LONDON – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked his British counterpart, Theresa May, to stop the British Foreign Office from funding left-wing Israeli organizations, first and foremost the veterans' group Breaking the Silence, he told journalists after the two met Monday.
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Breaking the Silence responded to the prime minister’s remarks by saying the British government does not currently provide any funding to the group. The last time the Foreign Office had given it any money was five years ago, an official in the organization said.
In response, the Prime Minister’s Office said Britain indirectly funds Breaking the Silence by funding groups like Christian Aid and CAFOD, which then pass on funds to Breaking the Silence.
Haaretz has learned that during their meeting, Netanyahu presented May with a document detailing all the NGOs in Israel receiving direct or indirect funding from British government, among them Breaking the Silence.
Breaking the Silence said in response that "the depths of [Netanyahu's] incitement and lies are [in direct proportion to] the depth of the investigations [against him]. A prime minister who is drowning in police investigations, a 100 percent of who's campaign funds come from abroad and who runs the country like it's his family's business – is the last who can comment about foreign funding."
Settlements and Trump
Netanyahu said that the vote slated for Monday on legislation that would legalize the expropriation of privately owned Palestinian land would go ahead as planned. Speaking to reporters after his meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Netanyahu said that he has informed the White House of his intention of putting the legislation to a vote and said he will return from the U.K. on Monday night to participate.
Haaretz learned that May told Netanyahu the bill is unhelpful and would make things more difficult for Israel's friends around the world.
During the press briefing, Netanyahu was asked several times if he still supports the establishment of a Palestinian state and the two-state solution, but he refused to commit himself to this.
“I explained my view on what’s realistic and what’s not at this time,” Netanyahu said. “I said the root of the problem is the Palestinians don’t accept our existence here. The rest is just details. I hope that we can advance stability and make reasonable progress. I made it clear to May that in my opinion this [two states] is binding. It requires Palestinian recognition of our nation-state, but even if such recognition is granted it requires that with or without an arrangement Israel must be the entity in charge of security.”
Netanyahu noted that the Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and that any territory that Israel withdraws from would turn into an outpost of either Iran or ISIS.
“One can always think about virtual reality,” he said, addressing the chances of reaching a two-state solution, adding that many circles in the Arab world understand this. “I haven’t changed my position. There’s an argument – do these conditions produce the Palestinian equation of two states? From the Palestinian perspective, it’s no. I don’t want to talk about these labels but about real things. These are not my conditions to enter negotiations but to leave the negotiations.”
Minutes before the meeting, May's spokesman told the British press that the prime minister plans to tell Netanyahu she opposes settlement activity in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.
While Netanyahu said that May did raise the issue of construction in the settlements, he stressed that the issue “was not discussed in detail, to say the least.” He said he told her that the settlements are not an obstacle to peace and that preoccupation with them is a distraction from the main problems in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, first and foremost the unwillingness of the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
The prime minster added that a large part of the discussion over lunch with May dealt with the Iranian threat and the Syrian civil war. “We see eye to eye on the great threat stemming from Iranian aggression and arms buildup and their deployment over very large areas,” Netanyahu said. “We are cooperating in this area. I stressed the need to prevent Iran from establishing itself directly or indirectly in Syria through Shi’ite militias, Hezbollah or even the Iranian military. There was agreement that this must be prevented in different ways.”
Netanyahu added that he told the British prime minister that if Iran doesn’t violate the nuclear agreement, it would be capable of industrial enrichment of uranium within a decade, which would enable it to produce a nuclear bomb in a short time. “We must make sure that this track of research and development of advanced centrifuges and the clause in the agreement that allows the Iranians to continue within 13 years with unlimited uranium enrichment are dealt with. The Iranians are talking about 200,000 centrifuges – even if they are old centrifuges – and this will allow them a very short breakout time to a nuclear bomb.”
Netanyahu described his meeting with May as “very courteous and friendly.
“The new situation in the world – economically and geopolitically, creates very good conditions for strengthening relations between Israel and Britain. My view on this was reinforced by the meeting.
“The first part of the meeting dealt with economics, technology and other issues on which I do not want to elaborate. Britain is on its way out of the European Union and is interested in developing economy and technology ties with Israel. Britain cannot sign free trade zone agreements until Brexit is implemented, but we agreed to start discussing this now in order to save time. The commerce minister will visit Israel in March and we’ll start discussing this with a team from our side. We don’t want to lose a market because of the changes in Britain.
“We’re talking about ways to strengthen the technological and scientific ties between us because that’s the key today to economic success. There is a very accurate assessment here of Israel’s advantages and a very positive outlook – different from what we were used to a few years ago with regard to Israel’s position in these areas. We discussed cooperation in cyber defense in the civilian realm.”
Netanyahu said in response to a reporter’s question, “I spoke with May about her conversations with [U.S. President Donald] Trump. With regard to my talks with Trump, you’ll have to come there. I think your question will be dealt with fully during the visit and you’ll get an answer.”
With regard to the police investigations against him, Netanyahu said, “It won’t help, don’t waste your time. You’ll see in the end.” He refused to allow any further questions on this issue.