Netanyahu heads to London to celebrate Balfour and talk Iran

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to London on Wednesday evening to take part in centenary celebrations for the Balfour Declaration and to hold talks with Prime Minister Theresa May expected to focus on differences the countries have regarding the Iranian nuclear deal.

While Netanyahu applauded US President Donald Trump for decertifying the Iran deal last month and sending the issue back to Congress, Britain – along with France, Germany and Russia, the other European countries that were part of the agreement – believe it should be maintained.

Netanyahu, just before boarding his plane, told reporters that “I intend to raise concrete suggestions on how to deal with the failed aspects of the Iran nuclear agreement.”

Netanyahu is traveling to the British capital to celebrate the Balfour Declaration, which paved the way for Israel’s establishment.

Referring to Palestinian demands for an apology for that pivotal document, Netanyahu said, “the Palestinians say that the Balfour Declaration was a tragedy. It wasn’t a tragedy. What’s been tragic is their refusal to accept this 100 years later. I hope they change their mind, because if they do they can move forward finally to making peace between our two peoples.”

Netanyahu is traveling to Britain at a time when a poll found that fully 50% of the British public have “cold” feelings toward the Jewish state. That is the bad news.

The good news is that this number has dropped from 62% holding cold feelings toward Israel in 2014, just after the war in Gaza.

According to a Populus poll taken in mid-October for BICOM – the Britain Israel Communications and Research Center – and released last week, 21% of the British public have a warm feeling toward Israel, 2% more than in 2014.  Another 20% have neutral feelings, and 10% don’t know. Populus took the poll in 2014 as well.

Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Thursday. Despite demands from the Palestinians that the British apologize for the November 2, 1917, Balfour declaration stating Britain’s support for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, May has said that Britain will mark the centennial “with pride.”

Netanyahu last met with May during a visit to London in February.

Britain’s policy on the Iranian nuclear deal is that while it is not perfect, it is broadly accomplishing the goals it was meant to address – which is to push the Islamic Republic away from becoming a nuclear state. The British have also expressed concern that if the deal were scrapped, Iran would rush quickly to nuclear breakout.

Netanyahu is expected to discuss with the British premier Iran’s ballistic missile development and its aggression in the region, and how those issues should now be addressed.

The discussions are taking place amid a great deal of uncertainty about the Iranian nuclear deal — formerly known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — now that Trump has decertified it.

The president has kicked the issue back to Congress which now has less than 60 days to decide whether to introduce legislation to reimpose sanctions on Iran’s banking system and oil exports; institute “”trigger points” regarding its nuclear and ballistic missile development whereby sanctions would kick in automatically if Iran were to take certain actions; or take no action at all.

Following his meetings with May and Johnson, Netanyahu will on Thursday evening take part in a gala dinner honoring the Balfour declaration hosted by Lord Rothschild, with the participation of May, senior government officials, and members of the Balfour family.

Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn turned down an invitation to the event, sending his party’s shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry in his stead.

On Friday Netanyahu will give an address entitled “Israel’s Foreign Policy Priorities” at the Chatham House think tank. Netanyahu, according to how Chatham House billed the speech, “will outline his government’s foreign policy priorities in light of the current geopolitical landscape across the Middle East.”

He is also scheduled to open trading at the London Stock Exchange and meet leading corporate leaders that day.

Although the BDS movement in Britain has made a great deal of noise over the last decade, it has had almost no impact on commerce between the two countries. For instance, two way trade between Israel and the the UK reached $7.6b in 2016, a 64% increase from 2007, a couple of years after the BDS movement started and began gaining steam.

Those figures do not take into account arms deals, which would increase the number substantially. According to a 2016 study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Israel is Britain’s third largest weapons supplier, following the US and France.

Netanyahu, who will be accompanied on the trip by his wife Sara, will spend Shabbat in London, and on Sunday meet with British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and British Jewish community leaders. He will fly back home after those meetings.