Hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left London, the UK government on Tuesday denounced Israel for passing into law a measure allowing the country to hold onto private Palestinian land, arguing that it alienates Israel from its allies.
The condemnation came a day after Netanyahu concluded his first visit with British Prime Minister Theresa May, during which Netanyahu declined to fully back the UK leader’s recognition of the two-state solution as the best pathway to peace.
“As a longstanding friend of Israel, I condemn the passing of the Land Regularisation Bill by the Knesset, which damages Israel’s standing with its international partners,” Minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood said in a statement. “It is of great concern that the bill paves the way for significant growth in settlements deep in the West Bank, threatening the viability of the two-state solution.”
Ellwood concluded his statement by reiterating Britain’s support for a two-state solution “leading to a secure Israel that is safe from terrorism, and a contiguous, viable and sovereign Palestinian state.”
The Knesset on Monday night passed the controversial Regulation Bill into law, 60-52. The law retroactively legalizes some 4,000 homes built by settlers on private Palestinian land across the West Bank, but is likely to be overturned by the High Court of Justice.
Netanyahu, who had met May and UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson earlier during the day, did not participate in the vote because he was still airborne at the time. However, he said from London that he supported the law after speaking to US administration officials about it.
The UK was the first major Western ally to condemn the bill. The White House said late Monday that President Donald Trump would discuss the matter with Netanyahu during their planned meeting in Washington next week.
Turkey on Tuesday condemned the law as “unacceptable,” saying in a statement that it “destroys” prospects for a two-state solution.
Earlier on Monday, May had told Netanyahu that the UK continued to view the two-state solution as “the best way to bring stability and peace to the region.” She reiterated her government’s opposition to settlement activity, according to her spokesperson.
During their meeting at 10 Downing Street, May also told her Israeli guest that the Regulation Bill was unhelpful and made it more difficult for Israel’s friends to defend the country in the international arena, the Haaretz daily reported.
Netanyahu, in public statements before the meeting, said he shared Britain’s desire for peace and Israel “will never give up on our quest for peace with all of our neighbors.”
During a subsequent briefing with Israeli reporters, Netanyahu said May brought up settlement building but did not go beyond normal discussions on the issue, despite a spike in Israeli announcements of new settlement homes since Trump entered office.
“She did bring up the issue and expressed the government’s known position. The issue came up in our conversation, to the extent that is usual, but not beyond that,” Netanyahu said.
He said he told May that “the settlements are not the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and are not an obstacle to peace,” instead blaming Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state as the reason for stagnant peace efforts.
The Israeli leader added that he laid out his positions on the question of Palestinian statehood, saying he has not changed his position that any peace agreement be conditioned on a Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and an Israeli security presence from the Green Line, which distinguishes Israel from the West Bank, to the Jordan River.
While Netanyahu in the briefing stopped short of explicitly endorsing the two-state solution, he said his position on the issue hadn’t changed.