|It was the summer of 1984 and in a kibbutz kitchen in the upper Galilee a sweaty Boris Johnson was washing dishes.
The future prime minister was 20 years old and his father had arranged for Boris and his sister Rachel to spend some time on Kibbutz Kfar HaNassi.
“He was so socially low on the pecking order,” Rachel told Haaretz that summer. “He was not a kibbutznik. He was not a soldier. And he was so pale he couldn’t even go in the sun.”
Notwithstanding his hardship posting, Johnson today describes himself as a “passionate Zionist” and an admirer of the Jewish state.
Does that mean he will shift UK policy when it comes to Israel?
The short answer is that Johnson’s views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are mainstream for UK politics and similar to those of his recent predecessors. (See Bicom’s briefing for a detailed breakdown.)
In a Telegraph article in October 2017, Johnson said he was committed to a Two-State Solution based on the 1967 borders.
“For Israel, the birth of a Palestinian state is the only way to secure its demographic future as a Jewish and democratic nation,” he wrote.
Like Theresa May, he doesn’t believe it is the right time to either move the UK embassy to Jerusalem or to recognise Palestine as a state.
Johnson criticised Israel for using disproportionate force in Gaza in 2014 but said Israel had a right to defend itself.
Like other British ministers, he is a supporter of the Iran nuclear deal but critical of Iran’s regional behaviour.
He said he was open to reimposing sanctions on Iran for breaching the nuclear agreement but would prefer to see them return to compliance with deal. War with Iran was not “a sensible option,” he said recently.
But the key question with Johnson is not what he believes now but what he might believe in the future if it is politically expedient.
It is possible that Johnson will try to flatter Donald Trump by shifting UK policy closer towards America’s position on Israel. You could see him supporting Jared Kushner’s peace plan if he thought it might help secure a US-UK free trade deal.
Similarly, you can see how he might use relations with Israel to undermine Jeremy Corbyn and exploit the anti-Semitism crisis shaking Labour.
Johnson may also be forced to take a harder line on Iran if the tit-for-tat tanker war between Iran and the UK escalates.
Those shifts may come in the future. For now, British policy in the Middle East is unlikely to change dramatically.
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