Johnson pushes Netanyahu on two-state solution in lightning meeting

Johnson pushes Netanyahu on two-state solution in lightning meeting

PM thanks British counterpart for fighting anti-Semitism, leaves 10 Downing Street, in turmoil over Brexit, after merely 30 minutes; also set to meet US defense chief

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside 10 Downing Street in central London on September 5, 2019. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside 10 Downing Street in central London on September 5, 2019. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday welcomed his Israeli counterpart to 10 Downing Street for a brief meeting, during which he stressed that London seeks a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Of course the UK is still supporting all efforts to reach a solution to the Middle East peace process and a two-state solution,” Johnson told Netanyahu during the very short public part of the meeting.

“Well, I’d like to talk to you about that too,” the Israeli premier replied.

Netanyahu has for some time now refrained from endorsing Palestinian statehood. Instead, he has vowed to apply Israeli law in all Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a move analysts say would make a future two-state solution impossible.

Earlier during their meeting, Netanyahu indicated he had come to London mainly to discuss Iran’s increasing regional aggression.

“I want to say that you’ve been a great friend of the Jewish people and Israel. I applaud your staunch stance against anti-Semitism and your support for Israel’s security,” Netanyahu said.

“It’s not that we lack challenges. We have the challenge of Iran’s aggression and terrorism, and I’d like to talk to you about how we can work together to counter these things for the benefit of peace,” he went on.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomes PM Netanyahu to 10 Downing Street, September 5, 2019 (Haim Tzach/GPO)

Netanyahu left 10 Downing Street a scant 30 minutes after he arrived. That their sit-down was unusually brief was likely due to the political turmoil currently engulfing the British premier. Johnson is this week handling a revolt within his Conservative party over his controversial plan to leave the European Union by the end of next month even without a deal on the modalities.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, right, hosts PM Netanyahu to 10 Downing Street, September 5, 2019 (Haim Tzach/GPO)

Later on Thursday, Netanyahu was meeting with UK Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace and US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, who is also in London, “to discuss matters of national security,” the Israeli Embassy in London said. US Vice President Mike Pence, too, is in the British capital, but no meeting had been scheduled as of Thursday afternoon.

Two Israeli defense chiefs, Israel Air Force chief Major General Amikam Norkin and IDF Head of Operations Directorate Major General Aharon Haliva, are accompanying Netanyahu on the trip.

Earlier in the day, as Netanyahu boarded his El Al plane en route to Heathrow, he called for amping up the pressure on the regime in Tehran.

“This is not the time to conduct talks with Iran — this is the time to increase the pressure on Iran,” he declared.

On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump did not rule out meeting with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani in the near future. Asked by reporters at the White House whether he might meet with Rouhani on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, which takes place in New York later this month, Trump responded: “Sure, anything is possible.”

Also on Wednesday, Rouhani announced additional steps away from the 2015 nuclear agreement, vowing to accelerate nuclear activities if Europe fails to provide satisfy Tehran’s demands.

“From Friday, we will witness research and development on different kinds of centrifuges and new centrifuges and also whatever is needed for enriching uranium in an accelerated way,” the president said in an address broadcast on state TV. “All limitations on our Research and Development will be lifted on Friday.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) shakes hands with his British counterpart Boris Johnson during a meeting in Tehran on December 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

“This morning we were informed of another violation, more defiance, by Iran, this time in its striving to attain nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu told reporters Thursday as he boarded a Boeing 777 to London. “This joins Iran’s aggressive acts against international shipping and against countries in the region, as well as its efforts to carry out murderous attacks against the State of Israel, efforts that have not ceased.”

The UK is one of the signatories to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and continues to firmly back the agreement, but has recently clashed with the Islamic Republic after it detained a UK-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. British authorities had previously seized a tanker carrying Iranian oil off the coast of Gibraltar.

With Esper, the US defense secretary, Netanyahu wants to talk about “Israel’s security needs,” the Prime Minister’s Office said Wednesday. The two spoke by telephone on Tuesday night and decided to expand on their conversation in London, according to Netanyahu’s office.

In this July 8, 2019, photo, acting US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper waits for the arrival of Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani at the Pentagon. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Earlier this week, Hebrew media reported that Jerusalem has been discussing with the US administration a grand presidential gesture underlining America’s commitment to Israeli security in the coming days, including a possible statement on the two allies’ intent to enter into a defense pact.

The most likely action, the newspaper said, was a vow by Trump that the US will defend the Jewish state from any potential existential threat, though such a statement would have few practical implications. The proposed declaration has largely been seen as an effort by Trump to boost Netanyahu ahead of the September 17 elections.

The snap visit to the UK was only announced by the Prime Minister’s Office on Wednesday.

Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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