Sir Keir Starmer has described Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state when the war in the Middle East ends as “unacceptable”.
In a hardening of tone towards the Israeli prime minister, the Labour leader said it was wrong to suggest that statehood was “in the gift of a neighbour”.
Mr Netanyahu has vowed to press ahead with the offensive in Gaza for many months despite mounting pressure on Israel to rein in its military action as the scale of death and destruction intensifies.
In a press conference earlier this week, he also said he opposed US calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state when the conflict comes to an end.
Asked about the Israeli prime minister’s remarks on Friday, Sir Keir told broadcasters: “The comments (made by) Prime Minister Netanyahu are unacceptable and they are wrong.
“Palestinian statehood is not in the gift of a neighbour. It is the inalienable right of the Palestinian people.
“It’s also the only way to a secure settlement and a secure future.”
It comes amid a wider rift between Israel and the US over the scope of Israel’s war and plans for the future of Gaza.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said Israel would never have “genuine security” without a pathway towards Palestinian independence.
In response to the comments made by Mr Netanyahu in his press conference, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said: “We obviously see it differently.”
Earlier this week, the White House also announced it was the “right time” for Israel to lower the intensity of its military action in Gaza.
Israel launched the offensive after an unprecedented cross-border attack by Hamas on October 7, in which 1,200 people were killed and some 240 others taken hostage.
Roughly 130 hostages are believed by Israel to remain in Hamas captivity.
Nearly 25,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s assault – one of the deadliest and most destructive military campaigns in recent history, according to health authorities in Hamas-controlled Gaza.
Mr Netanyahu struck a defiant tone this week, repeatedly saying the offensive will not be halted until it realises its goals of destroying Hamas and bringing home all remaining hostages.
Both the UK Conservative government and the Labour opposition, along with the US, have said they back Israel’s right to defend itself following Hamas’ October 7 attacks.
Both have expressed support for a two-state solution to the conflict and a “sustainable” ceasefire – but have resisted calls to back an immediate one.
However, the Israeli government has been urged by western allies to limit the scope of its offensive and act within the parameters of international law.
The country currently faces a case at the UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) brought by South Africa, which accuses it of genocide over its actions in Gaza – a charge Israel denies.
UK Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron on Sunday said Britain has been “incredibly firm” in urging Israel to show restraint but that it was “nonsense” to suggest the country intends to commit genocide.