Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to fly to London on Wednesday for a two-day visit that is expected to trigger a number of protests.
The focal point of the visit will be a breakfast meeting scheduled for Thursday morning with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Netanyahu and Cameron last met when the British premier visited Israel and addressed the Knesset in March 2014. One Israeli diplomatic official said that a “whole range of issues” were on the agenda, including Syria, Islamic State, Iran and the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.
During the visit, Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with a delegation of parliamentarians, as well as with Jewish leaders. He will not meet with any of the four candidates for Labor’s leadership, including front-runner Jeremy Corbyn, who is strongly pro-Palestinian and has been dogged by allegations of anti-Semitism.
The results of the party leadership race are to be announced on Saturday.
The Palestinian Solidarity Campaign is scheduled to hold a protest on Wednesday opposite 10 Downing Street.
The organization sent a letter to Cameron, signed by some 10,000 people, calling for Cameron to cancel the visit, and impose sanctions and an arms embargo on Israel.
According to the organization, Netanyahu bears “direct responsibility for the war crimes identified by the UN Human Rights Council following Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza last summer, which killed more than 2,000 Palestinian women, children and men in the space of seven weeks.”
Similarly, the head of the group, Hugh Lanning, joined in signing a letter to The Guardian published on Monday saying that “Palestinians fleeing the hell that Israel has created in Gaza are among the thousands of refugees who have drowned in the Mediterranean in the last year. Our prime minister should not be welcoming the man who presides over Israel’s occupation and its siege of Gaza.”
Among the 21 people who signed that letter included a number of union leaders, two Labor parliamentarians – Jo Stevens and Cat Smith – far-left Israeli- born historian Ilan Pappé, fashion designer Bella Freud, who is Sigmund Freud’s great-granddaughter, film director Ken Loach and British-Jamaican author Benjamin Zephaniah.
An online petition calling for Netanyahu to be arrested garnered more than 107,000 signatures, more than the requisite 100,000 need for Parliament to consider debating the issue.
The petition was created through the British Parliament E-petitions website. If a petition garners 100,000 signatures, the issue will be considered for a debate in Parliament, but there is no guarantee it must be debated, and Jerusalem believes the Cameron government will not allow it.
In a response to the petition, the British government responded in a statement that under UK and international law, visiting heads of foreign governments, including Netanyahu, have immunity from legal process and cannot be arrested or detained.
One Israeli official said that Jerusalem was aware that “whenever you go to Britain there are a few groups interested in provocations and stunts, but these are not serious.”
The statement said the UK is “a close friend of Israel and we enjoy an excellent bilateral relationship, built on decades of cooperation between our two countries across a range of fields.”
Britain backs a two-state solution based on the 1967 “borders,” and believes “negotiations will be necessary in order to achieve this, and that both parties need to focus on steps that are conducive to peace,” the statement added.
This message will be passed on to Netanyahu, the statement said.
“We recognize that the conflict in Gaza last year took a terrible toll,” the statement read. “As the Prime Minister [Cameron] said, we were all deeply saddened by the violence and the UK has been at the forefront of international reconstruction efforts.
However the prime minister was clear on the UK’s recognition of Israel’s right to take proportionate action to defend itself, within the boundaries of international humanitarian law.”
The statement said Britain condemns “the terrorist tactics of Hamas who fired rockets on Israel, built extensive tunnels to kidnap and murder, and repeatedly refused to accept cease-fires. Israel, like any state, has the right to ensure its own security, as its citizens also have the right to live without fear of attack.”
On the eve of the visit, Simon Johnson, the chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, an umbrella body made up of more than 30 Jewish communal organizations, said the JLC “proudly welcomes” Netanyahu to the United Kingdom.
“His visit is particularly significant as our community enjoys great freedom and security in the United Kingdom and our deep and close relationship with the State of Israel plays an ever more important role in our culture and identity,” Johnson said. “I truly hope that Britain will continue to be at the forefront of protecting Israel, enforcing the provisions of the Iran agreement if it is ratified and standing against Iran’s dangerous destabilizing policies in the Middle East.”