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This is why Liz Truss’s plan to move the British embassy to Jerusalem must be stopped

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On Thursday, on behalf of her Bradford West constituents, the Labour MP Naz Shah sent a letter to the prime minister about the reported review of the location of the UK embassy in Israel. Regarding the plan to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem, Shah spoke of the need not to take a step that might be a “catalyst of uncontrollable catastrophic events”. On a national security level, this warning should be clearly heeded if Britain is to avoid needlessly causing more damage to its reputation on the global stage. In this regard, it’s not a Labour or Conservative issue – it’s an issue of national interest, and parliament should hold the government’s feet to the fire on it.

Liz Truss’s first international engagement as prime minister happened last week, when she went to the UN general assembly meeting in New York. Considering the importance of such international forums in furthering British interests, at a time when the country has a stated goal of increasing its reach as “global Britain”, there were numerous files of great importance for the prime minister to focus upon. It is, therefore, puzzling that she used the moment to try to jettison a longstanding policy of British governments for more than 55 years, by suggesting she might move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It’s a proposed change that has no identifiable benefits for the UK – and quite a few downsides.

We saw hints of this on 6 September when a question in parliament asked the government whether there was a “possibility of a review” relating to where the British embassy would be located. During the Tory leadership race, Truss said she understood the “importance and sensitivity of the location of the British embassy” in a letter to the Conservative Friends of Israel. But it does not seem to be understood how entirely counterproductive to British interests moving the embassy would be.

When the Israelis invaded and occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, along with the West Bank, Gaza and the Sinai, it was universally condemned as an illegal act, which could not be legitimised under international law. As such, for more than five decades, the annexation of East Jerusalem into a wider “greater Jerusalem”, was rejected by all international institutions, even by Israel’s allies internationally. When the US president Donald Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, the international community, including, quite fervently, Britain, rightly condemned the move.

The UK’s position at the time was not out of altruistic humanitarianism, but as a reflection of its national interests – and it should maintain that awareness, instead of doing an about-face in the worst possible fashion.

To move the embassy to Jerusalem would be to recognise Israel’s invasion and occupation of east Jerusalem as legitimate. Palestinians would, quite rightly, see this as a rejection of Britain’s longstanding endorsement of the two-state solution, which they have always insisted includes a capital in East Jerusalem. It would be a final nail in the coffin of a policy that London has held for decades and which has allowed Britain to maintain good relations with both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

To recognise the invasion and occupation as legitimate would also come at a time when the UK is rightly aiding and assisting Ukraine in its struggle against Russia’s invasion and occupation. How would London’s credibility be taken seriously on Ukraine, if it accepted an occupation in Jerusalem?

It’s not clear what the reasoning is. London already has excellent connections with the Israeli government, so this isn’t about repairing a broken relationship. Indeed, the Israelis themselves were not expecting this. In Israel itself, there are numerous human rights defenders who are set against the move. They know that Israel already stands accused of perpetrating an apartheid state system in the occupied territories, and that to avoid it becoming a permanent reality, a two-state solution is the only option that has widespread backing – a solution that would be dismembered with a move of the embassy.

Britain’s Arab allies – in unison – have expressed their full rejection of the idea. Even Arab states that have formal and full diplomatic relations with Israel have been clear that such a move would be out of bounds. A collective letter from Arab ambassadors in London has already been delivered to the Foreign Office, which says such a deal could jeopardise a free trade deal with the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Beyond Britain’s Arab allies, it has a much wider set of relationships with the Commonwealth and Muslim-majority states worldwide. In much of the former, and certainly all of the latter, Jerusalem, as the place of the third holiest site in Islam, the Haram al-Sharif or the Dome of the Rock, and al-Aqsa mosque, is incredibly important. This includes a large number of Britain’s most crucial trading partners worldwide, with whom it will be no doubt trying to deepen and widen relations. Does Britain really want to endanger these relationships, in exchange for nothing in return?

Perhaps the prime minister is simply trying to create a new and bold impression with these kinds of moves. But such an impression will come at a great cost to British interests, and bring no benefits at all. On a cross-party basis, we urgently need a unified course correction before irrevocable damage is done.

HA Hellyer is a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

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Article source: The Guardian | H A Hellyer | 30 Sep 2022

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000