David Cameron in the Holy Land: PM switches tack to support Palestinian aims on visit to occupied West Bank

Earlier in the week, Mr Cameron appeared to bolster the Israeli position in troubled region

Bethlehem

Prime Minister David Cameron switched gears and sought to appeal to Palestinians after having identified closely with Israel during a speech to the Israeli parliament on Wednesday. During a trip to the occupied West Bank, Mr Cameron offered backing for the Palestinian aim of establishing a capital in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem and support for the Palestinian economy.

Meanwhile, tensions remained high between Israel and Gaza, although there were also hopes Egyptian mediation was restoring calm after a flare-up that began on Wednesday. Dozens of rocket attacks were made by the Islamic Jihad group on southern Israel, followed by Israeli air strikes against targets in the coastal enclave. It was the worst cross-border violence since an Israeli military operation in 2012.

An Islamic Jihad leader, Khaled Batsh, posted on Facebook that Egypt had brokered an agreement to stop the firing while a senior Israeli defence source quoted by the Ynet news agency said: “Quiet will be answered by quiet.”

In Gaza, witnesses told Reuters that three people were wounded in the southern town of Rafah during an Israeli airstrike, one of seven strikes against “terror sites” according to the Israeli military. Israeli reports said rockets were fired towards the southern towns of Ashkelon and Ashdod in the morning and the Ashkelon area later in the day without causing casualties.

Speaking after what he described as “good discussions” with Mr Abbas, Mr Cameron, who was to head back to Britain tonight, said: “Our position is clear and hasn’t changed. We want to see a sovereign, viable, independent Palestinian state based on 1967 borders with land swaps alongside a secure Israel.” Jerusalem, important for the three monotheistic faiths, should be the “shared capital of both sides” and Gaza should be a fundamental part of the Palestinian state, he said.

“We want to see more institutions reopen in East Jerusalem and the protection of Palestinian life, culture and heritage in this unique city,” Mr Cameron said. The statement was an implicit criticism of Israel, which has since the early days of the second Palestinian uprising in 2001 kept closed Palestinian political and economic institutions – including the Chamber of Commerce – and has shut down any events linked to the Palestinian Authority. Israel was required under the 2003 international peace blueprint known as “the roadmap” to reopen the institutions but did not do so.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman declined to comment on Mr Cameron’s statement. But Qais Abdul-Karim, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, applauded it as: “A timely reassertion of the European position on this very sensitive subject. Israel has insisted on stifling life in the city. This statement is a step forward and gives the position of Europe and the UK more weight among the Palestinians.”

Mr Cameron said: “Britain wants to help Palestine build strong institutions and a strong economy.” Towards this end, he said, it will provide support for almost a hundred Palestinian businesses to become more competitive and will allocate £6m to restore farmland in area C, a part of the West Bank crucial to future Palestinian statehood that is under Israeli control.

Mr Cameron appeared to backtrack from remarks he made in the Knesset that there needed to be a mutual recognition, including that Palestinians recognise that Israel is “the nation state of the Jewish people”.

That formulation appeared to endorse Mr Netanyahu’s demand that Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state, something the Palestinians refuse. Israel says such recognition is necessary to prove the Palestinians do not intend to flood it with refugees.

Mr Cameron used the phrase “national homeland of the Jewish people”. He explained: “That is what Israel is and will be. Jews were persecuted and six million were murdered in the Holocaust and a decision was taken Israel should be a homeland for Jewish people and that’s what it is.

“The status of Israel should be something for Palestinians and Israelis to negotiate,’’ he said.

What Cameron said to the Palestinians

* Our position is clear and hasn’t changed. We want to see a sovereign, viable, independent Palestinian state based on 1967 borders with land swaps alongside a secure Israel. [Jerusalem should be the] shared capital of both sides.

* The status of Israel and description of Israel should be something for Palestinians and Israelis to negotiate.

* We want to see more institutions reopen in East Jerusalem and the protection of Palestinian life, culture and heritage in this unique city.

What Cameron said to the Israelis

* Let me make it clear, with me you have a British Prime Minister whose belief in Israel is unbreakable and whose commitment to Israel’s security is rock solid.

* Britain opposes boycotts, whether it’s trade unions campaigning for the exclusion of Israelis or universities trying to stifle academic exchange.

* Israel’s place as a homeland for the Jewish people will not be challenged by amateur politicians. Delegitimising the State of Israel is wrong and together we will defeat it.

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