The opening of talks on a UK-Israel free-trade agreement (FTA) is a welcome development for both countries. The negotiations, launched by Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan in a meeting with Israeli ambassador Tzipi Hotovely on Wednesday, follow a bilateral roadmap on cyber, tech and defence drawn up last year. As it stands, UK-Israel trade is worth £5 billion annually and 6,600 British firms sell to the Middle Eastern nation. The objective of the FTA would be to reduce commercial barriers further.
Strengthening trade ties is of mutual benefit. More than 7,000 Brits are employed by Israeli-owned UK businesses and Israel is a key export market for London, the northwest and Scotland, who between them sell roughly half a billion worth of goods to the Jewish state every year. For its part, Israel, which already enjoys UK foreign direct investment to the tune of £1 billion, will be able to meet the growing needs of its import markets.
This is undoubtedly good news. Hi-tech and halvah all around. But as the UK steps up its trading relationship with Israel, our diplomatic and political positions grow staler. Nowhere is this starker than on the status of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The Israelis have controlled it partially since the 1948 war of independence and fully since 1967, when they liberated the Old City and eastern Jerusalem from Jordanian occupation. Jerusalem has never been the capital of any independent, sovereign state or comparable entity other than a Jewish one, be that the Kingdom of Israel or the modern state. Under Israeli law, Jerusalem ‘complete and united’ is ‘the capital of Israel’, a position affirmed by the United States and a number of other countries.
But not the UK, where the government recognises only ‘Israel’s “de facto authority” over West Jerusalem’, which is as slippery as all lawyer talk is.