UN experts criticize UK PM’s potential plan to move British embassy to Jerusalem

Dania Akkad

Middle East Eye  /  September 23, 2022

Special rapporteurs focused on Palestine say moving British embassy to Jerusalem would break with international law and UN resolutions which UK has long supported.

Three UN experts have strongly criticised UK Prime Minister Liz Truss’s repeated suggestion that she may relocate the British embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. 

On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on Wednesday, Truss told her Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid that she is reviewing the embassy’s current location. 

During the Conservative party leadership contest, Truss, then foreign secretary, told the Conservative Friends of Israel group that she was inclined to move the embassy to the contested city.

Such a move would reverse decades of British policy. The UK has long maintained its embassy 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 recognised by the international community.

Now, both the current and most recent former UN special rapporteurs focused on human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, along with a third United Nations expert, have condemned Truss’s suggestion that this should change.

“Two (or more) wrongs do not make a right. Acts altering character, status, demography of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null & void & must be rescinded,” tweeted Francesca Albanese, the current UN special rapporteur, on Thursday.

“Sheltering Israel’s [sic] from accountability or condoning its illegal actions tarnishes the credibility of the [international] community.”

‘There is nothing to review’

Separately, Michael Lynk, who served in the same role as Albanese until May, and Ardi Imseis, who worked for 12 years at the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), voiced their concerns in a three-page footnoted letter sent to UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Tuesday. 

“No doubt Prime Minister Liz Truss will ask you to take charge of the view she promised to the Conservative Friends of Israel,” they write in the letter seen by Middle East Eye.

“We write, as friends of the United Kindom to say that there is nothing to review: the British Embassy should stay in Tel Aviv unless and until there is a comprehensive peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians with Jerusalem as the shared capital of the two states.”

The United Kingdom, they write, has long supported international law and UN Security Council resolutions which have established that Israel is prohibited from asserting claims of sovereignty over any part of the Palestinian territories it occupies.

Elsewhere in the world, they note that the UK has endorsed the principle that states cannot annex conquered territory, including in relation to Russia’s illegal invasion and occupation of Crimea and Ukraine.

The UK also rejected the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem under Donald Trump in 2017, a move which the Biden administration has maintained.

“We see no valid reason why a similar move by the United Kingdom now needs to be ‘reviewed’. Doing so would not be consistent with the United Kingdom’s public assertion that it stands firm on respect for international law,” they write.

Last month, 10 former UK diplomats signed at letter in The Times saying the British embassy should “stay put” until a Palestinian state is realised.

Dania Akkad is a senior investigations editor, focused on human rights, energy and technology