During their meeting on Tuesday, Knesset Speaker Yuli-Yoel Edelstein and British Ambassador to Israel David Quarrey stressed the importance of strengthening the ties between the Israeli and UK parliaments and also discussed the BDS movement and the current wave of Palestinian terror.
”Governments come and go, but parliaments remain,” Edelstein said.
Quarrey said British Prime Minister David Cameron, during his visit to Israel last year, was thoroughly impressed with the atmosphere of a ”vibrant democracy” in the Knesset.
Edelstein argued that the UK Parliament can serve as a third party and organize meetings between Israeli and Arab officials in order to discuss practical issues.
Ambassador Quarrey said that Oxford University recently hosted a successful conference in which scientists and water experts from Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Morocco and other countries presented joint projects. ”We have so many good ideas now, that we are trying to obtain additional funding in order to back them,” he said.
The Knesset speaker said that circumstances sometimes make it impossible to hold meetings between Israelis and Arabs. He mentioned that a conference that was set to be held in Jordan was called off due to the murder of the three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank and the subsequent launch of the military operation in Gaza.
Edelstein told the British envoy that yesterday at the Knesset he told two separate delegations which were scheduled to visit Ramallah that his message to the Palestinians is that ”President (Mahmoud) Abbas` incitement is terrible, but if, even for political reasons, he will stop the incitement, our door is wide open for any cooperation and relations with the Palestinians.”
”We are not going anywhere, and they are not going anywhere, so we need to start cooperating,” the Knesset speaker added.
Quarrey said that during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu`s visit to London, Prime Minister Cameron conveyed to him the message that due to the stalemate in the peace process, pro-Israel governments are finding it more and more difficult to support Israel in the UN, EU and other places. Cameron, the ambassador said, urged Netanyahu to present a new diplomatic initiative ”that we can work with and support”; an initiative that would improve the economic situation on the ground, ease political tensions and foster a return to the negotiation table.
The ambassador said Britain wants to see both Israel and the Palestinians live in peace and security.
”So do we,” Edelstein replied.
Quarrey said the images from Jerusalem that are being circulated around the world were ”adding to the problem.”
The Knesset speaker said in response that Israel ”cannot be held hostage by the other side, which refuses to hold meetings and launch negotiations.” Edelstein stated that ”the Palestinians` refusal to negotiate stems partly from the notion that Jews will eventually leave the region, but this will never happen.”
”It is easy for Abbas to present himself as the ultimate victim, because as soon as he will not be the victim, he will have to answer questions from his people such as `now that there is no occupation and there are various agreements, why is our life here still [miserable]?` I grew up in a country where there was nothing to buy in stores, but there was always the `external enemy` – the `terrible` United States, Britain, and others, which supposedly prevented the citizens of the Soviet Union from conducting normal lives. It is a familiar pattern. But in the international arena there is no patience. `Israel is strong, and therefore Israel must make peace,` they say.”
Ambassador Quarrey said the strategic interests Israel shares with Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates vis-à-vis ISIS and Iran, may offer an opportunity to ”reshape the relations.” However, he added, a precondition for this would be some sort of progress on the peace process, ”because under the current circumstances it would be impossible.”
The meeting, which was held at the Knesset speaker`s office, also focused on the BDS movement and the anti-Israel initiatives of trade unions and other associations in the UK. ”These initiatives,” Edelstein said, ”are impractical and counterproductive.”
Quarrey said the British government`s position against the boycotts ”could not be stronger” and that it was taking practical measures against them. He said that during a recent conference of the Conservative Party, an announcement was made regarding new regulations to ensure that municipalities could not use public funding to support boycott-related activities.
”We give BDS greater publicity than it merits,” the UK envoy told Edelstein. ”In reality it`s a tiny movement. It is of some concern, and Cameron has been incredibly clear about his opposition to it. But the reality is that trade and investment between the UK and Israel has never been higher.”
Quarrey said he plans to promote further cooperation with Israel in the fields of art and culture, ”to show that not only are we opposed to boycotts, we celebrate [cooperation] with Israel.”
”Public perceptions of the boycott movement are disproportionate,” he said, while noting that there is not a single university in the UK that has a boycott policy against Israel, ”though you would not believe it if you read the Israeli press all the time.”