Rishi Sunak has announced that the UK will vote against a "divisive" Palestinian bid for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on Israel's occupation at the United Nations.
In speech to the Conservative Friends of Israel's annual business lunch, the prime minister confirmed the UK's intention to vote to block the move, saying that he will "oppose any actions which stand to harm the peace process and the two-state solution".
Mr Sunak also announced that he will be visiting Israel next year in its 75th anniversary year, calling it "a landmark year after so many years of struggle – but also success."
Addressing a packed crowd that included the Chief Rabbi, Israel's UK Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely, MPs, and many more dignitaries, the prime minister hailed the UK's relationship with Israel that has "never been closer".
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak with Tzipi Hotevely, Israel's ambassador to the UK (Photo by Shai Dolev)
He praised his predecessors Theresa May, Boris Johnson, and Liz Truss - who were all in attendance at the lunch - for their "principled commitment to ending the bias against Israel in international fora", and pledged to continue that stance.
To that end, Mr Sunak told the attendees: "And I will therefore oppose any actions which stand to harm the peace process and the two-state solution, and that will include the upcoming vote at the UN General Assembly relating to the ICJ where I can confirm that the United Kingdom will join with our allies in voting against this divisive action."
Tthe United Nations General Assembly is due to hold a vote on whether to ask the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion on Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories.
The resolution, which was approved by a UN committee in early November, asks that the ICJ "urgently" weigh in on Israel's "prolonged occupation, settlement and annexation of the Palestinian territory", which it said were violating Palestinians' right to self-determination.
Former prime minister Theresa May listening to Rishi Sunak's keynote address (Photo by Shai Dolev)
In the first vote held last month by the Special Political and Decolonisation Committee (Fourth Committee) to refer the resolution to the General Assembly, 98 countries voted in favour, 17 voted against, 52 abstained, and 26 were absent.
The UK was one of the countries that abstained, while the United States, Australia, and Germany voted against.
Two weeks ago, Israel's outgoing prime minister Yair Lapid wrote a letter to more than 50 heads of state to pressure the Palestinian Authority in order to prevent it from promoting the resolution at the General Assembly.
Lapid labelled it "the outcome of a concerted effort to single out Israel, to discredit our legitimate security concerns, and to delegitimise our very existence".
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis also attended the annual business lunch (Photo by Shai Dolev)
In his speech, Mr Sunak also singled out Iran for criticism, telling the audience: “We have all been shocked by the images of Iran’s security forces attacking their own citizens simply for daring to call for reform.
“Most important of all, Iran’s nuclear programme is also continuing.
“Under my leadership, the UK will not waver in our commitment to work with Israel and our allies to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon.”
He added: “The decision by my predecessors to proscribe the Hamas and Hezbollah terror groups were important actions, and the Home Secretary and I are committed to utilising the full range of tools at our disposal to protect UK citizens from the threat of the IRGC and Iran.”
Former prime minister Liz Truss (L) with Israel's ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotevely (Photo by Shai Dolev)
In a more positive section, however, Mr Sunak also praised the success of the Abraham Accords, and welcomed the ambassadors of Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, the UAE and the USA, who were in attendance.
“I passionately believe that we must continue to leverage our strong ties with other Gulf states to expand the number of signatories and enhance the blossoming opportunities.
“Of course, the expansion of Arab-Israeli peace in the region also provides a valuable route to Israeli-Palestinian peace.”
Elsewhere in his speech, Rishi Sunak announced that he will visit Israel next year to mark the Jewish state’s 75th birthday, which he described as “a landmark year after so many years of struggle – but also success.”
He will follow in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher who in 1986 became the first British prime minister to visit Israel.
Mr Sunak also discussed UK-Israel relations, saying: “Israel is an incredibly important ally of the United Kingdom. Our friendship with the Jewish State has never been closer.
Former prime minister Boris Johnson speaking with fellow attendees (Photo by Shai Dolev)
“It is a friendship which makes all of our citizens healthier, more prosperous and more safe, and you have my total commitment that I will fight very hard for the security of the Jewish State.”
He talked about how 2022 has been “one of the bloodiest in the region for years”, saying: “Israel’s security challenges may be unenviable, but the Conservative Party will continue to stand resolutely beside the homeland of the Jewish people.”
He also slammed the “pernicious” BDS movement and repeated his promise to pass legislation banning it in the UK.
Mr Sunak also reiterated his commitment to building the controversial Westminster Holocaust Memorial, saying that in light of the spread of antisemitism in the UK, it must be built “as soon as possible.”
“The last few years have been particularly challenging for the UK’s Jewish community,” he said. “It has been painful to see the hurt caused by the very public resurgence of antisemitism and I am determined to ensure this scourge is eradicated.”
Former health secretary Matt Hancock made it back from the jungle in time for the lunch (Photo by Shai Dolev)
He closed by wishing the Jewish community Chanukah Sameach: “On Sunday, Jewish families all over our United Kingdom will come together to light the first candle on their Chanukiah.
"As a proud Hindu, Diwali has always held a special part in my life and the similarities between the two festivals are striking. Celebrations of light and the triumph of good over evil.
“The tranquil act of lighting candles is a cherished memory in my own life. Albeit with perhaps fewer donuts and latkes.
“I look forward to proudly working with you as we seize the many opportunities before us. I wish you all a very happy and peaceful Chanukah. Chanukah Sameach.”