Britain will stand firm against attempts to delegitimise or boycott Israel, Prime Minister David Cameron told MPs in Jerusalem on Wednesday, shortly before Palestinian militants fired at least 25 rockets at the Jewish state.
Speaking at the outset of a two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, Cameron gave a 20-minute address to the parliament, pledging “rock solid” support for Israel’s security and expressing “deep scepticism” over Iran’s nuclear intentions in a speech which checked all the right boxes and won him sustained applause.
His visit however was quickly overshadowed by events on the ground, with an Israeli security source reporting that at least 25 rockets fired from Gaza had landed in Israel.
The source told AFP there were no immediate reports of casualties resulting from the attack, which was claimed by the Palestinian militant organisation Islamic Jihad.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged in the wake of the rocket fire to act “very forcefully” against anyone seeking to harm Israel.
Most of Cameron’s remarks were on the opportunities that a peace agreement would bring.
Netanyahu, who also spoke, warned there would be no chance of a deal if the world continued to pressure only Israel, urging pressure on the Palestinians to make “significant steps” for peace.
The British premier, who arrived at the head of a delegation of business leaders hoping to strengthen economic ties with Israel and the Palestinian Authority, said he was bringing a clear message to those who called for a boycott of Israel.
“Britain opposes boycotts,” he said, sparking sustained applause.
“Israel’s place as a homeland for the Jewish people … is founded in international law.
“Delegitimising the State of Israel is wrong. It’s abhorrent. And together we will defeat it,” he said.
Expressing support for the peace efforts of US Secretary of State John Kerry, Cameron said Britain backed the “compromises needed” to achieve that, which included a halt to Israel’s settlement activity and an end to Palestinian incitement.
He then sketched out in detail a vision of peace which would see Israel forging new ties with the Arab world, with open borders, and Israelis and Palestinians working together to maintain regional security under a deal which would “end all conflict” would “leave Israel more secure, not less secure.”
Cameron’s visit comes as the US-led peace negotiations struggle to make headway before an April 29 deadline, with US Secretary of State John Kerry pushing both leaders to accept a framework proposal that would extend the talks to the year’s end.
But Netanyahu said without international pressure on the Palestinians, there would be no advance towards a peace deal.
“It is time that international pressure be directed … at the Palestinians who have consistently and systematically refused to make any significant steps towards peace,” he said in a speech which was repeatedly interrupted by shouting and heckling from the opposition.
“As long as the international community puts pressure only on Israel, the Palestinians will continue to entrench their positions – and will even harden them – and there will not be any move towards peace,” he said.
– Bad for us and them –
“It will be bad for both us and them.”
Netanyahu said the demand for concessions “must be put first on the Palestinian leadership” to recognise Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, a demand which the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected.
The issue has turned into one of the main stumbling blocks of the ongoing peace talks.
Following the Knesset session, Cameron was meeting President Shimon Peres and visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial before holding a news conference with Netanyahu at 1730 GMT.
Ahead of his departure for Israel, Cameron said the US-led talks to agree a negotiating framework were “entering a critical phase” pledging to encourage both leaders “to take the final difficult steps towards peace,” a Downing Street statement said.
But Netanyahu was expected to use the meeting to discuss Iran and to impress on Cameron the need for Europe to push the Palestinians “to change their current behaviour” in the peace talks, Israeli media reports said.
Cameron had been scheduled to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories in mid-February but stayed in London to deal with winter storms which battered the country.