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Theresa May to host Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu for talks

Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to visit 10 Downing Street next Monday for talks with Theresa May.

Downing Street said Mrs May was expected to take the opportunity to restate Britain's concern that settlement building in the West Bank is undermining trust in the Middle East peace process.

But Mrs May's spokeswoman stressed this was expected to form only a small part of discussions, which will focus on the bilateral relationship between the UK and Israel, including the potential for increased trade following Brexit.

The February 6 meeting will be the first time the two prime ministers have met, though they spoke by phone in August last year after Mrs May's arrival at Number 10.

Britain backed a United Nations Security Council resolution in December denouncing Israel's settlements in occupied Palestinian territory as a "flagrant violation" of international law and a "major obstacle" to a just and lasting peace.

And Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood said on Wednesday that the announcement of further settlement units in the West Bank was "part of a growing trend which we condemn".

Announcing Mr Netanyahu's upcoming visit to London, Mrs May's official spokeswoman said: "I think they will want to talk about how we strengthen the bilateral relationship, particularly looking at trade and the progress that's been made in recent years, particularly linking up on innovation and technology.

"Of course, alongside that, they will want to talk about a range of security and international issues, including the Middle East peace process.

"I would expect the Prime Minister to set out the Government's position that we think the continued increase in settlement activity undermines trust.

"Our focus is on how we make a two-state solution, with an Israel that is safe from terrorism and a Palestinian state that is viable and sovereign, work."

She added: "We realise and recognise that settlements are far from the only problem in this conflict and we understand the position of the Israelis and their right to live free from the threat of terrorism.

"That's why we have pursued and will continue to pursue a twin-track approach which recognises both sides have legitimate concerns in this conflict and things to be addressed."

The two leaders are also expected to discuss the civil war in Syria and the nuclear deal with Iran, which Mrs May last week described as "vital" for regional security.

Mr Netanyahu is expected to travel to the US later this month for a meeting with President Donald Trump, whose administration has taken a markedly warmer line with Israel than that of predecessor Barack Obama.

Mrs May's spokeswoman indicated that Britain had no plans to follow Mr Trump's lead by moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The PM visited Israel as home secretary in 2014, but did not meet Mr Netanyahu during that trip.

The Jewish Leadership Council "warmly welcomed" news of the visit.

Chief executive Simon Johnson said: " It is entirely appropriate that a meeting such as this between the leaders of two allies should be taking place. There are many ties between the two countries, and these should be strengthened.

"The complex nature of the challenges in the region and those faced by Israel in particular should be high up on their agenda."

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