British FM heads to Israel to push dialogue with Palestinians

Reiterating London’s opposition to West Bank annexation, Dominic Raab set to meet Netanyahu, Gantz, Abbas on first official visit

Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab arrives at Downing Street in central London to chair the government's Covid-19 daily briefing on April 7, 2020. (Tolga Akmen/AFP)
Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab arrives at Downing Street in central London to chair the government's Covid-19 daily briefing on April 7, 2020. (Tolga Akmen/AFP)

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will visit Israel and the West Bank on Tuesday for meetings with top Israeli and Palestinian officials in a trip meant to express London’s opposition to any future Israeli annexation in the West Bank.

He will “press for renewed dialogue” between the sides, according to a statement by the British embassy in Israel.

He is slated to meet in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, and in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh.

The trip marks the first official visit to Israel by Raab. According to the embassy, Raab will not give interviews during the visit.

“Israel’s suspension of annexation is an important step towards a more peaceful Middle East,” Raab said in a statement released by his office. He was referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s agreement to suspend his plan to annex some 30 percent of the West Bank, including all the settlements and the Jordan Valley, as one of the conditions of the August 13 normalization deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

“It is now time for both sides to come together and engage in the dialogue that’s needed to deliver the negotiated two-state solution that can secure lasting peace, security and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians,” Raab said.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Downing Street, in London, September 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

On his visit to Ramallah, the press release said, Raab “will reaffirm UK opposition to annexation — which is illegal under international law,” and “call on the Palestinians to resume cooperation with Israel and pursue direct negotiations, as a step towards a negotiated two-state solution and a viable, sovereign Palestinian state.”

The statement also said Raab would “emphasize the UK’s strong and enduring commitment to Israel’s security.”

In Raab’s meeting with Ashkenazi, the two are likely to discuss the appointment of Israel’s new ambassador to the UK, former deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely of Likud. Her appointment is awaiting approval by London, where she is considered a controversial figure as a prominent supporter of settlements and opponent of Palestinian statehood.

Britain’s Conservative prime minister, Boris Johnson, is considered a friend of Israel, but opposes some of the Netanyahu government’s signature policies, including the proposed annexation of parts of the West Bank. The idea was put on hold earlier this month as a condition imposed by the United Arab Emirates in announcing its new willingness to normalize relations with Israel.

In early July, Johnson penned an op-ed for a major Hebrew-language daily in which he called himself a “passionate defender of Israel” but said the UK would not recognize Israeli claims in the West Bank that are not accepted by the Palestinians as well.

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