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1995 - Mr Major’s Speech to the Conservative Friends of Israel

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the Conservative Friends of Israel, given on 20th June 1995.


PRIME MINISTER:

Introduction

To go to Israel and Jerusalem at any time is special. As a committed friend of Israel, I was especially glad to have the opportunity to make the visit. Jerusalem, in particular, is unique, whatever one’s background. John Ward and John Marshall, who came with me, the latter in his capacity as Chairman of the British/Israel Parliamentary Group, will I am sure attest to that.

Thank you for inviting me this afternoon. I recognise many faces here from the very enjoyable occasion six months or so ago, when I spoke to the Joint Israel Appeal - and indeed from where I spoke to the Board of Deputies in March the year before. So I don’t want to go over the same ground.

However, it is now some three months since my visit. So I thought you might appreciate some reflections on it, and to hear about some of the practical ways in which it is being followed up.

The Visit

The reasons for my going, and the importance of Britain’s relationship with Israel, need no underlining to this audience. The ties between our peoples go back much further than the founding of the State of Israel. The Jewish community here in the United Kingdom has contributed enormously to British life. Looking round me, I know that that will continue.

There have been difficult times in the past. But it was particularly poignant to visit Israel in the year that we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of VE-Day.

I was glad to have the opportunity to pay tribute to the sacrifices of Jewish parachutists, dropped behind enemy lines at appalling risk and often terrible costs - just as I was glad to be able to present President Weizman with a model of the famous Spitfire which he flew with the RAF.

Yad Vashem, which I visited early during my stay, bears heart-rending witness to why we fought side by side against common enemies. I know that Britain will continue to stand by Israel as it builds its nation, and secures its peace.

So I went to Israel to reaffirm the importance of our relationship - and to give it added practical substance. To that end, I took with me one of the most powerful delegations of senior British businessmen ever I think to have left these shores. You will not be surprised to hear that we worked them hard. But the results that I shall mention shortly speak, I think, for themselves.

UK/Israel

During my visit, I spoke about the “menorah” of relationships that tie together our two countries:

- in politics, where the deep disagreements of the past have given way to a much warmer relationship, demonstrated by the recent flow of high level political contacts. We share, for instance, an implacable hostility to terrorism, and a deep commitment that violence can have no place in a democratic state. In my two meetings with Prime Minister Rabin in Jerusalem, I could not help thinking back to a dark October afternoon last year, when Mr Rabin had come to see me in Downing Street only hours before another terrorist atrocity in the heart of Tel Aviv shocked the world;

- in defence, where Malcolm Rifkind recently made the first visit to Israel by a British Defence Secretary. Britain and Israel of course also co-operated closely during the Gulf War, where we admired the Israeli people’s resolution under missile attack, and at the same time mounted the UK Special Forces’ largest operation since 1945 to counter this missile threat - with remarkable success which resulted in some 40 gallantry awards;

- in culture, where the National Theatre visited last year, and the Royal Ballet this year. There are also intense and long-standing academic links and I should mention too the important role of private British philanthropy, which continues to contribute vitally to so many social and charitable activities in both Israel and this country;

- in education and science. During my visit, I announced a scheme for “British Awards for Excellence in English” during a meeting with an English resource centre in Northern Galilee, which itself has been made possible by private British philanthropy. I also announced a doubling of the funds available to the UK/Israel Science and Technology Fund;

- just as important, trade and investment. Our trading relationship now amounts to over £1.5 billion a year. Israel is Britain’s second largest market in the Middle East. And amongst our top 25 world-wide.

Peace Process

I also went to Israel, of course, to try and give a boost to the peace process. No-one can visit Israel without being acutely conscious of the wider political challenges facing the country.

We all recognise that, in the longer term, Israel must reach an accommodation with her neighbours and take her rightful place in the region.

Here in Britain, we will continue firmly to support the peace process. I know that you in the CFI take the same view. Negotiations with the Palestinians will remain essential to Israel’s future. The negotiations are bound to be complex and difficult, and the terrorists will go on trying to destroy the process. But it can be in neither side’s long-term interest to turn back now, and I spent a fair part of my time in the region discussing with both Prime Minister Rabin and Chairman Arafat how best to encourage progress.

Here, I might say a word about my visit to Mr Arafat in Gaza. Our talk produced, I think, some useful movement.

You may remember that I announced during my visit Palestinian agreement that the EU should co-ordinate election observers in the Occupied Territories. I am glad to say that this is going ahead. The Commission have reached agreement with the Palestinians and Israelis, and have started to make preparations. Britain will contribute observers.

During my visit I announced further aid for the Palestinians. We have since announced a further £2 million as a contribution to recurrent costs. This brings our total aid package to over £83 million over three years.

Meanwhile, progress is being made on the Palestinian track. It is excellent news that the two sides expect to reach agreement on elections and redeployment, even if they do not quite meet the target date of 1 July.

There is also some encouraging news on the Syrian track. Negotiations on security arrangements are due to start in Washington on 27 June. There is still a wide gap on substance. But I am glad to see that movement has resumed.

Business Follow-Up

I thought you might be interested to hear too of some of the ways in which our two countries’ business communities have been following-up their own visit, with, if I may say so, great energy and considerable success.

We shall for instance be following-up the business Round Table in Jerusalem, whose opening I attended, with the first meeting of the Israeli-Britain Business Council in the autumn, hopefully during the planned visit to London of Israel’s Minister of Trade, Mr Harish. Sir Richard Greenbury will chair for the UK.

The Council will establish working groups on infrastructure, health and education, financial services and hi-tech issues. Some of these will begin work in the next couple of months.

Following my visit, BT have agreed a partnership with Israeli companies in the telecoms sector. Cable and Wireless have purchased 7% of Bezeq.

I have been glad to see, too, the start of triangular collaboration, involving UK, Israeli and Palestinian firms. An English company, Agrifarm, have obtained an EU contract for a feasibility study on the establishment of a marketing company for Palestinian agricultural and horticultural produce.

The DTI is holding its first Levant-wide promotional event covering the Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and Syrian markets in the City on 13 September.

We will be looking at proposals for Business Parks along the borders of Israel and the Occupied Territories, and hope to see British involvement.

We will be inviting Israel’s Chief Scientist to visit Britain to discuss joint research and development activities.

The first disbursements from the UK/Israel Science and Technology Research Fund, which we doubled in March, should be made this summer.

Racial Harassment in the UK

One other subject to mention before I close, not directly connected with my visit, but to which I attach the greatest importance. It was one of the major subjects raised when the Board of Deputies came to see me a few months ago, so I know the Jewish Community gives it a similar priority.

Namely the subject of racial harassment and the threat of extremism. There is a problem of extremism, right and left, running right the way across Europe. Its scale in Britain is still small. But that is no consolation. I am absolutely determined that London will not become a centre for extremists, British, Islamic or otherwise. The publications and activities of organisations like the so-called Combat 17 and Hizb-ut-Tahrir are obnoxious and repulsive. They have no place in our society.

I do not need to spell out to this audience the Government’s implacable opposition to such activity. We have already taken steps to deal with it. Last year’s changes to the Criminal Justice Act, for instance, give the police the power of arrest in relation to the publication or the distribution of material likely to incite racial hatred. They are using it. Earlier this year, as perhaps you know, the Metropolitan Police caught two Combat 18 members distributing literature, and subsequently seized material.

The prosecuting authorities are aware of the Government’s views. The police and Crown Prosecuting authorities will pursue vigorously the possibility of prosecutions whenever the evidence so justifies. You need be in no doubt that I firmly support this approach.

Conclusion

So in all the ways I have mentioned, we are actively taking forward and deepening the relationship. And when I say “we”, I mean just that. Not just Government, but businessmen, politicians, teachers, musicians, scientists and so on.

Most attention is rightly focused on the peace process; and there will be some critical months ahead in that respect.

But it is important, too, to remember the many other levels on which the British/Israel relationship exists. We are determined to go on taking forward that relationship, both as a Government and as Conservatives.