Britain marks Balfour centenary with Israeli PM
LONDON - Prime Minister Theresa May told her Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday that illegal settlements were an obstacle to peace, as they prepared to celebrate the centenary of the British statement that helped lead to Israel's foundation.
In talks in Downing Street, May said Britain was committed to a two-state solution with a viable Palestinian state, and wanted to discuss "what we see as some of the barriers and some of the difficulties, like the illegal settlements, in relation to that peace process".
The two leaders were due to attend a dinner on Thursday evening celebrating the Balfour Declaration of 1917, a statement offering Britain's support for "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people".
In a speech, May was due to say that Britain was "proud of our pioneering role in the creation of the state of Israel" and call for a "renewed resolve to support a lasting peace".
Netanyahu, who is on a five-day visit to London, said in Downing Street: "Israel is committed to peace, I'm committed to peace.
"A hundred years after Balfour, the Palestinians should finally accept a Jewish national home and finally accept a Jewish state. And when they do, the road to peace will be infinitely closer. In my opinion peace will be achievable."
The Balfour declaration is seen as a precursor to Israel's creation in 1948, and the anniversary is a joyous occasion for Israelis.
But many Palestinians say it led to hundreds of thousands fleeing or being forced from their homes, and thousands took to the streets of various cities on Thursday in protest.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas wrote in a newspaper opinion piece that "the creation of a homeland for one people resulted in the dispossession and continuing persecution of another".
Netanyahu also met British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Thursday, in discussions that were expected to include US President Donald Trump's decision last month to refuse to certify the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement.
Before their meeting, May emphasised Britain's commitment to the deal, while Netanyahu said: "The goal that I have in mind is not keeping or eliminating the deal, it is improving the deal and correcting its main flaws.
"I think those that want to keep the deal should co-operate on correcting the deal."
Dignitaries at the dinner on Thursday evening were due to include a descendant of the Balfour Declaration's author, then foreign secretary Lord Arthur Balfour.
In her speech, May was due to warn against a "pernicious form of anti-Semitism which uses criticism of the actions of the Israeli government as a despicable justification for questioning the very right of Israel to exist".
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour main opposition, was unable to attend but sent a colleague in his place.