Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his British counterpart, Theresa May, discussed Iran, the Palestinians and closer bilateral cooperation in the post-Brexit era during their first meeting in London on Monday.
Shortly after welcoming Netanyahu to No. 10 Downing Street, May stressed that “We remain committed to a two-state solution as the best way to build stability and peace in the future.”
Netanyahu assured her that, “We share with you the desire for peace,” though he did not mention two states.
“This is our dream from day one: We will never give up on our quest for peace with all of our neighbors,” he said. “I think there are challenges there, but there are some new and interesting opportunities because of the regional and global changes.”
Following their meeting, Netanyahu told reporters that he made clear to May that a two-state solution will necessitate Palestinian recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people.
Netanyahu meets Britain's PM Theresa May
“Even with that recognition,” he said, “there is no way in the foreseeable future that Israel will not be the only force with security control west of the Jordan River.”
Netanyahu stressed that this was not walking back his commitment to a two-state solution, which he articulated in his Bar-Ilan University speech in 2009, and that during that speech he stressed the fulfillment of these two conditions before there would be a Palestinian state.
“I don’t have any conditions on entering into negotiations,” he said. “These are conditions for concluding the negotiations, and are essential components.”
Netanyahu, who will meet with US President Donald Trump next week in Washington, said that he informed the new administration in advance of the building plans in the settlements announced over the last two weeks.
“I told her [May] that the settlements were not an obstacle to peace,” Netanyahu said, and that any areas Israel would leave now would turn either into an Iranian outpost, or an Islamic state, “or both.”
Netanyahu said May raised the issue of settlement construction, but this was not the dominant part of the conversation.
Labour Party head Jeremy Corbyn, who did not seek a meeting with Netanyahu during his 24-hour visit to London, urged May to tell Netanyahu that Britain stands “unequivocally behind the rights of the Palestinian people, along with the many who support them in Israel.”
In a Twitter post on Monday, Corbyn said the recent announcement of new “settlement homes in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem is illegal under international law and a threat to peace and international security.”
Corbyn wrote that the British government must “act in support of peace and justice” in the Middle East conflict, “50 years after the United Nations demanded an Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in the 1967 War and 70 years after the UN voted for the creation of a Palestinian state.”
Corbyn failed to mention that the 1967 War was one of self-defense, and that the Jews accepted the partition plan in 1947, while the Arabs rejected it and launched an all-out war on the nascent Jewish state.
Regarding Iran, Netanyahu said after the meeting that he and May see “eye-to-eye” on the dangers posed by Iran arming itself and its aggressive behavior in the region.
“We discussed the question of what will happen if the aggression is not checked,” Netanyahu said. “We also discussed what is happening in Syria, about Hezbollah and the Iranian army there. There is agreement about the importance of preventing that situation through different means.”
Netanyahu told May that it is important to support Trump in reinstating sanctions on Iran.
“Every responsible country needs to support those steps,” he said. “An answer needs to be found to Iran’s aggression. Even without breaching the [nuclear] agreement on their side, they are marching toward a bomb, toward industrial enrichment of uranium that will enable them to break out in a short period to a nuclear bomb.”
May greeted Netanyahu by noting that their meeting was taking place during the year in which both countries are recognizing the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, and invited the premier back to London on November 2 to mark the centenary.
“At a time when the Palestinians want to sue Britain over the Balfour Declaration, it says something that Britain’s prime minister is inviting me to this event,” he said. Last July, the Palestinians asked the Arab League to help them prepare a legal brief suing Britain for issuing the Balfour Declaration, which supported the establishment of a Jewish national home in Mandatory Palestine.
Netanyahu said that he and May also discussed her country’s support for organizations such as Breaking the Silence, and that he asked Britain to reconsider funding them.
While the two leaders were meeting, small pro- and anti-Israel demonstrations took place outside.
Speaking on camera before the meeting, Netanyahu told May that he has two photographs in his office: one of Theodor Herzl and the second of Winston Churchill. These two leaders, he said, personify “our commitment to the values of freedom and our common civilization.”
These values, he added, make possible “great opportunities” for cooperation in the fields of trade, technology and security – especially cyber security.
Trade also loomed large in the talks, with Britain keen on developing strong partnerships in the post-Brexit era.
Netanyahu said Britain is currently prevented from entering into new trade agreements, but that they agreed the two countries would eventually discuss reaching a free-trade agreement.
Following his meeting with May, Netanyahu met with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson before boarding his plane for a nighttime flight back to Israel.