The British Prime Minister Liz Truss announced her intention to conduct a review into the location of the British Embassy to Israel. On 5 August as a candidate for Leader of the Conservative Party in a letter to an anti-Palestinian lobby group, Truss outlined her position on Jerusalem, stressing the “importance and sensitivity of the location of the British Embassy. I’ve had many conversations with my good friend Prime Minister Lapid on this topic. Acknowledging that, I will review a move to ensure we are operating on the strongest footing with Israeli”. As Prime Minister in a meeting at the UN with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, she informed him about the current review of the UK Embassy in Israel.
Jerusalem matters to two peoples and adherents of the three monotheistic faiths. Historically it has been fought over, changing hands through war and violence a total of 37 times.
Moving the Embassy should be opposed from a variety of perspectives. It is disastrous from a conflict resolution point of view – favouring one side to the exclusion of the other; from a human rights perspective – given that it rewards Israel at a time when it is carrying out gross violations of international law in Jerusalem and elsewhere; and also from a British interests perspective, as it will do great harm to our international standing, also risking free trade deals with varying states.
Jerusalem is a city where 60% of the population, Israeli citizens, enjoy full political and religious rights whilst 40%, the Palestinians, live under occupation, denied basic rights. This is not a situation that should be supported or rewarded.
Some important resources and opposition to the Embassy move
- Former British Foreign Secretary and Leader of the Conservative Party, Lord William Hague in the Times on 11 October 2022: “Do not move the British embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This would be a breach of UN security council resolutions by one of its permanent members, break a longstanding commitment to work for two states for Israelis and Palestinians, and align Britain in foreign affairs with Donald Trump and three small states rather than the whole of the rest of the world.”
- Former UK Foreign Minister and Conservative MP, Sir Alan Duncan, in a letter to the Financial Times on 14 October 2022: "Far from being a straightforward administrative step, it would mark a fundamental shift in UK foreign policy and would put at risk the entire balance of argument and justice in the region. Notwithstanding the brazen attitude of Donald Trump, it has long been the policy of all major countries, supported by numerous UN resolutions, that Jerusalem’s standing is that of an international city which is not the recognised capital of either Israel or Palestine. Any attempt to upset this delicate understanding would prove dangerously inflammatory. Relocating the embassy would not serve the parties on the ground, and it would play into the hands of those Israeli interests who claim all of Jerusalem as theirs. If pursued to its conclusion, moving the embassy would destroy the UK’s reputation for respecting international law, and it would undermine our standing in the world."
- Labour Peer and former special envoy to the Middle East, Lord Michael Levy in the Times on 13 October 2022: "Britain cannot both assert the primacy of international legality, the UN charter, the inadmissibility of territorial acquisition and annexation by force, and simultaneously undermine those principles. Britain’s allies on Ukraine will bemoan the timing (and in most instances the substance) of such a decision, especially with much of the global south calling out double standards."
- The Labour Party, Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Liberal Democrats all oppose any UK Embassy move to Jerusalem.
- The British-Palestinian Committee wrote a letter to Prime Minister Liz Truss on 13 October 2022: “In short, relocating the embassy - thereby endorsing Israel’s current actions - threatens to severely compromise the safety of Palestinians, the credibility of the UK on the international stage, and the prospects of any kind of just future in the region. We seriously hope you will reconsider this move, for the sake of all parties involved.” More in this Tweet from Director of the British-Palestinian Committee, Sara Husseini, who also wrote in the Independent on 4 October 2022: "This potential step by the UK government would thus serve as a seal of approval to Israeli policies past and present which erase the Palestinian presence in (and identity of) the city. In doing so, Truss is leading the UK down a dangerous path of isolation from international consensus, which has repeatedly condemned Israel’s occupation and unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem and declared any measures taken to alter the character and status of the city to be “null and void”. That Truss would reverse decades of British policy and break with the vast majority of the international community to follow the lead of Donald Trump should sound alarm bells.
On the same day that Truss met with Lapid, South Africa’s minister for international relations spoke to the UN General Assembly about the now extensive body of evidence concluding that Israel is perpetrating apartheid within the territories under its control, and called for Israel to be “held accountable for its destructive actions”.
Her words should serve as an uncomfortable reminder of a British government which took far too long to denounce apartheid once before – and invite a lesson about coming to terms with Britain’s colonial legacy, including in Palestine. Will Britain, once again, be on the wrong side of history?"
Young British Jews letter to the President of the Board of Deputies: "As young British Jews we are deeply concerned by your comments at the Conservative Friends of Israel reception encouraging the UK government to relocate our country’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
We are the future leaders of the British Jewish community and we wholeheartedly object to this inflammatory speech being made in our name. As the President of the Board of Deputies, we would expect you to consider the perspective of young British Jews before making such divisive remarks in a public sphere. We wish to make it explicitly clear that you do not represent us and cannot claim to be speaking on our behalf on this issue."
Opposition from faith groups and figures
- The Catholic Church’s Cardinal Nichols stated in a letter to the Prime Minister on 6 October 2022 that “a relocation of the UK Embassy would be seriously damaging to any possibility of lasting peace in the region and to the international reputation of the United Kingdom." His Tweet here.
- The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby expressed his concern about the Embassy move. A statement read: “The archbishop is concerned about the potential impact of moving the British embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem before a negotiated settlement between Palestinians and Israelis has been reached. He is in touch with Christian leaders in the Holy Land and continues to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” The Bishop of Southwark has also written with Roman Catholic counterparts.
- The Council of the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem said in a statement on 10 October 2022 that a British embassy move would “severely undermine the key principle” of corpus separatum, which relates to Jerusalem’s special status as a city holy to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. Jerusalem’s church leaders said that “the very act of reviewing the placement of the British embassy not only suggests that negotiated agreements regarding Jerusalem and the West Bank have already resolved the ongoing disputes between the involved parties - when in fact they have not - but also implies that no such negotiations are needed: that the continuing military occupation of those territories and the unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem are both acceptable.” More in the Twitter thread here.
- The Council of the Islamic Jerusalem Awqaf and Al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs, one of the institutions of the Hashemite King Abdullah II Ibn Al-Hussein’s Custodianship of the Islamic and Christian Holy Sites in Jerusalem, in a letter to King Charles III wrote: "The conservation of the pre-1967 Status Quo in Jerusalem is essential for preserving our religious rights, peace in our Holy City and good relations between the religious communities around the globe. The recognition of this Status Quo made most of the world’s governments refraining from moving their embassies to Jerusalem until reaching a final status arrangement by peace and negotiations not by occupation and enforcement.
We oppose moving the British embassy to Jerusalem since we understand it, as a message to the universe that the UK, in contrary to the international law and the Status Quo, accepts the continuing Israeli illegal military occupation of the Palestinian territories, the Israeli unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem and the Israeli illegal Judaization measures in the Holy City. Such move undermines the two-state solution, cancels the possible peace agreement demarcation of borders between the two states. It also inflames religious conflict and an already instable situation in Jerusalem, the rest of the occupied territories and among communities in the UK and worldwide.
Finally, we hope that the British Government will keep on its historic refrain from moving its embassy to Jerusalem and upkeep its commitment to safeguard the historic Status Quo in the Old City of Jerusalem."
- The Muslim Council of Britain issued a statement: "This action would represent a legitimisation of the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem by Israel and would flout international law, not least UN Security Council Resolution 478. The resolution makes clear that Israel’s attempt to change the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem constitutes a violation of international law.
The resolution reminds the international community that such attempts constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace. It would be unconscionable for the UK to turn its back on all these commitments upheld for so long.
Since the passing UNSCR 478 more than forty years ago, it is thus no wonder that any proposals to relocate the British Embassy to Jerusalem have been rejected by successive British governments and the international community.
Jerusalem occupies a tremendously important position for Muslims, as the third holiest site in Islam, and as such is a deeply held issue to our communities. But we also recognise that the city is also dear to peoples of other faiths, including most notably Palestinian Christians, who likewise reject the Israeli occupation".
The Movement for Reform Judaism said they "would caution against the government taking action that might undermine peace in the region".
- Arab ambassadors in London urged Prime Minister Liz Truss not to go ahead with “an illegal and ill-judged” plan to move the British embassy to Jerusalem. This letter was endorsed by all Arab countries. There has been suggestion that the plan could jeopardise talks on a free trade deal between the UK and the Gulf Cooperation Council due to be completed this year.
- In a speech via video link to the Conservative Party Conference on 6 October 2022, the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, condemned the move: "I reiterate our rejection and condemnation of any unilateral decisions that might breach the legal or the historical status of the holy city of Jerusalem or to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which is the occupying power according to international law."