12/03/2014 10:39 GMT | Updated 12/03/2014 12:59 GMT

Israel Should Be Recognised As 'Nation State Of Jewish People', David Cameron Tells Knesset

Prime Minister David Cameron is greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem on the first of a two day visit to Israel.
Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Prime Minister David Cameron is greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem on the first of a two day visit to Israel.

David Cameron has echoed the words of John Kerry, appearing to recognise Israel as "the nation state of the Jewish people", long a bone of contention for the Palestinians in any peace deal.

In a speech to Israel's parliament, the Knesset, on his first visit to the country as Prime Minister, Cameron urged Israel to pursue a peace deal with Palestinians that could mean "an end of all conflict" in the Middle East.

"Imagine what this land would be like if a two state solution was actually achieved," he said.

"On Israel's relationships, imagine, as John Kerry put it: "mutual recognition of the nation state of the Palestinian people and the nation state of the Jewish people.

"This is about justice for two peoples. Dignity for the Jewish people and yes, dignity for the Palestinian people too."

The words in Cameron's speech appear to technically go further than the Foreign Office line, which has always been that a state needs to be defined by its borders, first and foremost.

Cameron aligned himself with Kerry, as well as the leaders of Canada and Germany, in calling Israel a "Jewish state", something that Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has demanded the Palestinian Authority accept as part of peace agreements.

Describing himself as a Prime Minister whose belief in Israel is "unbreakable" and whose commitment to its security is "rock solid", Cameron said he would always defend the country's right to defend its citizens against attack.

He promised that he would oppose any calls for boycotts, whether economic, trade or academic, designed to isolate Israel.

Rejecting calls for boycotts of Israel, Cameron said: "Britain opposes boycotts. Whether it's trade unions campaigning for the exclusion of Israelis or universities trying to stifle academic exchange, Israel's place as a homeland for the Jewish people will never rest on hollow resolutions passed by amateur politicians.

"It is your destiny. Delegitimising the State of Israel is wrong. It's abhorrent. And together we will defeat it."

As he urged Israeli MPs to look forwards and work for a peaceful future, Cameron said the message from Britain was "Simply this: We'll be with you every step of the way.

"We all yearn for a lasting and secure peace between Israel and its neighbours.

"Britain fully supports the great work that American secretary of state John Kerry has been leading. And we believe that in prime minister Netanyahu and president Abbas you have leaders who want peace too.

"We back the compromises needed - including the halt to settlement activity and an end to Palestinian incitement too.

"And we recognise the difficult and courageous decisions both sides are taking, not least with prime minister Netanyahu's decision to release terrorist prisoners, with all the anguish that can bring for affected families."

The UK wanted "a deal that means an end of all claims - and an end of all conflict," Cameron said.

The Prime Minister said that a final peace deal would deliver "extraordinary" economic benefits for Israel and the Palestinians by enabling them to work together and forge trade and business links with neighbouring Arab states and elsewhere in the world.

"Generations of Jewish and Palestinian children for once growing up in hope not fear. For Israelis, a life free from the everyday fear of terror. or the Palestinians, finally, the chance to live autonomously in a state of their own.

"Imagine if you could look your children and grandchildren in the eye and know that your hope could become their reality.

"These are the dividends of peace that I long for in Israel. And I will do everything I can do help bring them about."

He insisted that Israel was not the cause of the "poisonous ideology" of Islamist extremism that was fuelling terrorism across the region and across the world.

"Islamist extremism is a warped and barbaric ideology that tries to set our societies against each other by radicalising young Muslims all across the world," said the Prime Minister.

"We are in the middle of a generational struggle against a poisonous ideology which is an extreme distortion of the Islamic faith - and which holds that terror and mass murder are not only acceptable but necessary.

"I am convinced we will be fighting Islamic extremism for the rest of my political lifetime.

"We must tackle this poisonous thinking at home and abroad and resist the ideologues' attempts to divide the world into a clash of civilisations."

Cameron won a polite reception from Israeli MPs, who clapped his assurances of support for their country, promises to protect Jewish life in the UK and opposition to Iran's nuclear ambitions.

They applauded his condemnation of the "despicable attempt by the Iranians to smuggle more long-range rockets into Gaza" on board the ship Klos C, which was intercepted this week, and his criticism of Palestinian schools which he said had been named after suicide bombers.

He won a brief standing ovation at the end of his address, and there was none of the heckling that peppered welcome speeches by Netanyahu and Labour leader Isaac Herzog.

As political opponents hurled abuse at one another, Netanyahu apologised to his guest that the Knesset had not yet learnt Westminster's democratic "decorum".

Cameron won laughter by joking: "If I was thinking of missing Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons and finding somewhere to spend a quiet Wednesday afternoon, clearly I have come to the wrong place."

As Netanyahu greeted Cameron to the Knesset, there was a walkout by a handful of MPs from religious parties, and his welcome speech was repeatedly interrupted by heckles from political opponents, apparently directed at the Israeli PM rather than his visitor.