Boris Johnson has said he does not regret calling British supporters of the Israel boycott “corduroy-jacketed, snaggle-toothed, lefty academics” after three Palestinian groups barred him from attending their events today.
The Mayor of London had been due to meet teenagers at a youth charity, female business leaders and construction companies in the West Bank but was informed he was unwelcome just hours before the engagements.
Aides said the Palestinian Authority also raised security concerns and the possibility of protests if he went ahead with the visits in Ramallah.
But Mr Johnson did have a “positive” meeting with Rami Hamdallah, the Palestinian Prime Minister, where they discussed his support for a two-state solution.
Speaking after the talks, he said he did not regret his previous comments but claimed people had used them to make others “a bit anxious about the security implications”.
“I think on the boycott it was very striking just now that the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority himself said very clearly and several times that he was opposed to a boycott of Israel,” Mr Johnson told reporters.
”That is the right position. It's a shame that some elements have been whipping up social media so that there seems to be some security issue.“
The Conservative MP denied that a throwaway remark had damaged his tour of Israel and the Palestinian territories, adding: ”On the contrary, what you've got is a simple repetition of what is not only British Government policy but also policy that is supported by the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority.“
Speaking in Tel Aviv, Mr Johnson said a "completely crazy" trade boycott against Israel lacked support and used a lecture to hit out at those supporting it, praising the country's “pluralist, open society”.
The Sharek Youth Forum said it withdrew its invitation to Mr Johnson over his “inaccurate, misinformed, and disrespectful statement”, saying his stance “fails to acknowledge our very existence as Palestinians”.
Shortly afterwards, the Palestinian Association of Engineers announced it and allied trade unions had “refused categorically” to let the MP make his scheduled appearance at its affordable housing workshop because of his remarks.
Representatives from Mr Johnson’s team still attended the housing event and a meeting with the Palestine Business Women’s Forum in Ramallah, which also withdrew his invitation over the boycott remarks.
It came a day after the city's governor, Leila Ghannam, cancelled her meeting with Mr Johnson on Tuesday, citing “personal reasons” for clearing her diary.
A spokesperson for Mr Johnson told The Independent his comments had been “taken out of context”, adding: “He was looking forward to hearing first-hand from Palestinians and discussing their relationship with London.”
She added that Mr Johnson was following British Government policy by opposing the Israel boycott and had stressed the importance of furthering trade links with both Israel and London and the Occupied Palestinian Territories during his visit.
“He has been clear throughout that he supports a two state solution, and that it is vital Israel and the Palestinians engage in meaningful dialogue in the search for a lasting peace settlement,” the spokesperson continued.
“He recognises the extreme difficulties experienced by the Palestinians living under occupation.”
Additional reporting by PA
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