UK foreign secretary in Israel to talk Iran threats, Palestinian state

Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen meets James Cleverly, says relations with UK are at ‘peak;’ visiting envoy lays wreath at Yad Vashem

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (right) meets with UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly in Jerusalem on September 11, 2023. (Avi Hayoun)
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (right) meets with UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly in Jerusalem on September 11, 2023. (Avi Hayoun)

The British foreign secretary, James Cleverly, arrived in Israel on Monday for a three-day visit to a country facing its biggest protest movement in history and heightened violence in the West Bank.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen hailed Cleverly’s trip as important for deepening Israel’s ties with Britain, which he said “are currently at their peak.”

The British Foreign Office said Cleverly would use his first visit to the country to condemn Iran’s support for regional terror groups sworn to Israel’s destruction.

It said he would also stress Britain’s continued support for the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel despite decades of failed talks. “I’ll be making clear that all parties must take steps to advance this cause,” Cleverly said in the statement.

On Monday, Cleverly toured Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, where he took part in a wreath-laying memorial ceremony.

As Cleverly met with Cohen, tens of thousands of demonstrators rallied against government plans to shake up the judicial system outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem Monday. The protest took place on the eve of a highly charged hearing that could set up an unprecedented clash between the courts and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government over his hardline coalition’s plans to overhaul the judiciary.

Anti-judicial overhaul protesters hold a banner reading ‘Supreme Court’ outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, on September 11, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Tuesday’s High Court hearing will see a full panel of 15 judges, a first, hear petitions against the reasonableness law curbing the top court’s power to exercise judicial review over government decisions and appointments. The justices are set to decide over the coming weeks, or months, whether to accept curbs on the court’s powers and independence as bad of a contentious judicial overhaul bid, starting with the reasonableness law, passed in the Knesset in July.

Plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to weaken the Supreme Court have drawn outrage from all segments of Israeli society and exposed deep rifts in Israelis’ view of the country’s past and the vision for its future.

There was no mention of the social upheaval in the official read-outs from Cohen’s meeting with Cleverly.

Israel’s foreign ministry said Cohen and Cleverly discussed how to expand the 2020 Abraham Accords, the US-brokered deal normalizing ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco.

“We are working with our friends to expand the circle of peace and normalization,” Cohen said.

Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, James Cleverly places a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance during his visit to the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, September 11, 2023. (Ohad Zwigenberg/AP)

The foreign ministry said the two also conferred about Iran’s fast-accelerating nuclear program and the importance of halting Iranian support for regional proxies such as the Islamist terror group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Violence has surged across the West Bank over the past year and a half, with a rise in Palestinian shooting attacks against Israeli civilians and troops, near-nightly arrest raids by the military, and an uptick in revenge attacks by extremist Jewish settlers against Palestinians. Both groups have been behind some of these attacks.

Since the beginning of the year, such attacks have left 27 civilians and three soldiers dead, and several others seriously wounded.

The Israeli military’s near-nightly raids into Palestinian towns and cities in the West Bank have pushed the Palestinian death toll to 185, according to a tally by The Associated Press, the highest in some two decades.

According to a tally by The Times of Israel, 181 West Bank and East Jerusalem Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the year — the majority during clashes with security forces or while carrying out attacks, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under unclear circumstances, including by armed Israeli settlers.

Cleverly was set to meet with Netanyahu as well as Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh during his visit.

He also planned to address the annual conference of the Institute for Counter-Terrorism Policy (ICT) at Reichman University in Herzliya on Tuesday about the challenges facing Israel.

Most Popular
read more: