UN climate talks: UK Prime Minister apologises for interaction with Israeli minister

Image copyright PA Image caption Israeli Minister Naftali Bennett, left, with UK PM Theresa May

The Israeli minister who missed the United Nations climate change talks in Poland due to difficulties in getting around in a wheelchair has accepted an apology from the UK’s prime minister.

COP26 in Katowice was mired in controversy for the way the Palestinian delegation were treated – but amid this, the meeting got off to a bad start for Israel.

Ovadia Ya’alon and UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson were photographed sitting metres apart in a conference room.

Mr Johnson’s spokesman later said the two men had grown very close.

However, late on Thursday, Mr Johnson apologised for the way Mr Ya’alon had been treated in Poland.

Prime Minister Mrs May said in a statement: “I’d like to apologise unreservedly to this minister for his disappointment caused by his inability to attend the conference.

“I have spoken to the minister today and he has accepted my apology and the reason behind it. We must now get on with our work to develop a new global approach to climate change.”

Mr Ya’alon, who chairs Israel’s ministry of strategic affairs, was wounded in a shooting attack in 2010 and uses a wheelchair for walking.

But when he was pictured sitting next to Mr Johnson, the Observer newspaper, said the arrangement was “tantamount to cosying up”.

The UN meeting, the 20th such gathering since 1995, was held amid concern over the impact of climate change.

It was also supposed to review how parties to the Kyoto Protocol were faring in reaching a new global agreement.

The atmosphere was tense and delegates – mainly representatives of small island nations – threatened to walk out of the conference after Australia’s prime minister attacked UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images Image caption With the UK leader sitting next to Israel’s economic and development minister, the meeting got off to a difficult start

Esther McVey, a Conservative MP, wrote on Twitter that she was moved to write to Mr Johnson for him to apologise to Mr Ya’alon.

“And made him aware of my view that he should never have been seated next to Bibi [Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu],” she wrote.

Naftali Bennett, economic and development minister, said on Twitter that Mr Johnson had apologised and had said that this had happened “on purpose” to avoid Mr Ya’alon mixing with the Palestinian delegation, reported BBC.

“I accept this apology because it was not my fault,” Mr Bennett wrote.

He said he had spoken to British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and he was ‘in tears’ over the issues that arose at the conference.

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images Image caption The Israeli Prime Minister had attended the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul before the UN talks began

Image copyright Reuters Image caption British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he wanted to “move on quickly”

Israel was represented by its deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, who said Mr Ya’alon was “thrown in a peculiar situation”.

She said the environment was difficult “but I believe that no other country will feel this more than Israel”.

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