Arab diplomats urge Liz Truss not to move British embassy to Jerusalem (plus Guardian editorial)

Liz & Yair (Andrew Parson)

Patrick Wintour

The Guardian  /  September 30, 2022

Private letter says ‘illegal’ plan could jeopardize free trade deal between UK and Gulf Cooperation Council.

Arab ambassadors in London are urging Liz Truss not to go ahead with “an illegal and ill-judged” plan to move the British embassy to Jerusalem.

Some Arab diplomats have even said the plan could jeopardize talks on a highly prized free trade deal between the UK and the Gulf Cooperation Council due to be completed this year.

A private letter was sent before Truss’s trip to the UN in New York, where she confirmed the review, but after the state funeral of Queen.

EU allies have told the UK they think the move is unwise and are privately speculating that Truss took the initiative not just due to her close ties with Israel but out of her desire to be noticed as a disruptive force.

It was expected that a predictable group of pro-Palestinian countries represented in London would object to the proposed embassy move, but the letter sent by the diplomats has the endorsement of all of the Arab countries, including those that support the Abraham accords signed in September 2020. The accords are designed to lead to a general warming of ties with Israel for its signatories, including Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

It is understood that some of the Arab states most inclined to the Abraham accords are most disturbed by the move since they fear the accords will be damaged by the claim they opened the way to it.

However, making a future trade deal contingent on retaining the UK embassy in Tel Aviv may prove a step too far for some more pragmatic Gulf state capitals. It remains to be seen how vocal they will make their objections.

In the Tory leadership campaign, Truss announced in a letter to Conservative Friends of Israel that she would open a review of the location of the UK embassy, something she had not done as foreign secretary. She highlighted last week that she was instituting that review in a readout of a bilateral meeting in New York with the Israeli prime minister, Yair Lapid. No details of how the review is being conducted inside the Foreign Office have been made public.

One former British diplomat described Truss as a “pound-shop Trump”, a reference to the decision by the US administration under Donald Trump to make the same move in 2018. He said: “She seems to think she should ape Donald Trump. The difference is that the US is big enough to get its way in the Middle East. The UK is not. If the UK shifted its embassy it would have a domino effect amongst some countries in the European Union, such as Hungary, but probably not, and will damage British interest in the Arab world.”

Only four other countries have moved their embassy to Jerusalem.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador in London, said: “Any embassy move would be a blatant violation of international law and the UK’s historic responsibilities. It undermines the two-state solution and inflames an already volatile situation in Jerusalem, the rest of the occupied territories, and among communities in the UK and worldwide. It would be disastrous.”

Patrick Wintour is diplomatic editor for The Guardian


The Guardian view on moving the British embassy to Jerusalem: don’t do it

The Guardian  /  September 27, 2022


Liz Truss has promised a review, but relocating it would be shameful and stupid. That might not put off the prime minister – but it should.

Donald Trump’s relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018 was incendiary. Widely criticised, including by the British government, it sparked protests and clashes in which Israeli security forces killed dozens of Palestinians. Though a superpower’s example offers cover to others, only four countries followed suit: Honduras, Guatemala, Kosovo – and Paraguay, which swiftly reversed course.

Yet Liz Truss last week said that she was considering relocating the British embassy. The case against a move is logical, legal and practical as well as moral. East Jerusalem has been considered occupied territory under international law since the six-day war in 1967, and the future capital of a Palestinian state. Mr Trump’s proposals for an unworkable “peace plan” committed to Jerusalem as an “undivided” capital – Israel’s position. But British policy remains unchanged.

Moving the embassy would tear up the commitment to any meaningful two-state solution. It would tacitly condone the march of illegal settlements. Palestinian doors would slam in the faces of diplomats, the British Council and others: longstanding suspicion of the UK has accelerated in recent years. Relations with other Middle East nations would suffer. All this for minimal, if any, benefit.

The prime minister’s remarks came on the side-lines of the UN general assembly meeting where Yair Lapid voiced support for a two-state solution – the first Israeli prime minister to do so since 2017. This is a return to the rhetorical status quo ante, without either intention or ability to act upon his words, while the reality on the ground makes a peace deal ever more distant. There is no prospect of serious talks with Palestinians and minimal external pressure. While it may have been intended to sweeten his message on Iran, most have seen it in the context of November’s general election – Israel’s fifth in less than four years, and once again shaping up as a contest for and against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (currently favoured by polls). The thinking is that Mr Lapid hopes to encourage voters on the left to turn out or, more likely, switch to him, keeping him at the head of the anti-Bibi bloc.

It may also smooth relations with Joe Biden, who hailed his remarks, but has shown little real interest in the future of Palestinians. His administration vowed to reopen the consulate in Jerusalem, which served Palestinians, and the PLO mission in Washington; neither has happened. The president’s cursory trip to East Jerusalem and Bethlehem this summer looked like cover for his meeting with Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman.

Badly failed by their own leadership too, Palestinians feel not only frustrated and angry, but betrayed. Ms Truss’s review is further confirmation that they are right. Her brief tenure has already demonstrated that a policy’s badness, stupidity and unpopularity are not obstacles to embracing it: the opportunity to “challenge conformity” – ignoring officials’ warnings – may even be a spur. This is still more likely when Palestinians, rather than her own electorate, will pay. But Britain’s historical responsibilities, as well as international law, demand that it does better. It should keep the embassy in Tel Aviv, and not add to the damage already done.