Britain’s Johnson visits Israel, Palestinian territories

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson shakes hands with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin during their meeting in Jerusalem  Picture: Ronen Zvulun / AFP Photo
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson shakes hands with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin during their meeting in Jerusalem
Picture: Ronen Zvulun / AFP Photo

British foreign minister Boris Johnson visited Israel and the Palestinian territories on Wednesday for talks with leaders from both sides as Donald Trump’s arrival as US president casts uncertainty over the decades-old conflict.

Johnson was due to meet both Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in his first working visit since taking over as foreign secretary in July.

He met Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, whose role is mainly ceremonial, earlier in the day and was also to hold talks with Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki.

There were also reports in Israeli media that Johnson would be briefed by anti-settlement NGO Peace Now, but there was no official confirmation.

The gaffe-prone Johnson stirred controversy when he visited Israel in November 2015 while still mayor of London by calling those advocating a boycott of the country over its occupation of Palestinian territory “corduroy-jacketed lefty academics”.

Afterwards, a number of Palestinian groups refused to meet him and he was informed his comments had led to additional security risks if he were to visit the West Bank.

He however still met with Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah.

His visit this time comes with Trump’s administration casting uncertainty over the West’s long efforts to foster a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Trump backed away from the US commitment to a two-state solution when he met Netanyahu at the White House in February, saying he would be open to a single state if it led to peace.

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government says it remains committed to a two-state solution and has criticised Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

Britain voted in favour of a UN Security Council resolution passed in December demanding a halt to settlement construction. The vote prompted Israel to temporarily scale back relations.

But Britain refused to sign the final statement of a Middle East peace conference held in Paris in January that was strongly opposed by Israel.

Netanyahu met May in London in February, saying at the time that all “responsible nations” should back new sanctions against Israel’s arch-foe Iran.

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