British foreign minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday his government remained committed to a two-state solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict as he visited for talks with leaders from both sides.
His comments came with US President Donald Trump casting uncertainty over the West’s long efforts to foster a two-state solution.
Trump backed away from the US commitment to a two-state solution when he met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in February, saying he would be open to a single state if it led to peace.
“The policy of our government in the UK is absolutely unchanged,” Johnson told reporters in Ramallah after meeting Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki.
“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.”
However, he said he believed the new administration in Washington represented an “opportunity.”
“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 was also to meet both Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah as well as 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. There were also reports in Israeli media that Johnson would be briefed by anti-settlement NGO Peace Now, but there was no official confirmation.
Johnson criticised 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.”
The gaffe-prone Johnson stirred controversy when he visited Israel in November 2015 while still mayor of London by calling those advocating a boycott of the country over its occupation of Palestinian territory “corduroy-jacketed lefty academics.”
Afterwards, a number of Palestinian groups refused to meet him and he was informed his comments had led to additional security risks if he were to visit the West Bank.
He however still met with Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah. 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.
Netanyahu met British Prime Minister Theresa May in London in February, saying at the time that all “responsible nations” should back new sanctions against Israel’s arch-foe Iran.—Agencies