British Foreign Secretary William Hague plans to tell Israel it must renew its freeze on new settlement construction when he meets with top officials during a two day trip to Israel, the Foreign Office said on Tuesday.
His arrival late Tuesday night marks the first high-ranking visit by a member of the Conservative government led by David Cameron since it came to power in May.
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A Foreign Office spokesman told The Jerusalem Post that this was an important time to come to Israel.
“We understand the depth of Israeli security concerns. But the strength and depth of our friendship means we can and must talk frankly about the need for the settlement freeze to be renewed to allow talks to resume. Finding a viable solution to the conflict is in everyone's long-term interest,” the spokesman said.
Hague considers himself a strong friend of Israel. He has been a longtime supporter of the Conservative Friends of Israel, and has visited the country many times.
His arrival coincided with the anniversary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which the British government recognized the right of the Jewish people to a national homeland in what was then Palestine. The document helped paved the way for the creation of a Jewish state.
But in spite of the long and deep friendship between the two countries, the issue of settlements and threats of criminal prosecution against Israelis in Britain are likely to create some tension during visit.
On Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor canceled a trip to London out of fear he would be arrested for war crimes.
Meridor had been due to give a speech organized by the Britain and Israel Communications and Research Center, a pro-Israel group.
It was feared, however, that Meridor, who is also the intelligence and atomic energy minister, could face potential legal action over the IDF raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in May, in which nine Turkish activists were killed. Meridor refused to comment.
Several Israeli officials have been threatened with legal action in Britain under the contested legal principle of “universal jurisdiction,” which says that some crimes are so serious they can be prosecuted locally, even if they are alleged to have been committed elsewhere.
Pro-Palestinian organizations have used the principle to pursue Israeli officers who have taken part in operations against Palestinian militants in which civilians have been killed.
The campaign has resulted in no arrests but has caused tension between Britain and Israel.
When Britain’s new Conservative- led government took office, Hague promised to “act speedily” to clarify the law.
“We cannot have a position where Israeli politicians feel they cannot visit this country,” he said then.
In a statement Tuesday, the Foreign Office said the government was “committed to correct an anomaly that allows people to be detained even where there is no realistic chance of prosecution and ensure that the U.K.’s systems cannot be misused or lead to unintended but serious consequences for international relations.”
A government source said that the situation was unsatisfactory and that it would be raised again with Hague when he arrived.
On Wednesday morning, Hague is expected to hold a closed, round-table discussion at the British ambassador’s home on Iran’s nuclear program. Participants are likely to include Mossad chief Meir Dagan, director-general of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission Shaul Chorev, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Meridor.
On Wednesday, he will meet Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Jerusalem and separately with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Foreign Minister Riyad al- Malki in Ramallah.
Hague is set to sign a film cooperation treaty between Britain and the
Palestinian Authority, the first formal agreement between them. This is
seen by the Foreign Office as an indication of the progress the
Palestinians have made in the area of state building.
On Thursday, Hague will meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
In addition, he will hold talks with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and
opposition leader Tzipi Livni., The minister will also visit the Schalit
family in the protest tent, and is scheduled to visit Yad Vashem as
He is scheduled to fly to Egypt later Thursday for talks with his
Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Arab League chief Amr Moussa
before returning to the UK on Friday.
AP contributed to this report.