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Palestine legal group: Moving UK embassy to Jerusalem against commitments to international law

October 6, 2022 at 8:28 pm

British Prime Minister Liz Truss and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid during a bilateral meeting at the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) at United Nations General Assembly Hall on September 21, 2022 [ Toby Melville – WPA Pool/Getty Images]

A Palestinian legal organisation has condemned the British government’s consideration to move its embassy in Israel from the capital, Tel Aviv, to Jerusalem, asserting that it directly contradicts the United Kingdom’s recognition of East Jerusalem as an occupied territory and its commitments to international law.

In a statement by the UK-based International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP), it addressed the British Prime Minister Liz Truss’s guarantee to her Israeli counterpart, Yair Lapid, last month that her office will review the British embassy’s location, which opened the potential for it to be moved to Jerusalem.

Calling it a “radical shift in the UK Government’s position on Jerusalem”, the ICJP expressed its concern over the move’s legality and “the implications this may have on any permanent status negotiations between Israel and Palestine.”

By iterating that Israel’s “status as an occupying power comes with responsibility of maintaining that status … under international law”, it stated that Tel Aviv’s “actions of destruction and confiscation of the land fall squarely in violation with its obligations”, one of which is the attempted annexation of East Jerusalem.

“Israel’s desire for His Majesty’s Government (HMG) to move the UK embassy to Jerusalem must be viewed as another step towards Israel’s unlawful and consistently condemned attempts to transform the status of Jerusalem by international bodies and the international community”, the ICJP stated.

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Any move of the British embassy to the holy city, it said, would directly contradict the UK’s long-held and current position that “no state has sovereignty over Jerusalem”. The statement outlined the fact that London has confirmed numerous declarations of that status, such as the Venice Declaration, the Declaration of Principles and the Interim Agreement which was “signed by Israel and the PLO [Palestinian Liberation Organisation] on 13 September 1993 and 28 September 1995, respectively, as leaving the issue of the status of Jerusalem to be decided in the ‘permanent status’ negotiations between the two parties.”

The ICJP also quoted the UK’s Political Coordinator at the UN, Fergus Eckersley, as saying in a speech at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on 1 December 2021, that the country “opposes unilateral action in Jerusalem, absent a final status settlement and remains supportive of the historic status quo”.

Since the administration of former US President Donald Trump recognised the city as the capital of Israel in 2017 and announced that it would move its embassy there, only Guatemala, Kosovo and Honduras have followed.

While “every other UN member State has opted to refrain from moving their embassies to Jerusalem so as to not prejudge the final status negotiations between Israel and Palestine”, the ICJP statement said, the “move of Britain’s embassy would do just that, reversing its longest-held foreign policy position on Israel and Palestine, thereby undermining the two-state solution.”

The embassy move would be a “tacit recognition of Israel’s illegal annexation of Jerusalem, and Britain would, therefore, be viewed by the international community as supporting violations of international law.” The statement concluded that for London to make such a decision at this point of dire, inhumane and cruel conditions for the Palestinians subjected to Israeli control sends out a signal that the British Government has no concern, not only for UN obligations, or the Geneva Convention, but rules-based accountability in its diplomatic processes.”

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