Analysis

BICOM Briefing – Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the UK

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Key Points

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Cameron at Downing Street on 10 September.
  • The likely issues on the agenda include: the Iran nuclear deal, increasing bilateral ties, combating Islamist Extremism and the peace process.
  • Prime Minister Cameron visited Israel in March 2014, where he hailed the partnership between Britain and Israel in a speech to the Knesset.

What is Netanyahu’s expected schedule?

  • Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu arrives in the UK on 9 September for a brief visit. He will meet with Prime Minister David Cameron at Downing Street on 10 September.

What are Netanyahu and Cameron likely to discuss?

  • The nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 powers (Britain, US, Russia, Germany, China, France) is expected to be high on the agenda. Though Britain and Israel have a shared commitment to stopping Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and have cooperated closely on this issue over a number of years, Netanyahu strongly opposes the P5+1 agreement and disagreed publicly with Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond over the deal during a meeting in Jerusalem in July. Netanyahu is likely to set out his concerns, stressing the weaknesses in the monitoring regime, the fact that restrictions on uranium enrichment will be lifted after 10-15 years, and the economic and political boost Iran will receive from the lifting of sanctions. Netanyahu will warn that this will embolden Iran’s destabilising role in the Middle East – including its support for President Assad, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups – and stress Iran’s repeated calls for Israel’s annihilation. Cameron will no doubt defend the merits of the deal, and seek to reassure Netanyahu that the UK is committed to stopping Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and to Israel’s security.
  • How to further develop the flourishing bilateral relationship is also likely to be on the agenda. Trade between Britain and Israel is at record levels – worth more than £4.5 billion last year – something both countries are keen to strengthen. Britain and Israel have also been seeking to deepen ties in science and technology. In March 2015 the Cabinet Office announced joint working between Israeli and UK academics to combat global cyber security threats. This followed a Memorandum of Understanding on bilateral digital cooperation signed in March 2014 and a stated desire to further cooperation in science, technology, business and trade.
  • A further issue is likely to be the challenge to regional security posed by Islamist extremism and ISIS. Both leaders share a view of Islamist extremism as a radical anti-Western ideology opposed to liberal democratic values, and have a shared concern over the spread of ISIS and its threat to the stability of Western-allied Arab states including Egypt and Jordan.
  • While not currently top of the news agenda, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is also likely to be discussed. Netanyahu is likely to reiterate the message he has given since forming his new government that he remains committed to resolving the conflict based on two states for two peoples and that he is prepared for a resumption of talks without preconditions. Netanyahu is likely to accuse Palestinian President Abbas of not being serious about negotiations and point to recent threats by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to annul the Oslo Accords. Cameron is likely to stress the need to create an environment more conducive for promoting the peace process, including by curbing settlement construction.
  • The Gaza Strip and its reconstruction is a possible topic of conversation. Netanyahu may point to the fact Israel agreed the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM) with the UN and the PA to import construction materials, including dual use materials, into the Gaza Strip. In recent months between 1000 and 1500 trucks have entered Gaza each week from Israel, including hundreds of trucks of construction materials, despite the PA not being present to check directly the use of the materials, due to disagreements between the PA and Hamas. A May 2015 Quartet report stated: “As long as the deadlock continues and the PA is not on the ground in Gaza, there will not be any significant improvement in the situation. An effective and tangible PA presence in Gaza is also a prerequisite for many of the donors who pledged funds.”

Recent High-Level UK Israel meetings

  • Israeli Vice-Prime Minister Silvan Shalom visited the UK on 30 July 2015 and opened the London Stock Exchange and met with FCO Minister Baroness Anelay.
  • Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond visited Israel in 15 July 2015 to discuss the recently signed nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 powers.
  • Prime Minister David Cameron visited Israel in March 2014 with a business delegation. Cameron used the visit to strengthen ties between Israel and the UK announcing closer research collaboration on tech, innovation and research. He told the Knesset “Britain has played a proud and vital role in helping to secure Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people. And just as important as the history is the partnership we are building between our countries today. That begins with our commitment to Israel’s security.”

Key stats

  • According to Business Secretary Sajid Javid, the total value of trade and services between Britain and Israel is now well over £4.5 billion a year.
  • According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, total bilateral trade increased by more than 7 per cent in 2014. The figures revealed a 4.8 per cent increase in imports to the UK from Israel and a 12.9 per cent increase in exports from the UK to Israel.
  • The UK is Israel’s second biggest export market after the US.
  • Nine Israeli companies carried out IPOs on the LSE last year – second only to the UK itself.
  • Some 300 Israeli companies have a physical presence in the UK, responsible for thousands of jobs. In 2014, 24 Israeli companies set up or expanded their operations in the UK.
  • In 2014 179,000 British tourists visited Israel, despite the conflict which took place during the summer. Britain is Israel’s 5th largest source of visiting tourists, accounting for 5% of Israeli tourist visitors.