UK backs away from possible Jerusalem embassy move floated by ex-PM Truss

New leader Sunak’s spokesperson says no current plan to relocate mission from Tel Aviv; Palestinian envoy to London welcomes development, says idea should never have been discussed

The British embassy in Tel Aviv on September 9, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
The British embassy in Tel Aviv on September 9, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The British government said Thursday that it would not relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, backing away after a pledge made by former prime minister Liz Truss to weigh the matter, shortly before she left office last month.

“There are no plans to move the British embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv,” a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters.

A similar comment was reported a day earlier by the New Arab outlet, drawing a response by Palestinian envoy to Britain Husam Zomlot thanking “the UK government, opposition parties, faith leaders, activists and members of the public whose efforts have helped keep the UK in line with international law on the matter.”

“The question about the location of the UK’s embassy should never have been asked in the first place,” he asserted.

A Downing Street spokesperson said last week that there would be an update on Truss’s promise to “review” moving the embassy to Jerusalem, the Jewish News reported.

Truss had personally told Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September that she was looking at transferring the embassy to Tel Aviv. Her plans drew broad criticism with ambassadors to London from every Arab country reportedly penning a letter urging her not to go ahead with the idea.

New British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak waves after arriving at Downing Street in London, after returning from Buckingham Palace where he was formally appointed to the post by Britain’s King Charles III, October 25, 2022. (Kin Cheung/AP)

When former US president Donald Trump relocated Washington’s embassy to Jerusalem in 2017, the UK prime minister at the time, Theresa May, criticized the move.

Truss, however, told the UK’s Conservative Friends of Israel in August, when campaigning to become prime minister, that she would review the UK’s decision to remain in Tel Aviv if she became the British leader.

Truss resigned after just 45 days in power amid a political crisis in Britain. However, her replacement Sunak has also expressed a willingness to move the embassy, telling a Conservative Friends of Israel event in August that Jerusalem is “indisputably the historic capital” of Israel and that there was a “very strong case” for moving the UK embassy from its current location in Tel Aviv.

“It’s something I’d like to do,” he said at the time.

But Sunak, a former Treasury chief, also acknowledged “sensitivities” over the issue.

“If it was that easy, it would have been done by now,” he said.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid, right, meets with UK Prime Minister Liz Truss, left, in New York City, Septemer 21, 2022. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Israel views Jerusalem as its undivided capital, while most of the international community does not recognize it as such and deems the final borders of the city as dependent on peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Only the US, Guatemala, Kosovo and Honduras have opened embassies in Jerusalem. Other countries, including Hungary, the Czech Republic, Serbia, and Australia, have official trade or defense offices in Jerusalem.

AFP contributed to this report.

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