Labour opposes proposed move of UK embassy in Israel to Jerusalem

Rayhan Uddin

Middle East Eye  /  October 5, 2022

Liberal Democrats and SNP also reject controversial move from Tel Aviv, as Liz Truss declares herself a ‘huge Zionist’.

The UK’s Labour, Liberal Democrat and Scottish National parties have told Middle East Eye they oppose moving the British embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, following Prime Minister Liz Truss’s controversial pledge to review its current location in Tel Aviv.

Senior Conservatives earlier this week also called for the embassy to be moved to Jerusalem at an event organized by Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), a pro-Israel lobby group, at the ruling party’s annual conference in Birmingham.

Speaking at the event, Jake Berry, the Conservative Party chairman, pledged his “unwavering commitment… to build strong relationships with the state of Israel and to support it in its fight to ensure that it remains safe and that the capital in Jerusalem is the home to our new embassy”.

Truss was among a number of ministers who attended the event, telling those present she was a “huge Zionist and huge supporter of Israel”.

Writing in the CFI’s Informed magazine, Truss said: “I understand the importance and sensitivity of the location of the British Embassy in Israel and I am committed to a review to ensure we are operating on the strongest footing within Israel”.

But representatives of the three opposition parties told MEE on Wednesday that they rejected moving the embassy to Jerusalem. The UK, like most countries, currently has its embassy in Tel Aviv because of the disputed status of Jerusalem.

“Our position on this hasn’t changed, Labour does not support the move,” a spokesperson for the main opposition party said. “We do not want the move to happen and we will oppose it.”

The spokesperson did not answer specifically whether Labour would reverse a potential location change were it to form the next government.

Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson, told MEE: “Moving the UK embassy in Israel to Jerusalem would be a provocation. The UK should under no circumstances be taking steps which risk inflaming tensions and damaging the prospects of peace.”

Moran, who is the first British MP of Palestinian descent, said she had written to James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, “to make clear that moving the embassy should only come as part of a negotiated peace settlement between Israel and Palestine

“This review should accordingly be stopped,” she said. “My energy is in stopping this move from happening in the first place.”

The Scottish National Party pointed MEE to a column its foreign affairs spokesperson, Alyn Smith, wrote last week, in which he condemned Truss’s consultation as “inconsistent with international law and does nothing to help bring about a peaceful two-state solution.

“Whether the UK Government wants to acknowledge it or not, it has a responsibility to the people of that region for the mess it created (Palestine had been a British Mandate, after all, prior to the creation of Israel in 1948),” Smith wrote in The National.

“At a time when relations between Palestinian and Israeli communities have deteriorated to record low levels, it is shameful that the UK has absconded from its duty to promote peace in the Middle East.”

Land for new embassy identified 

On Tuesday, MEE published a briefing note circulated by CFI to affiliated Conservative members of parliament, which stated that the UK government already owned land in west Jerusalem earmarked as the site of the new embassy. 

The briefing note said that a move to relocate the British embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be “a bureaucratic one that recognizes the reality on the ground”.

MEE also published a “suggested casework response” for MPs to send to their constituents regarding a move to Jerusalem. 

“It has long been customary for sovereign countries to choose their capital city and for Embassies and other diplomatic offices to be located there. Israel should be no different in this regard,” the casework response states. 

A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) spokesperson on Wednesday declined to comment on whether the UK government held land where a new embassy could be located. The spokesperson also said they would not speculate on the outcome of the review.  

An embassy move to Jerusalem would reverse decades of British policy. The UK has long maintained its diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv – even after Israel declared Jerusalem as its capital – as part of a longstanding policy that the city’s final status should be decided following negotiations.

In 1967, Israel occupied and annexed the eastern part of the city of Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as the capital of a future state, in a move that has never been recognized by the international community.

If the British Embassy is moved, Truss would be following in the footsteps of former US President Donald Trump, who, in defiance of international law, moved the American embassy to Jerusalem in 2017, a move that formally recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the city.

Rayhan Uddin is a Middle East Eye journalist based in London