What does Boris Johnson's resignation mean for UK-Israel relations?

Johnson did not shy away from making clear his strong support for Israel while foreign minister.

By
July 10, 2018 02:51
3 minute read.

Resignations by Brexit negotiator David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson leave UK Brexit plan in disarray, July 9, 2018 (Reuters)

Resignations by Brexit negotiator David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson leave UK Brexit plan in disarray, July 9, 2018 (Reuters)

 
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Former British foreign minister Boris Johnson's resignation on Monday plunged Prime Minister Theresa May's turbulent government into even more trouble less than a day after former Brexit Secretary David Davis quit the government.

Johnson’s resignation letter slammed May's Brexit negotiation strategy, stating that the Brexit "dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt."

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May moved quickly to appoint Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt as the UK's new foreign secretary, ushering in a new and less flamboyant era at the British Foreign Office.

Under Johnson's ministerial tenure, UK-Israel ties have prospered with bilateral trade between the countries reaching £6.9bn ($9.1bn) in 2017, up 25% from £5.5bn ($7.3bn) in 2016.

Johnson did not shy away from making clear his strong support for Israel while foreign minister, lauding the "genius of Israel" at an October 2017 parliamentary reception marking 100 years since the Balfour Declaration and expressing his pride in "Britain's part in creating Israel" in a Daily Telegraph op-ed.

His unabashedly pro-Israel stance did not win him universal support. Palestinians called off meetings during Johnson's November 2015 week-long Middle East trade tour as London mayor after he described supporters of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as "corduroy-jacketed lefty academics."

The former London mayor was also a passionate believer in the urgency of reaching a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, telling The Jerusalem Post in March 2017 that "you have to have a two-state solution or else you have a kind of apartheid system."

Amid recent instability in the Conservative Party, Johnson has been considered one of May's main party leadership rivals.

Popular among the British electorate, the former London mayor has lost much parliamentary support following the 2016 Brexit referendum, during which he vocally campaigned in favor of leaving the European Union.

Israeli Ambassador to the UK Mark Regev was quick to welcome Johnson's foreign secretary replacement, expressing hope that relations between the two countries will continue to go from strength to strength.

"Mazal tov to Jeremy Hunt on his appointment as Foreign Secretary. Looking forward to further strengthening the Israel-UK partnership," wrote the Israeli envoy on Twitter on Monday evening.

Although public statements made by Hunt to date regarding Israel are scarce, he dedicates much of his website's foreign policy section to the Middle East where his opinions regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict mirror those of the Conservative Party in general.

There Hunt expresses his desire to promote business ties with Israel, and states his strong opposition to the BDS movement. But he also highlights his concerns regarding the demolition of Palestinian villages and the detention of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities.

Hunt reiterates his government's support for a two-state solution, and states that he was "very disappointed by the announcement of the US's intention to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem."

In addition, Hunt condemns "outrageous, disgusting" Hezbollah but refrains from calling for the proscription of the entire organization as a terrorist group, stating that the issue is "kept under review."

The British government proscribed Hezbollah's military wing in 2008, but has opted not to proscribe the entire organization. Citing a senior Conservative Party source, the Jewish Chronicle reported in June that British Home Secretary Sajid Javid will move to proscribe the entire organization later this year.

As Hunt seeks to establish Britain's international standing ahead of the country's March 2019 departure from the European Union, Israel hopes to benefit from Britain's changing outlook in trade relationships. A government White Paper has already identified Israel as a post-Brexit trade priority should the Conservative Party emerge from Brexit unscathed.

Relations between the two countries are likely to remain strong as long as the Conservatives remain in power. A future Labour government led by current Opposition leader and pro-Palestinian activist Jeremy Corbyn could give Israel cause to worry.

Hunt, who did not prove the most popular of health secretaries since assuming the position in 2012, has an unenviable task ahead of him both domestically and internationally as Britain navigates choppy and often unpredictable Brexit waters.

Despite that, Jerusalem is hopeful that Hunt will continue to steer Britain towards an increasingly closer and supportive relationship with Israel.

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