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UK pushes back at Netanyahu and says two-state model can provide ‘lasting peace’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state is “disappointing”, No 10 has said.

The UK Government has vowed to continue with its support for a two-state solution in the Middle East for “as long as it takes” in the face of Israel’s premier saying he would “not compromise” on Tel Aviv control over Palestinian territories.

Mr Netanyahu’s stance also puts him at odds with the US, Israel’s most powerful and closest ally. Rishi Sunak and Joe Biden spoke on Monday evening, with the two leaders agreeing “that a two state solution which allows Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security is more important than ever”.

Right-wing leader Mr Netanyahu doubled down on his rejection of Palestinian sovereignty as part of any post-war plan, saying his country needs full security control over the Palestinian territories when the Israel-Hamas conflict is over.

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak with US President Joe Biden last year (Paul Ellis/PA)

He wrote on X, formerly Twitter, late on Saturday: “I will not compromise on full Israeli security control over the entire area west of Jordan – and this is contrary to a Palestinian state.”

The remarks, rebuked by UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps and senior Labour Party figures, deepened a public rift with the US, which has argued a two-state solution is essential for long-term stability.

Asked about the Israeli leader’s stance, Prime Minister Mr Sunak’s official spokesman told reporters on Monday: “It is disappointing to hear this from the Israeli prime minister.

“The UK’s position remains that a two-state solution with a viable and sovereign Palestinian state living alongside a safe and secure Israel is the best route to lasting peace.

“Clearly there will be a long road to recovery and lasting security in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel.

“But we will continue our long-term support for a two-state solution for as long as it takes.”

Downing Street said Mr Sunak used the call to stress “that supporting Israel in its efforts to defeat the threat from Hamas does not detract from the need for the IDF to take greater care to protect civilians and operate within International Humanitarian Law”.

It comes amid concern internationally about Israel’s conduct of the war and the ever-growing number of civilian causalities.

The current war between Israel and Hamas, the fifth and by far the deadliest, began when Palestinian militants broke through Israel’s defences and rampaged through several nearby communities, killing some 1,200 people, and taking around 250 people hostage.

Israel’s offensive has killed at least 25,105 Palestinians in Gaza and wounded more than 60,000, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.

The two men “resolved to continue working together to encourage further humanitarian pauses to get hostages out of Gaza and allow more aid to enter”, Number 10 said.

The pair also discussed Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, agreeing to “continue efforts alongside international partners to deter and disrupt those attacks”.

The US has launched seven rounds of air strikes on Houthi military sites in recent days, targeting air bases under the rebels’ control and suspected missile launch sites.

On Monday afternoon, Mr Sunak also met family members of Israeli hostages who are still being held in Gaza following Hamas’s raids on October 7.

Asked if Mr Sunak had given a message to hostages’ families at an event organised by the Conservative Friends of Israel, the PM’s spokesman said: “Our message continues to be one of support for the families going through unimaginable pain and suffering, both those who still have hostages held by Hamas and those who have had them returned.

“We have a clear message for Hamas that they can return these hostages at any moment, and we would continue to urge them to do so.”

According to online news outlet Politico, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will also speak with those who have flown to London.

The three-day visit by the families is designed to put pressure on Britain to encourage Qatar, which has facilitated negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian militant group in order to help secure hostage releases, to “pick a side” in the conflict.

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had a meeting in London on Monday with relatives of Israeli hostages (Jeff Moore/PA)

Meanwhile, the Foreign Office has announced sanctions against five figures who it says are involved in the financial networks of Hamas and another militant group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

The combined action by the UK and US is the third round of such sanctions imposed on the two groups since the war broke out almost four months ago.

Mr Netanyahu has vowed to continue the offensive until “complete victory” over Hamas and to return all of the remaining hostages after more than 100 were released in a ceasefire deal in November in exchange for scores of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

The Israeli military says it has killed around 9,000 militants, without providing evidence, and blames the high civilian death toll on Hamas because it positions fighters, tunnels and other militant infrastructure in dense residential areas.