In Israel, Britain's Johnson Reaffirms Support for Two-state Solution

In 2015, when he was mayor of London, Boris Johnson ruffled feathers among Palestinians when he called BDS 'foolish.'

British Foreign Secretary Johnson, left, meeting with President Rivlin, March 8, 2017.
Ronen Zvulun / Pool Photo via AP

Following his arrival in Israel on an official visit Wednesday, Britain's foreign secretary Boris Johnson said his country remains "absolutely" committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, adding that obstacles to a deal, including accelerated Israeli settlement building, must be removed.

Johnson said he believes it's still possible to set up an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel and that the leadership change in Washington might offer an opportunity. "There is a willingness to look at things with fresh eyes," Johnson said after meeting with Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki in Ramallah.

Early on Wednesday, Johnson met with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who noted in a tweet in conjunction with visit that this year marks the 100 anniversary of Balfour Declaration in which British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour expressed his country's support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland.

The visit with Rivlin was followed by a meeting in Ramallah with Palestinian Foreign Minister Malki and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The Palestinian president used the occasion to issue another call on Israel to stop West Bank settlement construction and what he termed Israel's aggression against the Palestinians, adding that the Palestinians are committed to a two-state solution.

Johnson was scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later in the day. There have also been reports in the Israeli media that Johnson would be briefed by the anti-settlement group Peace Now during his visit, although the French news agency AFP said there was no official confirmation of this. Johnson was last in Israel in September, when he and Prince Charles represented Britain at the funeral of Israeli President Shimon Peres.  

Johnson's comments about a two-state solution were in contrast to remarks made last month by U.S. President Donald Trump, when, in a joint White House press conference with Netanyahu, the president gave mixed signals about whether the United States still supports a two-state solution, saying he would go along with whatever Israelis and Palestinians wanted.

In Ramallah on Wednesday, standing next to Foreign Minister Malki on a podium, near a "State of Palestine" seal, Johnson said that "the policy of our government in the U.K. is absolutely unchanged, we remain committed to a two-state solution, to that vision for the resolution of this conflict."

"I really think it is possible," Johnson said. "We must not abandon that prospect."

In November 2015, while mayor of London, Johnson led a trade mission to the region, the West Bank segment of his visit unraveled after he criticized BDS, the boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. "I cannot think of anything more foolish" than to boycott "a country that when all is said and done is the only democracy in the region, the only place that has in my view a pluralist open society," he said at the time, referring to Israel. The boycotters, he added, are "a very small minority."