Liz Truss’s plans to move UK embassy to Jerusalem to be fought by legal group

The UK embassy in Tel Aviv (Wikipedia)

Patrick Wintour

The Guardian  /  October 19, 2022

International Centre of Justice for Palestinians says diplomatic move in Israel in breach of international obligations.

A legal group that supports the rights of Palestinians has written to Liz Truss to tell her that it plans to launch a judicial review in an attempt to block any UK government movement of the British embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

The International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP) has commissioned a legal opinion in support of its argument that such a move would be in breach of the government’s international obligations.

The prime minister announced she was considering relocating the embassy following a meeting with the Israeli prime minister, Yair Lapid on the sidelines of the UN general assembly in September. The announcement drew criticism from Arab diplomats in the UK and the Conservative former foreign secretary William Hague.

The ICJP’s opinion states that there are strong grounds to conclude that moving the embassy to Jerusalem would constitute a violation of the UK’s obligations under international law as it would imply recognition of unilateral legislative, administrative and other measures adopted by Israel in relation to Jerusalem.

These measures, which include Israel’s enactment of Basic Law 1980 declaring that Jerusalem is Israel’s “complete and united” capital, have been repeatedly declared invalid by the UN general assembly and the UN security council.

The opinion says the UN security council has affirmed that the enactment of Basic Law 1980 constitutes a violation of international law and that there are strong grounds to conclude the move would violate the UK’s obligations under the Geneva conventions, which require the UK to do everything in its power to ensure respect for those conventions by other states and non-state parties to a conflict.

Crispin Blunt, the Conservative MP and a director at the ICJP, said: “This opinion of independent legal counsel, expert in their field, reinforces the massive concentration of diplomatic, religious and political concern over the review around moving the UK’s embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“The fact that the UK is apparently seriously considering this is already causing serious reputational damage, not least to our inherited responsibilities to be at least balanced to Palestinian aspirations that have been so betrayed in the grim reality that has followed in the century since the Balfour declaration.

“This review needs concluding now with the endorsement of the status quo.”

On Tuesday, the new Australian foreign minister, Penny Wong, confirmed the country regarded Jerusalem as a final status issue and was rescinding the previous government’s decision in 2018 that it would move its embassy to Jerusalem, a move that prompted the Israeli government to call in the Australian ambassador to demand an explanation.

Australia said it remained committed to a two-party solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and “we will not support an approach that undermines this prospect”, Wong said.

Israel’s foreign ministry’s political director, Aliza Bin-Noun, said the decision “only encourages extremists in the Palestinian Authority to continue to agitate the area, endangers stability and goes against the spirit of the recent period in which significant progress was made in relations between Israel and the countries of the Middle East”.

The episode underlines the risks Truss, a firm supporter of Israel, has taken by raising the issue in Britain.

Representations to the British Foreign Office have also been made by the French government.

Some Middle East politicians have also warned that the plans for a UK trade deal with the Gulf Cooperation Council would be in jeopardy if Truss presses ahead.

Many Arab ambassadors in London believe the fragility of the Truss leadership is such that she will pull back knowing she cannot court further damage to the country economically.

Tayab Ali, a partner at Bindmans law firm and an ICJP director, said: “The prime minister has demonstrated over the last few weeks the dangers of carelessly announcing and implementing policies that are not thought through and without proper consultation. The consequences to the UK economy are serious. The prime minister should not approach international situations in the same way.

“We cannot as a country champion the Ukrainian fight for freedom from forced annexation and forced territorial acquisition and then create policy for Israel which so badly undermines the British assertion of the primacy of international law and the UN charter. The consequences of carelessness at this level would be unthinkable.”

Asked to comment on Tuesday on the Australian decision, a state department spokesman said the US had no plans to reverse Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.

However, the spokesman said the future of Jerusalem remained an issue in any final status talks, leaving the US in an awkward position of placing its embassy in a city whose legal status it admits has not been resolved.

Patrick Wintour is diplomatic editor for The Guardian