Britain Should Be Proud Of Pioneering Role In Creating State Of Israel, Says May

The Prime Minister has said Britain is proud of the relationship it has built with Israel at a gala dinner to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.

Theresa May joined Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Lord Rothschild at Lancaster House in London to celebrate the declaration of 1917, which signalled British support for the creation of a Jewish homeland.

In her speech to more than 100 guests including politicians and diplomats, Mrs May commemorated a pledge written by then British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour which she said “gave birth to a most extraordinary country”.

Theresa May speaks at the Balfour 100 Dinner at Lancaster House in London (Balfour 100/PA)

She said: “Balfour wrote explicitly that: ‘nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country’.

“So when some people suggest we should apologise for this letter, I say absolutely not. We are proud of our pioneering role in the creation of the State of Israel… And we are proud of the relationship we have built with Israel.”

Mrs May also discussed efforts to reach a peace deal and earlier told her Israeli counterpart that Britain remained committed to a two-state solution with a viable Palestinian state.

She added: “Let us be honest with each other: there will need to be compromises from each side if we are to have a realistic chance of achieving this goal – including an end to the building of new settlements and an end to Palestinian incitement too.

“But as we work together towards Balfour’s vision of a peaceful co-existence we must be equally clear that there can never be any excuses for boycotts, divestment or sanctions: they are unacceptable and this government will have no truck with those who subscribe to them.”

Highlighting the UK’s role in pressing for a new international definition of anti-Semitism, she added: “Criticising the actions of Israel is never – and can never be – an excuse for questioning Israel’s right to exist, any more than criticising the actions of Britain could be an excuse for questioning our right to exist.

“And criticising the government of Israel is never – and can never be – an excuse for hatred against the Jewish people, any more than criticising the British government would be an excuse for hatred against the British people.

Benjamin Netanyahu also met Boris Johnson (Darren Staples/PA)

“Put simply, there can be no excuses for any kind of hatred towards the Jewish people. There never have been – and there never will be.”

Earlier at Number 10, Mr 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.”

During the dinner, Mr Netanyahu thanked the Prime Minister on behalf of Israel and its people.

He said added: “The State of Israel would not have come into being, but it was the Balfour Declaration that galvanised international support for Zionism as never before and paved the path for Zionism’s entry on the world stage.

“Now, a once stateless and powerless people has found its place among the nations.”

Addressing Mrs May, he added: “The Balfour Declaration puts Britain on the right side of history in marking that declaration today you are keeping Britain on the right side of history.”