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House of Lords delegation witnesses ‘sobering’ Israeli security landscape

The group, the largest such UK delegation to visit Israel to date, also had “eye-opening” talks with a Fatah activist.

Flags of Israel and the United Kingdom. Credit: Jacek Wojnarowski/Shutterstock.
Flags of Israel and the United Kingdom. Credit: Jacek Wojnarowski/Shutterstock.

Twenty members of the British House of Lords went on a four-day mission to Israel from May 28 to June 1.

The trip was “the largest-ever delegation from the British parliament to Israel, marking the 75th anniversary of the State of Israel” and “a significant milestone in the work of the European Leadership Network (ELNET) strengthening U.K.-Israel relations,” Daniel Shadmy, a spokesman for the European Leadership Network told JNS.

ELNET and the UK’s Britain-Israel All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) arranged the trip, which included former Conservative Party leader Lord Michael Howard and veteran Labour Party lawmaker David Watts.

“Peers had the opportunity to deepen their understanding of Israel’s security challenges, integration efforts and democratic values,” Shadmy said. “We hope it will pave the way for long-term cooperation.”

Shadmy also said the trip came “at this crucial time to foster dialogue, promote bilateral ties and explore opportunities to work together.” The delegation “embodies our commitment to building enduring partnerships based on shared democratic values,” he said.

The cross-party group arrived in Israel on a balmy Sunday and stuck to an ambitious itinerary, engaging with six Israeli officials. Among those participants met were Gila Gamliel, Israeli intelligence minister, and Amir Ohana, speaker of the Knesset. The group also met scholars and security officials.

“The trip showed us—both those who’d been to Israel before and those for whom it was their first visit—the vibrancy of the Israeli public square,” Lord David Wolfson of Tredegar, a former parliamentary undersecretary of state for justice, told JNS. “Israel and the UK share a democratic tradition, the rule of law and increasingly close relations in trade, security issues and many other areas.”

The group’s meeting with Ziad Abu Amr, deputy prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, in Ramallah was “an opportunity to hear that perspective firsthand and to have a frank but constructive exchange of views,” Wolfson, who is an Orthodox Jew, told JNS.

Lord Michael Howard. Credit: Roger Harris via Wikimedia Commons.

Concerning judicial reform, which he said is concerning to many within and outside of Israel, Wolfson said that “each country must fashion a judicial system which suits its needs and society, but the independence of the judiciary, the rule of law and the integrity of the judicial system are essential values for any modern, stable democracy.”

The group’s meeting with Fatah activist Samer Sinijlawi was “pretty eye-opening,” Conservative peer Lord Howard Leigh told JNS. Sinijlawi told the visiting British delegation that he would have been throwing stones as part of the First Intifada in the early 1990s.

“Nowadays, he is something more akin to a peace advocate,” Leigh said.

‘I don’t think we could ask for more’

Some group members, including Howard, were critical of Sinijlawi’s suggestion that a two-state solution wouldn’t work, according to Leigh.

“Michael suggested that a one-state solution would be an Arab majority, which could lead to votes on defense which would be a problem for Israel,” Leigh said. “Sinijlawi didn’t really have much of a response, other than proposing a possible canton system in which sovereignty was more evenly distributed rather than being concentrated just in Jerusalem.”

Gamliel, the Israeli intelligence minister was “at pains to emphasize the strong relations between two countries, especially in terms of behind-the-scenes intelligence sharing, and, of course, our underlying friendship,” Leigh added. “I don’t think we could ask for more.”

He said he hopes it was constructive that the visiting delegation shared with Israeli counterparts about “how our constitution works including our bicameral system, which they don’t have.”

The Iron Dome air-defense system near the southern Israeli city of Ashdod on May 9, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

The group also took an excursion close to Israel’s border with Egypt and to the Gaza Strip, witnessing the Iron Dome missile-defense system stationed near Sderot.

“The bit that shook everyone was that we had a security briefing at the Gaza Strip on the observation point next to Egypt with the Iron Dome defense system,” Leigh said.

Mere days before, an Egyptian officer killed three Israeli soldiers near the site the group had visited. Leigh noted that “it was sobering to realize just how close we had been to that.”

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