Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn has concluded a three-day visit to Israel and the West Bank, just days after making the case for war north of the border in Syria, writes Stephen Oryszczuk.
Benn, who is widely acknowledged to have made one of Parliament’s finest speeches when advocating action against ISIS in Syria this month, was making only his second international visit outside Europe in his role as shadow foreign secretary.
“It shows the level of priority he places on Israel, the two-state solution and moving things along,” said a spokesman at the end of his trip on Wednesday afternoon. “It was primarily a listening trip,” he said. “He met a wide range of experts, politicians, journalists, negotiators and officials, with differing views, to learn about events on the ground, and to get a good understanding of the situation. There is no alternative to seeing it with your own eyes.”
Benn, who laid a wreath in memory of Holocaust victims at Yad Vashem, last month told an LFI meeting that the party “must take on those who seek to delegitimise the State of Israel or question its right to exist”.
This week he met officials from the United Nations’ refugee agency UNWRA, toured East Jerusalem and visited a Bedouin community. In the West Bank, he met the Palestinian minister for education as well as Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, before touring Hebron with campaign group Breaking the Silence.
He also met left-leaning Knesset members such as Deputy Speaker Hilik Bar and former venture capitalist Erel Margalit, to “build friendship,” and was due to meet Opposition leader Isaac Herzog until the latter cancelled to attend a funeral.
This was Benn’s second official visit to Israel, the first having taken place when he was Secretary of State for International Development, and his packed itinerary included a meeting with Israel’s next ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev.
He also met the head of Israel’s foreign affairs committee Tzachi Hanegbi. Joan Ryan MP, chair of Labour Friends of Israel, said: “This visit underlines Labour’s commitment to a two-state solution. As I have made clear in meetings with Israeli MKs and with senior Israeli government officials, Labour is opposed to the BDS movement and all attempts to delegitimise the state of Israel and we stand with the Israeli people during the current terrorist violence.
“In meetings with the Palestinian Prime Minister during the AIULD delegation, I also urged the Palestinian Authority to take immediate steps to curtail antisemitic incitement. I have also made clear throughout my visit our belief that Israel should take steps, such as a settlement freeze, to help restart negotiations which will allow the peoples of Israel and Palestine to live side-by-side in peace and security.”