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Britain and Israel seek closer ties as diplomatic winds change

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Britain and Israel seek closer ties as diplomatic winds change

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Britain’s relations with Israel these days may sound confusing to some. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was very clear as he headed to London on Sunday (February 5), before a trip to Washington next week: He wants to seize what he calls diplomatic “opportunities.”

“The opportunities stem from the fact that there is a new administration in Washington, and a new government in Britain. I intend to speak with both of them about tightening relations, between each side and Israel and trilaterally,”
Netanyahu said before boarding his flight.

Last week, Israel said it would establish the first new settlement in the occupied West Bank since the late 1990s, just hours after Jewish settlers were evicted from an illegal outpost. The country has approved the construction of 6,000 new settlement homes since US President Donald Trump took office.

Netanyahu would certainly like to see Britain become a key ally just like the new US administration. But not long ago – in December – Britain supported the UN resolution urging Israel to stop building settlements on occupied Palestinian territory.

The vote enraged Israel, but also Trump, who warned in a tweet that things would change at the UN from the very first day of his presidency. His administration has since clarified that while the US no longer sees Israeli settlements as an obstacle to peace, it does not consider them helpful either.

Theresa May, for her part, went as far as scolding then Secretary of State John Kerry for a speech criticizing Israeli policy.

Looking for friends

Israel saw this as a welcome change of tone. The US has always been its closest ally, whereas Europe has been more critical. Now Netanyahu might enjoy even stronger support from Washington, and also win the backing of post-Brexit Britain.

In January, Britain refused to send a high-level delegation to a Middle East peace conference organised in Paris. It voiced concern that the meeting would only exacerbate tensions.

It also snubbed the closing declaration by 70 countries that stressed only a two-state solution could resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Just as Britain works on its divorce from the European Union, many see in its new coziness with Trump and Israel a way to keep warm in an uncertain post-Brexit world.