UK’s Johnson, in Ramallah, urges 2-state solution, says Trump brings fresh approach
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UK’s Johnson, in Ramallah, urges 2-state solution, says Trump brings fresh approach

Visiting British foreign secretary says peace 'is possible' but settlements and terrorism are obstacles

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on March 8, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on March 8, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Wednesday his government remained committed to a two-state solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as he visited the region for talks with leaders from both sides.

“The policy of our government in the UK is absolutely unchanged,” Johnson told reporters in Ramallah, standing next to Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki on a podium near a “State of Palestine” seal.

“We remain committed to a two-state solution, to that vision, for the resolution of this conflict. You know, I really think it is possible,” he said.

President Donald Trump, in a break from his predecessors, has sent mixed signals about whether the United States still supports a two-state solution.

His election has emboldened Israeli hard-liners who oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state, while Netanyahu recently stopped short of endorsing the idea.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson meets with Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki in the West Bank city of Ramallah on March 8, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson meets with Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki in the West Bank city of Ramallah on March 8, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

Johnson said he believed the new Trump administration in Washington represented an “opportunity” for progress.

“There is a willingness to look at things with fresh eyes, and what it will require is leadership on both sides — leadership and vision and courage,” he said.

Johnson also met PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, and was set to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in his first working visit since taking over as foreign secretary in July.

He met Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, whose role is mainly ceremonial, earlier in the day.

Johnson criticized Israeli settlement building in his comments in Ramallah, but also spoke out against Palestinian violence.

“There is of course the need for the Israeli people to feel that they can live in security without the fear of terrorism and violence,” he said.

“But on the other hand, it’s vital too that obstacles such as the accelerating pace of settlement building, the accelerating pace of demolitions, which we also discussed… Those are also the barriers in the path of a two-state solution, and we have to work to remove those barriers.”

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson shakes hands with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin during their meeting in Jerusalem on March 8, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / RONEN ZVULUN)
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson shakes hands with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin during their meeting in Jerusalem on March 8, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / RONEN ZVULUN)

Earlier Wednesday, Rivlin asked Johnson to pass on an invitation to the British royal family to visit Israel.

Rivlin noted that 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, a document signed on November 2, 1917, by the UK’s then foreign secretary, Arthur James Balfour, which announced his government’s intention to facilitate “a national home for the Jewish people” in the Land of Israel.

It was seen as giving the Zionist movement official recognition and backing on the part of a major power, on the eve of the British conquest of the then-Ottoman territory of Palestine.

“This is a very important year in the history of the relations between Israel and the United Kingdom,” Rivlin told Johnson.

President Reuven Rivlin meets with UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson at his official residence in Jerusalem, March 8, 2017. (Mark Neiman / GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin meets with UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson at his official residence in Jerusalem, March 8, 2017. (Mark Neiman / GPO)

“We will mark 100 years since the Balfour Declaration and I am greatly honored to extend an official invitation to the royal family to visit Israel to mark this event.”

Johnson said the British were “looking forward to the commemorations,” adding, “we see our historic role in Israel and in the region, and we want to bolster and build our bilateral relations. The future is cooperation.”

An image posted by Benjamin Netanyahu on Facebook shows him standing with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in the room in London's Foreign Office where Arthur Balfour signed his famous 1917 declaration. February 6, 2017 (Facebook)
An image posted by Benjamin Netanyahu on Facebook shows him standing with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in the room in London’s Foreign Office where Arthur Balfour signed his famous 1917 declaration. February 6, 2017 (Facebook)

A month ago, Netanyahu said during an official visit to the UK that an invitation he received from British Prime Minister Theresa May to attend November’s centenary celebrations of the Balfour Declaration in London “speaks volumes” about Jerusalem’s relationship with Downing Street.

In July, the Palestinian Authority announced its plan to file a lawsuit against the British government over the 1917 document that paved the way for the creation of the State of Israel.

Johnson stirred controversy when he visited Israel in November 2015 while he was mayor of London by calling those advocating a boycott of the country over its occupation of disputed West Bank territory “corduroy-jacketed lefty academics.”

Johnson had led a trade mission to the region, but the West Bank segment unraveled after he criticized the Palestinian-led movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Palestinian youth and female business leaders called off their meetings with him in protest over what was perceived as a pro-Israel stance, and he was informed his comments had led to additional security risks if he were to visit the West Bank. He did still met with PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

His visit this time comes with Trump’s administration casting uncertainty over the West’s determination to bring about a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When Trump met Netanyahu at the White House in February, he said he would be open to any arrangement acceptable to the sides that led to peace.

May’s government says it remains committed to a two-state solution and has criticized Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

Britain voted in favor of a UN Security Council resolution passed in December demanding a halt to settlement construction. The vote prompted Israel to temporarily scale back relations.

But Britain refused to sign the final statement of a Middle East peace conference held in Paris in January that was strongly opposed by Israel.

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