UK’s James Cleverly lauds Israeli democracy in wake of fierce anti-government protests

Thomas Helm

The National  /  September 12, 2023

Britain’s Foreign Secretary will visit Palestine on Tuesday.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary hailed Israeli democracy during a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the evening before the country’s Supreme Court began ruling on a government policy that critics say could lead to a democratic and constitutional crisis.

James Cleverly arrived in Israel on Monday for a two-day trip split equally between Israel and Palestine.

In a message on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, on Tuesday morning, Cleverly wrote: “United by our unwavering belief in democracy. Thank you for the warm welcome to Israel.”

During meetings with Netanyahu and Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, Cleverly welcomed the continuing free trade negotiations between both countries.

Netanyahu described the UK-Israel relationship in glowing terms, saying “we’re two of the like-minded smart countries, and the world belongs to those who innovate”.

The meetings took place as anti-government protesters descended on the streets around the Supreme Court in Jerusalem and then Netanyahu’s residence in a show of defiance against government plans to radically overhaul Israel’s judicial system.

The country’s most senior judges will start deliberations on Tuesday on whether to overturn a key aspect of the reform package, which is also the first part of the proposals to be passed by parliament.

The legislation was enacted in July to revoke the “reasonableness standard” under which judges can overturn government policy on the basis of it being unreasonable.

If the court overturns the legislation and the government ignores that decision, civil servants and security chiefs will have to decide whether to act in accordance with the government or the judiciary’s stance, which could lead to a constitutional crisis.

During the meetings, Cleverly encouraged Netanyahu to “seek any judicial reform through the achievement of the broadest possible consensus”, echoing similar calls by many of Israel’s closest allies in recent months.

Cleverly also repeated the UK’s support of Israel as it faces down the threat posed by its arch enemy Iran. Tehran has been making progress in its push to attain a nuclear weapon, apart from building up proxy forces on Israel’s border in recent years.

Israel also accuses Iran of fomenting militancy in the occupied West Bank. Cleverly stressed “the UK’s solidarity with Israel following repeated terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians”.

He also “outlined his concern with ongoing tensions in the occupied Palestinian territories” and the importance of having Israelis and Palestinians take meaningful action to de-escalate it, including measures to address “settler violence”.

On Tuesday, Cleverly will meet Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and visit a refugee camp to observe the work of UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees, which has been under increasing financial pressure in recent years.

In an op-ed in the Ramallah-based Al-Quds news outlet, Cleverly said he will hear first-hand accounts from children in UNWRA-run schools about the “impact of violence and the Israeli occupation on various fields”.

Cleverly also urged both sides to recommit to a two-state solution. He urged both Israelis and Palestinians to become “much more firm in going after citizens who resort to violence to spread hate”.

“Therefore, we should not tolerate at all any racist or extremist speech.”

Cleverly is also set to meet communities in the West Bank that have been hurt by settler violence.

“International law is clear regarding the occupying force, that is Israel, in its requirement to protect all Palestinian civilians from acts or threats of violence, including by Israeli settlers – and to ensure that acts of violence are investigated and those responsible are held accountable.”

Thomas Helm is Jerusalem Correspondent at The National