Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May at 10 Downing Street, in London, February 6, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Speeding into Downing Street with an armored convoy that would make even US President Donald Trump blush, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a man that knows how to make an entrance.
Across the street, the prime minister was welcomed by several hundred Israel supporters, who did their best to chant louder than those so-called peace activists calling for the destruction of Israel “from the river to the sea.”
Notable in its absence was the offensive display of a Hezbollah or Hamas flag, which has sadly happened in the past – a testament to the British government’s efforts to stamp out public displays of support for vile terrorist groups.
This was nothing more than a sideshow though. Inside Number 10, the two prime ministers were meeting for the first time and holding a photo call with the assembled press. Over the loud clicks of dozens of cameras, the leaders appeared to be developing a genuine rapport and were praising the strength of the UK-Israel relationship in the most glowing terms.
During a working lunch the two leaders discussed a range of issues, centering upon ways to further strengthen the Anglo-Israeli bilateral relationship.
From defense and intelligence cooperation to academic exchanges and record bilateral trade, the relationship runs deep. Collectively, it makes our people safer and more prosperous.
The establishment of a new UK-Israel Trade Working Group – a centerpiece of the visit – is a hugely significant step in laying the ground work for a future free trade deal between our two great countries. With our shared values, existing bilateral trade valued at £5 billion and as the Middle East’s only true democracy, Israel should be one of the first countries that we sign a trade deal with in this new post-Brexit world.
Crucially, this visit afforded an opportunity to reset the relationship after the now infamous UNSC Resolution 2334.
In the aftermath, Israel reacted strongly to reports that UK Foreign Office officials had played an active role in helping draft the controversial resolution. In the days and weeks after that vote it emerged that UK Prime Minister Theresa May had been blindsided by Foreign Office officials into signing the resolution.
The UK’s direction of travel has been markedly different since that day. Indeed, the UK issued an unprecedented rebuke to then US secretary of state John Kerry for a speech he gave, and was then alone among 74 countries in refusing to send a formal representative to the Paris Peace Conference and even refusing to sign the communique at the conclusion of the conference. Prime Minister May’s position has been clear – the two parties must return to direct peace talks to resolve the final-status issues, only one of which is that of settlements.
It was telling that there were no public references to the UN vote by either leader. There is a clear commitment to put that behind them and work together to build an ever stronger relationship.
Iran was another issue that featured heavily.
Iran’s nuclear program and support for terrorism has seemingly fallen from the international agenda since the signing of a nuclear deal with the P5+1 nations. This has been dangerously misguided, coming at a time when the international community should have been maintaining pressure and scrutiny on Iran’s actions and commitment to such a deal.
Tehran’s latest test firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead was not only a flagrant breach of a UN resolution, but also a direct challenge to the Trump administration and the West.
We should expect to see more of these provocations in the coming months as the Islamic Republic susses out the new lay of the land.
Netanyahu came to London calling for a “common stand” against Iranian aggression. Through her time as home secretary and now as prime minister, May will be well versed in the threat that Iran poses to the UK and our national interests abroad. Netanyahu will have returned to Jerusalem reassured, with May stating that the UK “recognizes concerns about Iran’s pattern of destabilizing activity in the region.”
Netanyahu’s whistlestop tour concluded with a meeting with the UK’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in the beautiful surroundings of the Foreign Office. Symbolically, the two men posed beside the table at which the Balfour Declaration was penned a century ago by then Conservative foreign secretary Arthur James Balfour.
Prime Minister May had just extended an invitation to Netanyahu to return to the UK in November when we will be proudly marking the centenary of this most important of letters – a birth certificate for the Jewish State of Israel.
In this centenary year of the Balfour Declaration, I can’t help but reflect how far Israel has come from the original dreams of the Zionist leaders.
The UK and Israel are countries with a shared history. More importantly, perhaps, we can look forward to a prosperous shared future.The author is the MP for Finchley and Golders Green in the British Parliament.