LONDON - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he won't forget how the British failed to fully implement the Balfour Declaration. Currently on a visit to the U.K. in honor of the Balfour Declaration centenary, Netanyahu was set to have a special dinner with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May. At Britain's request, the event was private and no media was allowed.
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"I don't forget for a second that the British backtracked from the decision, but I am doubtful that without it we would have received international recognition of our right on the land [of Israel]. But it is clear to me that without defense and settlements [by the Jewish establishment] we wouldn't have received a nation."
Historically, Netanyahu said "there were two sides - on the one the old British Zionists like [Winston] Churchill and [Lord Arthur James] Balfour and Lloyd George, and on the other the anti-Zionist element in the Colonial Office who changed (the Balfour Declaration) and grew stronger."
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Netanyahu also criticized the Palestinians for demanding Britain renege – or at least apologize – for the declaration, saying that as far as the Palestinians are concerned "even a national homeland [for the Jews and the Balfour Declaration] is a historical crime."
Israel shifting efforts on Iran deal
Netanyahu also said that after a diplomatic meeting in London with British Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, the sides were "moving closer in the attempt to find ways to change the nuclear deal (with Iran)."
Briefing Israeli journalists who accompanied him on his visit to the U.K., Netanyahu noted that Israel is looking to reach the six world powers that are cosigned on the landmark nuclear to reach understandings on increasing oversight on Iran's nuclear sites as well as imposing new sanctions on Iran for continuing its ballistic missile program.
According to diplomatic sources, in wake of U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to not to recertify the agreement, there was now a "willingness to listen" to Israeli proposals on how to increase pressure on Iran, includes those outside the framework of the agreement.
In recent weeks, Netanyahu has spoken about the issue with Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Germany's Angela Merkel, and said he will also talk with French President Emanuel Macron. Except Trump, all of the other world powers plan to continue their support for the deal's continued existence, but during their meeting with Netanyahu on Thursday, British leaders heard different options on how to increase pressure on Teheran.
"There is full agreement about the need to halt Iranian aggression and terror and stop its ability to reach nuclear capabilities and develop ballistic missile capabilities," Netanyahu said.
According to Netanyahu, Israel is now focusing its efforts to improve the deal and not see it canceled. Among others, Israel is demanding the UN's nuclear watchdog increase its oversight of Iran, as stipulated by the deal, and which as of now has been hindered by Iranian refusal to allow inspectors into its nuclear facilities.
Netanyahu began his visit to London on Thursday with a meeting at Downing Street with May. As Netanyahu arrived at the meeting, May emphasized the need to return to the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. She added that that while Britain is commemorating the Balfour declaration that played a role in Israel’s establishment, it is aware of “the sensitivities” and “remains committed to the two-state solution.”
May said that she would be talking to Netanyahu about “the obstacles and difficulties in the settlement building” and that Britain supports the nuclear deal with Iran “which is working and to which Britain is committed."
Netanyahu arrived in London Wednesday night and met with May twice on Thursday – at noon for a working meeting at 10 Downing Street and in the evening for a private dinner at Lancaster House hosted by Lords Rothschild and Balfour, commemorating the Balfour Declaration.
In his opening remarks at the meeting, Netanyahu thanked the British government for inviting him to mark “with pride” the Balfour Declaration centenary, which he described as “a great event in Jewish history.” He extolled the relationship between Britain and Israel who he described as “strong allies and partners."
"We cooperate closely on intelligence. We cooperate closely in the battle against terrorism. And we’ve saved, through this cooperation, countless lives – British lives, Israeli lives,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu called upon the Palestinians, “a hundred years after Balfour,” to “finally accept the Jewish national home and finally accept the Jewish state. And when they do, the road to peace will be infinitely closer."
Netanyahu went on to warn that the threat facing the Middle East “is a resurgent Iran that is bent not only on dominating the region, but bent on developing nuclear weapons."
Netanyahu’s visit is coming at a tumultuous time for May, who is contending with a political crisis caused by allegations of sexual harassment by senior British politicians, including ministers close to her. One of them, Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, resigned on Wednesday. As Netanyahu and May shook hands on Downing Street, British journalists shouted at May, “is time to clean the stables, Prime Minister?"
Both May and Netanyahu will attend a private dinner this evening, commemorating the Balfour declaration, hosted by the Lords Rothschild and Balfour. May is expected to use her speech to attack those who use criticism of Israel as a cover for anti-Semitism.
Besides the Balfour event, the visit’s other highlights are scheduled for Friday, when Netanyahu will be lecturing at Chatham House and answering questions from members of the prestigious think tank. Netanyahu will also be meeting with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
After Chatham House and a brief visit to the London Stock Exchange, it will be a long and luxurious Shabbat weekend at the Savoy Hotel where Netanyahu will celebrate his wife Sara’s birthday.