UK has no plans to engage with far-right Ben-Gvir, says Foreign Secretary

Mr Cleverly rejected the 'apartheid' descriptor for Israel, but criticised settlements in the West Bank


Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has told MPs that the UK has not engaged with far-right Israeli minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and has "no current plans to do so".

In a letter to MPs published on Thursday by the Council for Arab-British Understanding, Mr Cleverly wrote: “The UK government has not engaged Itamar Ben-Gvir in his role as Minister of National Security, and we have no current plans to do so."

He also criticised Israeli settlements in the West Bank, writing that they are illegal under international law and "an obstacle to peace", but also said that the UK rejects the "apartheid" descriptor of Israel.

Mr Cleverly's declaration came in a letter in response to MPs and Peers who wrote to him in December expressing "grave concern" about the incoming Netanyahu government and its "annexationist policies".

The letter called on the Foreign Secretary to warn Israel not to change the status quo on Temple Mount, to prevent the construction of new settlements and to stop trading with them, and to stop supplying weapons to Israel.

In his response, sent on 13 February, Mr Cleverly wrote that he understands their "frustration" at the "growing instability in the West Bank", writing: "We will continue to press Israel and the Palestinians on the urgent need to refrain from taking any actions which make peace more difficult and to refrain from inflammatory language."

He then confirmed that the UK has no plans to engage with National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, adding: "We call on all Israeli parties to refrain from inflammatory language and demonstrate tolerance and respect for minority groups."

Mr Cleverly also reiterated the UK's view the Israeli settlement program "threatens the physical viability of the Two-State Solution", and added: "We are also clear that Israeli outposts in the West Bank are illegal under international law and should be removed entirely."

He was clear that the UK rejects the label of "apartheid" for Israel, saying: "We do have a regular dialogue on human rights."

The UK's position on engaging with Ben-Gvir goes further than that of the US, who has said that it would hold Prime Minister Netanyahu responsible for his actions, but would not boycott meetings with him.

Despite that, when a delegation of US senators travelled to Israel in January, they asked not to meet with Ben-Gvir and other controversial hard-right ministers.

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