 hours later, having met, in this order, with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid; President Reuven Rivlin; opposition head Isaac Herzog; Peace Now representatives; Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki; and Netanyahu.
Regarding the balance of receiving a briefing on the settlements from the anti-settlement NGO Peace Now, and whether that was not equivalent to asking a vegan to talk about steaks, Johnson laughed and said that Netanyahu “certainly gave an alternative view” on the matter.
Johnson characterized his conversation with Netanyahu as “long and eventful,” as well as “frank and free,” and “productive and positive.”
“I have long-standing support and admiration for Israel,” he said, adding that he was sentimentally attached to the country dating back to when he worked on a kibbutz at the age of 18.
Johnson said that his message to Netanyahu was that Israel has, in the government of Theresa May, “absolutely rock-solid support.”
With that, he stressed that London’s policy about the need for a two-state solution remains unchanged. With all of Israel’s “ingenuity,’’ he said, there must be a way to pave the way for a Palestinian state while preserving Israel’s security.
Another message, he added, was “our concerns about settlements, and the accelerated rate of settlements and demolitions.”
Johnson said that while Britain is “worried” about the recently passed settlements regulation bill legalizing a number of outposts, he was “assured by people who understand the legal process that it has not been implemented, and is not likely to be implemented.”
Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said that during their meeting, Netanyahu attacked the “obsessive approach that the settlements are the root of the conflict,” an approach he said ignores the fact that the Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Asked in the interview whether Netanyahu’s vision about leveraging common interests with the Arab Sunni states into a wider regional peace process was realistic, Johnson said, “I think it is, yes. I think we should be absolutely explicit in this. I think there is an interesting moment in history. And I think that what the prime minister is saying is not totally wrong. But you know this is something that is going to take a lot of energy and leadership to get right.”
The British foreign secretary was also asked what he thought of Netanyahu’s frequent description of Israel’s standing in the world as never having been stronger because of the world’s need for its technology and anti-terrorism expertise.
“You are talking to an admirer and supporter of Israel,” he said. “I certainly think it is true that Israel is playing a crucial role in peace, security and prosperity of the region. We do a massive amount of cooperation with Israeli intelligence services, but we must never forget there is a chronic problem – and that problem is what is going on in the occupied Palestinian territories."
"I certainly think there is a historic opportunity to try to address that problem.”
Regarding whether he felt that Britain should take pride in the Balfour Declaration, whose centenary is marked this year, Johnson replied: “Clearly the UK government played a historic role in the foundation of the existence of the State of Israel and that is something that I, as a passionate supporter and believer of Israel, think is a good thing.”
On the other hand, he said, “There is no question that the anniversary has caused certain sensitivities among the Palestinians, and we have to be alive to that. We will be commemorating it in a proper fashion.”
Abbas and Maliki brought up the issue in their meetings, Johnson said, but “neither of them mentioned litigation.”
Last summer the Palestinians threatened to sue Britain over the historic declaration.
Johnson met Netanyahu in London last month, during which time the premier also met May, before going to Washington to meet Trump.
Asked if there was a US-British- Israeli axis in the works, especially with regards to dealing with Iran, Johnson said that “we have a huge amount in common, and when it comes to Iran there is a view that is gaining ground that although we see the importance of engaging with Iran with the JCPOA [Iran nuclear deal], we want to work to contain what we think – in many parts of the region – [has been] the influence of Iran that has not been positive. That certainly you see the US, UK and Israel working together.”
That being said, Johnson made it clear that Britain was not in favor of nullifying the Iranian nuclear deal.
“We think the JCPOA has merit,” he said. “We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but we think that regional containment is very important.”
As to antisemitism in Britain, which reached record levels in 2016, Johnson said, “Sometimes it is hard to know whether these phenomena are driven by more reporting [of antisemitic incidents], or a real spike in the incidents of this sort of hate crime. But we certainly have zero tolerance for antisemitic behavior of any kind.”
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