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Arab countries warn UK against embassy move to Jerusalem

P.A. envoy to the UK: ’It would be disastrous’

British Prime Minister Liz Truss and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid meet on the sidelines of the 77th U.N. General Assembly, in New York, Sept. 21, 2022. (Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville/Pool)

The ambassadors of every Arab country to London issued a letter to British Prime Minister Liz Truss warning her not to move the British embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, The Guardian reported on Friday. 

The letter declared that such a move would be both “illegal and ill-judged.”

Truss received the letter just before traveling to New York to speak at the United Nations General Assembly, where she met with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and told him that her office would be undertaking a review of the embassy’s location.

Signatories of the letter to the prime minister include representatives of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which signed the Abraham Accords with Israel in 2020, as well as Morocco, which normalized relations with Israel not long afterward. 

The Guardian report says that the countries that were part of the Abraham Accords have been the strongest opponents of an embassy move. Reportedly, these countries do not want to be seen as leading the way in breaking the taboo of establishing embassies in Jerusalem.

According to The Guardian report, similar objections have come from the U.K.’s European allies. While Israel sees Jerusalem as its undivided capital, most countries don’t view it as such and argue that the final borders of the city will emerge out of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, or some form of agreement vis-à-vis the establishment of the Palestinian claim to sovereignty.

The only countries that have opened embassies in Jerusalem, are Guatemala, Kosovo, Honduras and the United States. Other countries, such as Hungary, the Czech Republic, Serbia and Australia, have official trade or defense branches in Jerusalem.

The Guardian’s report noted that Arab diplomats are warning that a move of the British embassy to Jerusalem could put into question a long-negotiated free trade agreement between the U.K. and the Gulf Cooperation Council, which is slated to be signed at the end of the year.

The P.A.’s envoy to the U.K., Husam Zomlot, warned in a statement that “any embassy move would be a blatant violation of international law and the UK’s historic responsibilities.” 

“It undermines the two-state solution and inflames an already volatile situation in Jerusalem, the rest of the occupied territories, and among communities in the U.K. and worldwide. It would be disastrous,” Zomlot stated.

An unnamed former British diplomat who disagrees with the move told The Guardian that the prime minister is trying to copy former U.S. President Donald Trump, who moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem in 2018. 

“She seems to think she should ape Donald Trump. The difference is that the U.S. is big enough to get its way in the Middle East; the U.K. is not,” the former diplomat said. “If the U.K. shifted its embassy, it would have a domino effect among some countries in the European Union, such as Hungary, but probably not, and will damage British interest in the Arab world.”

When Trump announced his intention to relocate the U.S. embassy in December 2017, then-U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May was critical of such a move.

Before Truss became prime minister last month, she told the U.K.’s Conservative Friends of Israel that, if she became the British leader, she would review the U.K.’s decision to remain in Tel Aviv.

“I understand the importance and sensitivity of the location of the British embassy in Israel. I’ve had many conversations with my good friend Prime Minister Yair Lapid on this topic,” she said. 

The announced opposition by the Arab ambassadors has added pressure to Truss, following her government’s earlier announcement about a financial plan that has fueled a crisis in an already-struggling economy.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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