UK’s Cameron expected to push high tech in first visit as PM

British leader to address Knesset, Labor head says party won’t walk out; PA slams short planned stay in Bethlehem as ‘afterthought’

British Prime Minister David Cameron (photo credit: UK Department for International Development/Flickr)
British Prime Minister David Cameron (photo credit: UK Department for International Development/Flickr)

LONDON — Prime Minister David Cameron plans to make his first visit as British leader to Israel and the Palestinian territories Wednesday.

Cameron’s Downing Street office says he will meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and deliver a speech to Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein threatened to cancel Cameron’s planned address, for fear that opposition MKs may desert the plenum in protest of the so-called Governance Bill.

According to Walla, opposition MKs had discussed the possibility of walking out during Netanyahu’s speech, which is expected to immediately precede that of Cameron.

Earlier Tuesday, Edelstein met with opposition leader and Labor head Issac Herzog and demanded that Herzog commit that the opposition remain in the plenum throughout the entirety of Cameron’s visit.

Herzog, on his part, assured the Knesset speaker that Cameron’s visit would not be interrupted by any member of the Labor party. However, other opposition MKs did not make the same commitment.

Cameron’s visit will also be beset by another difficulty: the ongoing Foreign Ministry strike, which will put all preparations and arrangements in the hands of Netanyahu’s office and the British Embassy in Tel Aviv.

During his visit, Cameron will not only reiterate Britain’s commitment to reaching a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and support for US-mediated efforts to forge a framework agreement between the two sides, but also explore new avenues for greater business and tech cooperation between the UK and Israel.

“Our tech partnership is the strongest of any in the world and we should capitalize on this — creating more jobs back in Britain and delivering economic security for hard-working families,” Cameron said ahead of his trip.

“I’ve got a planeload of innovative British companies coming with me and we’ll be linking them up with Israeli businesses so they can forge new partnerships that will give them a competitive edge in the global race.”

Accompanied by a British business delegation numbering 17 firms, Cameron will also unveil a plan to help Palestinian businesses develop.

On the ongoing peace talks, Cameron said efforts to reach a settlement were at a “critical phase” — a reference to the April deadline for the culmination of negotiations spearheaded by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

“I want to encourage Prime Minister Netanyahu and [Palestinian Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas to build on the strong leadership they have shown so far and to take the final difficult steps towards peace. The prize could be great: a stable, prosperous Middle East with a sovereign and viable Palestinian State living in peace alongside a secure Israel at the heart of it,” said Cameron.

“A secure future. A prosperous future. That’s what we should all set our sights on.”

Cameron is also scheduled to meet Abbas during his two-day trip, which will include a short stay in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

It is there, and not in the Palestinian Authority government headquarters in Ramallah, that he will meet with Abbas.

The decision to limit the British leader’s West Bank visit to Bethlehem, as well as the short length of his planned stay there, drew ire from the Palestinian Authority this week.

“If someone wants to visit Israel, they should visit Israel. There is no reason to have as an afterthought a symbolic visit to Palestine,” Fatah spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi said. “This shows the imbalance in the whole situation.”

Cameron initially planned to visit Israel last month but had to cancel the trip because his government faced emergency flooding in parts of England.

This trip coincides with rising Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

Last week, Abbas announced he would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Netanyahu’s government says such recognition would demonstrate that Abbas’ Fatah movement wants peace.

Cameron did visit Israel as an opposition lawmaker before his 2010 rise to power.

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