FM Cohen to visit UK ahead of Netanyahu visit, before heading to Poland

Foreign minister to meet with British counterpart Cleverly for talks on trade, Iran; will then travel to Warsaw to sign agreement on Holocaust youth trips

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen attends a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, January 25, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen attends a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, January 25, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen will fly to the United Kingdom and Poland this week, the Foreign Ministry announced on Saturday evening.

Israel’s top diplomat is slated to take off on Monday for London, where he will meet with his British counterpart, James Cleverly. The two will sign a road map for deepening technological and health cooperation over the next decade, according to the ministry.

The UK left the European Union in January 2020, and is charting its own independent foreign policy course. London and Jerusalem are in the process of negotiating a post-Brexit free trade agreement.

Cohen and Cleverly will also discuss keeping Iran from achieving a nuclear weapon, Israel said.

The UK — a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council — is part of the so-called E3, the European powers who are party to the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal, along with the US, Russia, and China. The agreement fell apart after the US withdrew in 2018 under former president Donald Trump, and negotiations to revive it have since stalled.

Leaders from Israel’s fintech community will also be joining Cohen in order to advance business ties between the countries. Cohen will also meet with Jewish community leaders.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly arrives in Downing Street in London, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Cleverly was scheduled to visit Israel late last month but postponed his trip indefinitely. Diplomatic sources told The Times of Israel that the postponement was due to scheduling issues, and was in no way a sign of London’s disapproval of any Israeli policies.

Also last month, Cleverly wrote in a letter that the British government has no intention of working with far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir. But he also also wrote that the UK was looking forward to working with Netanyahu’s government to “strengthen our excellent bilateral ties.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will fly to London on Thursday for a weekend visit that will include a meeting with British premier Rishi Sunak.

Poland plans

After his London visit, Cohen will fly to Poland in order to sign with Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau a deal that ends disagreements over the content and security protocol for the youth Holocaust study trips to Poland for Israeli students.

The countries have been locked in conflict over the trips for several years. The Foreign Ministry previously said the Polish government was trying to control the Holocaust studies curriculum taught to the Israeli children.

Illustrative: Jewish people visit the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp after the March of the Living annual observance, in Oswiecim, Poland, April 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

The agreement was finalized last Thursday after a delegation led by Foreign Ministry Director General Ronen Levi flew to Warsaw to meet with their Polish counterparts. The group included officials from the Foreign and Education ministries, and the Shin Bet security agency.

News of the agreement emerged in early March. Netanyahu hailed the agreement, saying that “the lessons of the Holocaust can be learned in many ways, but there is nothing better than seeing for yourself.”

Poland’s government has been engaged in ongoing efforts to minimize Polish responsibility for the persecution of Jews on its territory during the Holocaust, while scholars say there was significant cooperation by Poles with the Nazi regime.

Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski complained last year that “the current formula of organized trips of Israeli youth to Poland requires changes due to systematic problems leading to the strengthening of false stereotypes, which negatively impacts Polish-Israeli relations.”

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, right, and Auschwitz Survivor Edward Mosberg, attend the March of the Living annual observance that was not held for two years due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, in Oswiecim, Poland, April 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Young Jewish Israelis traditionally travel to Poland in the summer between 11th and 12th grade, touring former Nazi camps in order to learn about the Holocaust and memorialize those murdered. The trip has long been considered a rite of passage in Israeli education and, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, some 40,000 Israeli students participated each year.

The two erstwhile allies have also been in a diplomatic spat since July 2021, when Poland’s legislature passed a law effectively cutting off any future restitution to the heirs of property seized by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

Israel recalled its envoy to Warsaw for consultations the following month. Lapid advised Poland’s ambassador to Israel to remain on vacation in his homeland, and instructed Israel’s new ambassador to Poland, Ya’acov Livne, to remain in Israel.

Since then, the two sides have slowly deescalated the tensions. Livne took up his post in Warsaw in February 2022 to coordinate Israeli efforts to extract citizens from Ukraine and to provide aid to Kyiv. Two Polish lawmakers visited the Knesset in June, the first to do so since 2017.

Despite promises in July from Poland’s President Andrzej Duda to return its envoy to Israel, he has yet to do so.

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