The Embassy has, as a matter of long-standing foreign policy, been situated in Tel Aviv as are almost all embassies of other countries around the world. A move to Jerusalem would not just be contrary to the UK’s longest-held foreign policy position on Israel and Palestine, but would also set a dangerous precedent, and be in breach of international law.
Jerusalem is unique, vital, and of global religious importance, being central to the three Abrahamic religions. It is the third most important religious city in Islam, after Mecca and Medina, and is home to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus is buried. It also features prominently in the Torah and is considered a holy city to Jewish people. It has been fought over for centuries, the home of Palestinians and Arabs for over a millennium and the former capital of Palestine under the British Mandate.
In 1947, the United Nations (UN) considered that Jerusalem should be viewed as a corpus separatum, existing as an internationalised city in light of its importance to the three ‘Abrahamic religions’; an unprecedented position which is indicative of the city’s significance to global religions.
Jerusalem is also a city, in which a slew of opaque Kafkaesque laws and oppressive emergency regulations are enforced arbitrarily and brutally against the non-Jewish population of the city in a continuous, brutal, and inhumane process of ethnic cleansing. The Palestinian population lives under the Israeli government’s belligerent occupation in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Palestinians under occupation are imprisoned by walls, borders, checkpoints, with their every move restricted and policed by a complex permit and surveillance system. An estimated 100,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites live under the threat that their houses will be demolished at short notice, often at night. The Palestinian side of the city has had its political and cultural centres attacked and closed, including book shops, schools, and theatres. Non-Jewish Jerusalemites who leave the city for extended periods of time are at risk of losing their residency permits.
The situation of Palestinian Jerusalemites is only part of a cruel system of oppression under successive Israeli governments. Most leading international human rights organisations, from Amnesty International to Human Rights Watch, have followed the call by a coalition of Palestinian human rights organisations (Al Haq, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights) and Israeli human rights organisations (B’Tselem), as well as the United Nations, to condemn the situation as being one of apartheid under international law. The Israeli government has responded by sealing the offices of these Palestinian organisations and criminalising their workers, a move the EU member states have condemned.
We, at ICJP, believe that an appropriate international response to a situation of apartheid should include boycotting, divesting and sanctioning the oppressive regime. The treatment of the apartheid regime of South Africa is the obvious example. The regime was forced to change its system of governance, in part, because the international community refused to grant that regime favours, or turn a blind eye to the atrocities committed.
To move the Embassy would not just severely undermine any possible resolution to the Israel-Palestine peace process (however flawed), to which this government is still, according to its own pronouncements, wedded to, but it also undercuts the UK Government’s commitment to the application of public international law, the laws of war, including the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, and international diplomatic conventions.
The ICJP stands by those nations, including all Arab countries and the Arab League, who have condemned the proposed move of the Embassy by the new British Prime minister. The situation of Palestinians aside, the ICJP views such a move to be disastrous not just for the two parties most affected by this decision, but also for the UK’s foreign relations at a time when it is most in need of extending its global partnerships.
Truss’s pronouncements send out a message that the UK is not just cavalier in its approach to international agreements, but also that its foreign policy decisions are based on specific external political influences, as opposed to established protocols, traditions, and expert guidance. It sets the UK apart, not just from its European neighbours, but the wider body politic, as an outlier from the United Nations, on whose Security Council it sits. It places the UK in the minority company of countries either similarly desperate to reflect that they are ‘huge Zionists,’ as Ms. Truss declares herself, such as the United States, and emerging nations vying for state recognition, like Kosovo.
At a time when this country is seeking justification, most frequently phrased in terms of humanitarian impulses, for its increasing intervention in Ukraine, it should be stepping away from associating with pariah states like Israel, who consistently assert their rights over lands taken by force. The UK may have one of the leading economies in the world, but it cannot afford to stand outside a system of international laws, courts and conventions that have been built up steadily since the end of the Second World War to ensure global peace and security, at the core of their system lies a rejection of the notion of the ‘right of conquest,’ that the Israeli government is determined to assert.