For decades it’s been one of the most-asked questions to successive British ambassadors to Israel and, if reports are to be believed, it could yet become the defining development of the current envoy David Quarrey’s term.
But for now he remains tight-lipped about the prospects of the first official royal visit to the Jewish state. “It’s raised very often when I’m in Israel,” he told Jewish News during his latest visit to London.
“I spoke at a United Synagogue meeting and this question was asked. I understand the desire for a Royal visit to take place. As with all Royal visits, decisions will be taken by the household on advice from the Royal visits committee.”
But while supporters of Israel will have to wait to find out if that 70-year wait is about to end, there’s no shortage of recent visits in both directions – with Benjamin Netanyahu coming to Britain and Boris Johnson and John Bercow travelling to Israel in the last month alone.
“Even having worked on Israel for many years, I think it’s only when you’re there that you see just how much is happening,” Quarrey said.
“Looking at my diary for the week – Monday we have the British library doing an event with the Israeli national library, Tuesday we have a dinner celebrating the fifth anniversary of the UK-Israel tech hub, on Wednesday we have a delegation of senior British museum and galley directors coming to talk about coexistence, on Thursday we have Eddie Izzard here. So there’s a lot of variety.”
A key feature of the bilateral relationship this year will be events to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, to which Benjamin Netanyahu has accepted an invitation from Theresa May.
While avoiding using the word ‘celebrate’ to characterise how the government would mark the anniversary, he said: “It’s clear that for many people the Declaration remains a sensitive issue. But the government’s position’s has been very clear – the prime minister said we will be marking it with pride. We are proud of the UK’s role in the creation of the state of Israel.”
He also revealed that centenary events would be held in the Knesset a few days later. “It’s important to do the marking but also to celebrate the contemporary relationship and how strong that is,” he added.
A key part of the relationship are the burgeoning trade links and Quarrey last week visited the Rolls Royce factory to see the technology that will underpin the UK’s biggest ever export – worth around £1bn – to Israel.
Ahead of the first meeting this week in Israel of the working group set up to pave the way for a trade deal after the UK has left the European Union, he said: “I don’t know quite where Israel will be in the list – there’s a lot of work to be done globally on this – but I do know there is a real determination from both leaderships to do even better in future. There’ a huge appetite. ”
He also spent time in the UK fundraising for the embassy’s science programmes and called for increased cooperation between two “science super powers”.
But despite the many success stories, the government has made no secret of its frustration at settlement building (it’s all part of what he describes as “a mature multi-faceted relationship”).
But concern at settlements led the UK to back two motions at the United Nations Human Rights Council last week, while at the same time issuing unprecedented condemnation of the body’s anti-Israel bias.
It also led to its support for UN resolution 2334 in December, which was quickly followed by condemnation of John Kerry and a refusal to sign the communique at the Paris peace summit.
“Our policy didn’t change throughout that period,” insisted the ambassador. “Our approach was determined by what we thought was best going to serve the cause of trying to make progress towards peace.”
Standing by the UK’s vote at the UN Security Council, he said it reflected long-standing policy on settlements but also “included other elements including on violence and incitement”.