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Analysis

BICOM Briefing: PM Cameron visiting Israel and the PA, 12-13 March

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Key points

  • Prime Minister David Cameron will visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) on 12-13 March, his first official visit as Prime Minister.
  • Cameron will be hoping to further bolster economic ties between the UK and Israel. Bilateral trade has grown rapidly to an estimated £5.1 billion in 2013, alongside growing cooperation in the areas of science, education and technology.
  • Cameron will likely also stress the significance Britain attaches to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and his support for US Secretary of State John Kerry’s framework plan.
  • Israel’s significant concerns about the diplomatic process between the P5+1 and Iran are likely to be raised as part of Cameron’s visit and regional instability, including the Syrian civil war, is also likely to be on the agenda.

What is the Prime Minister’s expected itinerary?

  • The Prime Minister will arrive in Israel on 12 March. He will address the Knesset  and likely meet Israeli politicians, before holding meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu.
  • Cameron will be accompanied by a 17-strong business delegation, with a particular focus on the technology sector following  the founding of the UK-Israel Tech Hub, set up by Ambassador Matthew Gould. He is also being accompanied by members of the recently appointed Holocaust Commission including Mick Davis, who chairs the new group, Sir Peter Bazalgette, Dame Helen Hyde, Holocaust survivor Ben Helfgott and Natasha Kaplinsky. Cameron will be joined by fellow Conservative MPs including James Clappison, Matthew Offord and Mike Freer.
  • On Thursday he is expected to travel to the Palestinian Authority where he will meet with Palestinian leaders including PA President Mahmoud Abbas, and show support for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

 What are the PM’s aims in his visit?

  • This will be David Cameron’s first visit to Israel and the PA since becoming Prime Minister in 2010. He visited Egypt in February 2011 and has made a number of visits to Arab Gulf States, most recently to the UAE in November 2013.
  • Cameron’s visit is expected to continue the British government’s efforts to promote UK-Israel trade, with bilateral trade and services having grown rapidly to £5.1 billion in 2013. In May 2013 Cameron’s policy advisor Rohan Silva led a delegation of leading British retailers to connect with Israel’s leading hi-tech sector companies.
  • At the same time, Cameron is expected to reiterate his support for Secretary of State Kerry’s efforts to secure a framework plan for final status talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The UK government has stressed the importance of a negotiated two-state solution and has warned of the consequences of not achieving an agreement.
  • Cameron’s challenge will be to strike a balanced position in the dispute. He is likely to voice British concerns over Israeli settlement construction, whilst also recognising Israel’s concerns over its security and legitimacy.
  • Cameron will also want to reassure Israel following the interim nuclear deal agreed by P5+1 powers and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear programme. There has been close cooperation between Israel and the UK over Iran in recent years but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was highly critical of the recent interim agreement.
  • Netanyahu will no doubt set out his concerns with the current process and the broader rapprochement between Western powers and Iran, and discuss the terms for the comprehensive agreement. He is likely to point to the recent illegal arms shipment Israel intercepted carrying missiles and other weapons to Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip, for which Israel holds Iran responsible.
  • Other sources of regional instability, including the Syrian civil war, are also likely to be on the agenda.

Recent high level UK-Israel meetings

  • In January 2014 Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman visited London, where following a meeting with William Hague he stated his support for US peace efforts.
  • In December 2013, Israeli Education Minister Shai Piron met Education Secretary Michael Gove in London and signed a memorandum of understanding to boost cooperation over English language studies.
  • Foreign Secretary William Hague last visited Israel in May 2013. During his visit, Hague and Israel’s Minister for Science, Technology and Space Yaakov Peri signed a wide-ranging memorandum of understanding to boost scientific cooperation. Hague stated that UK-Israel science and business ties are “one of the cornerstones of the relationship between Britain and Israel.”