Theresa May has said Israel’s illegal settlements presented an obstacle to peace, as she welcomed Benjamin Netanyahu to Downing Street.

The Prime Minister told her Israeli counterpart that Britain remained committed to a two-state solution with a viable Palestinian state.

The Israeli premier’s visit marks the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration which signalled British support for the creation of a Jewish homeland.

May said she recognised the “sensitivities” around the anniversary.

Speaking in Number 10 she told Netanyahu: “Britain remains committed to a two-state solution. I’m sure we will want to be talking about the peace process in the Middle East.

“I also want to talk about what we see as some of the barriers and some of the difficulties like the illegal settlements in relation to that peace process.”

Netanyahu said Israel was committed to the peace process, but the Palestinians had to accept his country’s right to exist.

He said: “Israel is committed to peace, I’m committed to peace. A hundred years after Balfour, the Palestinians should finally accept a Jewish national home and finally accept a Jewish state.

“And when they do, the road to peace will be infinitely closer. In my opinion peace will be achievable.”

May also stressed the UK’s commitment to the Iran nuclear deal – which Netanyahu said was flawed.

US president Donald Trump has condemned the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) deal and Netanyahu has called for it to be redrawn.

But  May said: “We remain committed to the JCPOA.”

Netanyahu said: “There are great things that are happening in the Middle East because many Arab countries now see Israel not as an enemy but as their indispensable ally in the battle against militant Islam.

“The threat we all see is a resurgent Iran that is bent not only on dominating the region but bent on developing nuclear weapons.

“The goal that I have in mind is not keeping or eliminating the deal, it is improving the deal and correcting its main flaws.

“I think those that want to keep the deal should co-operate on correcting the deal.”

Netanyahu thanked the Prime Minister for her “resolute stand against anti-Semitism” before a speech later where she will speak out against “new and pernicious form” of the anti-Jewish hatred.

At a dinner to mark the Balfour Declaration’s centenary she will say that “criticising the government of Israel is never – and can never be – an excuse for hatred against the Jewish people”.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will not be at the dinner, with the party represented by shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, who will also go to an event held by the Palestinian side.

Labour has been dogged by allegations of anti-Semitism against some members despite Corbyn’s insistence that such views will not be tolerated.

A senior Labour source said: “Jeremy Corbyn is unable to attend that particular dinner, but Emily Thornberry is going in his place. He had other engagements. That goes for many, many other events of that kind.”

Amnesty International said  May should use Netanyahu’s visit to tackle him about “Israel’s mass human rights violations”.

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty’s United Kingdom section, said: “It’s not just Balfour which is being marked this year, it’s also 50 years since Israel’s oppressive military occupation of the Palestinian territory began – an occupation which shows no sign of becoming any less cruel for the millions of Palestinians suffering under it.”

Thornberry stressed Labour’s “long-standing, unstinting and unequivocal support for the state of Israel” at an event in Westminster.

The shadow foreign secretary told the Bicom-Jewish News policy conference that while there were “challenges” to be addressed in relation to the rights of Palestinians, “modernIsrael stands out as a beacon of freedom, equality and democracy”.

Labour MP Emily Thornberry, Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, address the Balfour100 conference Photo credit: Marc Morris Photography

Labour MP Emily Thornberry, Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, address the Balfour100 conference
Photo credit: Marc Morris Photography

She added that “there should be no place in modern society and, let me stress, no place in the Labour Party” for people who hold the “abhorrent view” that Israel should not have the right to exist.

“Anyone who believes in a two-state solution loses all right to a hearing if they simultaneously indulge those who deny one of those states its very right to exist,” she said.

Corbyn said the anniversary should be marked by recognising Palestine and increasing pressure on Israel over the occupied territories.

He said: “The fact that this promise by what was then colonial Britain is celebrated by one side and commemorated as a disaster by the other reflects the continuing tragedy at the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“Balfour promised to help establish a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine while pledging that nothing would be done to prejudice the rights of its ‘existing non-Jewish communities’, a reference to the Palestinian Arabs who then made up 90% of the population.

“A hundred years on, the second part of Britain’s pledge has still not been fulfilled, and Britain’s historic role means we have a special responsibility to the Palestinian people, who are still denied their basic rights.

“So let us mark the Balfour anniversary by recognising Palestine as a step towards a genuine two state solution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, increasing international pressure for an end to the 50-year occupation of the Palestinian territories, illegal settlement expansion and the blockade of Gaza.”