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Analysis

BICOM Briefing | The Netanyahu-May meeting

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BICOM’s research team has prepared a briefing ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May today (Monday 6 February), explaining the current state of UK-Israel relations and summarising the topics they are likely to cover.

Introduction

  • British Prime Minister Theresa May will host Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in London on Monday for their first ever meeting. Although May visited Israel in her role as Home Secretary during the summer of 2014, the trip coincided with a security crisis surrounding Hamas kidnapping three Israeli teenagers, which prevented a meeting with Netanyahu. The two leaders were also thought to have scheduled a meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos, but Netanyahu did not in the end attend the conference.
  • Since becoming Prime Minister in July 2016, May has reinforced Britain’s strong bilateral relationship with Israel. Speaking at a Conservative Friends of Israel lunch in December 2016, she pledged to further strengthen “crucial” ties with Israel and praised the country as a “beacon of tolerance”.
  • Although the UK supported UN Security Council resolution 2334 last December which was seen as deeply problematic by the Israeli government, the recent signals from Downing Street appear to indicate a closer relationship. The Prime Minister criticised John Kerry’s December speech saying “we do not believe that the way to negotiate peace is by focusing on only one issue, in this case the construction of settlements”. In January, the UK effectively snubbed the Paris Peace conference by sending a mid-level official to observe, not participate. At a subsequent meeting of EU foreign ministers, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson blocked the adoption of the Paris Conference communiqué.
  • In a speech to Republicans last Thursday in Philadelphia, May said “whether it is the security of Israel in the Middle East or Estonia in the Baltic states, we must always stand up for our friends and allies in democratic countries that find themselves in tough neighbourhoods too”.
  • Ahead of the Monday’s meeting May’s spokeswoman stated that the two leaders would prioritise “the bilateral relationship between the UK and Israel and how we work together on a range of shared challenges, not just looking at the Middle East peace process but also things that affect us both – the situation in Syria, the nuclear threat from Iran”.
  • With the UK set to trigger Article 50 in March and commence negotiations to leave the European Union, Netanyahu’s visit also represents an opportunity to discuss how the UK-Israel relationship could deepen after Brexit with a trade deal and other areas of joint work.
  • Netanyahu is set to meet President Trump on February 15 and he will be greatly interested to hear from May about her meeting with the President last week and what was discussed about the Middle East.

The full briefing is available as a PDF below.

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