Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be greeted with protests and calls for his arrest when he arrives in London on Wednesday to meet with British leaders.
Israeli ties with the U.K. and European Union are strained by differences over Iran and stalled peacemaking with the Palestinians. Uniting them are shared concerns over rising Islamic radical militancy in the Middle East.
“Europe needs to support Israel, not pressure it,” Netanyahu told reporters, minutes before departure. “To support it as the only real shield that Europe has in the Middle East against radical Islamic terror.”
Topping the agenda for Netanyahu’s meeting on Thursday with British Prime Minister David Cameron will be the Iran nuclear accord and the deteriorating situation in Syria that has sent waves of refugees into Europe, a senior Israeli government official said. They’ll also discuss bilateral trade and other economic cooperation projects, according to the official, who wasn’t authorized to speak on record.
In the past, some senior Israeli figures avoided travel to the U.K. before it tightened the law to make it harder for ordinary British citizens to have them arrested for suspected war crimes against Palestinians. The law was amended in 2011 following Israeli pressure.
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators will stage a protest outside 10 Downing Street on Wednesday, calling for “immediate sanctions and an arms embargo on Israel until it complies with international law and ends the occupation and the siege on Gaza,” according to an e-mailed statement from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign movement. The group says it has gathered more than 100,000 signatures on a petition calling for Netanyahu’s arrest in the U.K.
“With the Iran deal basically done, Netanyahu’s main focus will be encouraging Cameron to make sure the U.K. takes a tough line on any possible violations,” said Jonathan Rynhold, director of the Argov Center for the Study of Israel and the Jewish People at Bar-Ilan University outside Tel Aviv. Britain reopened its embassy in Tehran last month after four years, as Israel criticized Western powers for renewing ties with Iran even before the nuclear agreement goes into effect.
Another issue of contention between Israel and the U.K are new EU guidelines being finalized for the labeling of products from Israeli settlements. The EU views the West Bank settlements as illegal and an obstacle to a peace deal with the Palestinians, while Israel contends such regulations would be discriminatory.
While Cameron has said he opposes any commercial boycott of Israel, pro-Palestinian demonstrators have targeted factories belonging to U.K. subsidiaries of Israeli arms company Elbit Systems Ltd. Bilateral trade between Israel and the U.K. totaled $6.3 billion in 2014, and the EU as a whole is Israel’s biggest trading partner, accounting for about a third of imports and exports.
Netanyahu may press Cameron on the labeling issue by arguing such policies hinder the EU from playing a bigger role in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, Rynhold said. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said last week she sees an opportunity for Europe to be a more influential player in Middle East peacemaking as the the Obama administration enters its final year.
For more, read this QuickTake: Iran’s Nuclear Program