Meeting Boris Johnson, president invites UK royals to visit Israel
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Meeting Boris Johnson, president invites UK royals to visit Israel

Reuven Rivlin asks visiting British foreign secretary to extend invite in honor of Balfour Declaration centenary

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson shakes hands with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin during their meeting in Jerusalem on March 8, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / RONEN ZVULUN)
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson shakes hands with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin during their meeting in Jerusalem on March 8, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / RONEN ZVULUN)

President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday asked the visiting UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, to pass on an invitation to the British royal family to visit Israel.

Rivlin noted that 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, a document signed on November 2, 1917, by the UK’s then foreign secretary, Arthur James Balfour, which announced his government’s intention to facilitate “a national home for the Jewish people” in the Land of Israel.

It was seen as giving the Zionist movement official recognition and backing on the part of a major power, on the eve of the British conquest of the then-Ottoman territory of Palestine.

“This is a very important year in the history of the relations between Israel and the United Kingdom,” Rivlin told Johnson.

President Reuven Rivlin meets with UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson at his official residence in Jerusalem, March 8, 2017. (Mark Neiman / GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin meets with UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson at his official residence in Jerusalem, March 8, 2017. (Mark Neiman / GPO)

“We will mark 100 years since the Balfour Declaration and I am greatly honored to extend an official invitation to the royal family to visit Israel to mark this event.”

Johnson said the British were “looking forward to the commemorations,” adding, “we see our historic role in Israel and in the region, and we want to bolster and build our bilateral relations. The future is cooperation.”

An image posted by Benjamin Netanyahu on Facebook shows him standing with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in the room in London's Foreign Office where Arthur Balfour signed his famous 1917 declaration. February 6, 2017 (Facebook)
An image posted by Benjamin Netanyahu on Facebook shows him standing with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in the room in London’s Foreign Office where Arthur Balfour signed his famous 1917 declaration. February 6, 2017 (Facebook)

A month ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during an official visit to the UK that an invitation he received from British Prime Minister Theresa May to attend November’s centenary celebrations of the Balfour Declaration in London “speaks volumes” about Jerusalem’s relationship with Downing Street.

In July, the Palestinian Authority announced its plan to file a lawsuit against the British government over the 1917 document that paved the way for the creation of the State of Israel.

Johnson visited Israel and the Palestinian territories Wednesday for talks with leaders from both sides. He was due to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah as well as Netanyahu in Jerusalem in his first working visit since taking over as foreign secretary in July. He was also to hold talks with PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki.

Johnson was also reportedly to be briefed by anti-settlement NGO Peace Now.

Johnson stirred controversy when he visited Israel in November 2015 when he was mayor of London by calling those advocating a boycott of the country over its occupation of disputed West Bank 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 did still met with PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

His visit this time comes with Donald Trump’s administration casting uncertainty over the West’s determination to bring about a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When Trump met Netanyahu at the White House in February, he said he would be open to any arrangement acceptable to the sides that led to peace.

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

Britain voted in favor 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.

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