Liz Truss has suggested that she could move the Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, triggering warings the Prime Minister was tearing up international law and acting “like Trump”.
A Downing Street spokesman said Ms Truss told her Israeli counterpart, Yair Lapid, “about her review of the current location of the British Embassy in Israel” at a meeting in New York on Wednesday.
Transferring the embassy to Jerusalem would be a major shift in UK government policy as, like most countries, it does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over the city. It would also follow the lead of Donald Trump, the former US president, who controversially moved the US embassy to Jerusalem in 2018.
Israel has for years lobbied its allies to move their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which it claims as their undivided capital. But so far only the United States, along with Kosovo, Honduras and Guatemala, have taken such a step.
As the city is claimed by both Israel and the Palestinians as their capital it is one of the most sensitive issues in the world’s longest conflict and an integral part of talks on a two-state solution.
Palestinian leaders have warned that moving the British embassy to Jerusalem would be a “disaster” for a two-state solution, while the Israeli government has not yet directly commented on the affair.
However, Israeli officials will likely be delighted that Ms Truss has floated the idea as one of her first major foreign policy moves as Prime Minister.
Move would be a ‘disaster for chances of peace’
On Thursday, a senior Palestinian diplomat told The Telegraph that the move would undermine Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and also be a breach of international law.
“All I can say is that it is clear in international resolutions and international law that any change to the status quo in Jerusalem is illegal,” said Husam Zomlot, the head of the Palestinian mission to Britain, citing UN Security Council Resolutions 478 and 2334 as examples.
He added that moving the embassy would be “a disaster for chances of peace based on the two state-solution as espoused by the UK,” adding that it would also undermine the “Global Britain” label sought by a post-Brexit UK.
Britain, he said, would be reduced to “a bit player trying to affect Israel’s elections, just as former US president Donald Trump tried to do for former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu”.
He said: “The UK, of all countries, has always been looked to for its respect for international law and procedure. It is really rather rich that, on the sidelines of the United Nations opening session, a British PM would openly discuss breaking international law over such a crucial issue and one for which the UK bears a unique historical responsibility.”
East Jerusalem, as well as the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, has been occupied by Israel since it captured the area from Jordan after the 1967 war.
A source familiar with the discussions said Ms Truss, who first raised the idea in a letter to the parliamentary group Conservative Friends of Israel, seeks to “challenge Whitehall orthodoxy and take a fresh look at things”.
It is unclear how long the review will take, and whether Ms Truss made any concrete attempts to change the status of Jerusalem in her previous role as foreign secretary.
“I understand the importance and sensitivity of the location of the British embassy in Israel,” she said in her letter to CFI over the summer raising the proposal.
“I’ve had many conversations with my good friend ... [Yair] Lapid on this topic. Acknowledging that, I will review a move to ensure we are operating on the strongest footing within Israel.”