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UK premiership candidates offer cautious backing for embassy move to Jerusalem

Rishi Sunak calls Jerusalem undisputed capital of Israel but notes move is easier said than done, while Conservative Party race frontrunner Liz Truss commits to ‘review’ matter

This combination of pictures created on July 12, 2022 shows Britain's Foreign Secretary Liz Truss arriving to attend the weekly Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street, in London, on April 19, 2022, and Britain's then-chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak leaving the 11 Downing Street, in London, on March 23, 2022. (Daniel Leal and Tolga Akmen/AFP)
This combination of pictures created on July 12, 2022 shows Britain's Foreign Secretary Liz Truss arriving to attend the weekly Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street, in London, on April 19, 2022, and Britain's then-chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak leaving the 11 Downing Street, in London, on March 23, 2022. (Daniel Leal and Tolga Akmen/AFP)

Both candidates in the race to replace Boris Johnson as Britain’s prime minister have expressed cautious openness to moving their country’s embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing the city as Israel’s capital.

Former chancellor Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss are competing to capture the leadership of the UK’s ruling Conservatives Party, after Johnson announced he would step down as faction leader and premier last month.

Addressing a Conservative Friends of Israel event on Monday, Sunak said Jerusalem was “indisputably the historic capital” of Israel and 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.

However, Sunak also expressed wariness over the delicate nature of the issue.

“All I would say is, having not been foreign secretary, there must be some sensitivities involved because if it was that easy, it would have been done by now,” he explained.

Earlier in August, Truss, the favorite to win the race, penned a letter to the Conservative Friends of Israel vowing to “review” the embassy matter: “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.”

Neither candidate made a definitive commitment that they would go forward with the move should they make it to 10 Downing Street.

Palestinians claim part of Jerusalem as their future capital and most countries, Britain included, have refused to recognize the city as the seat of Israel’s government.

US president Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017 and opened the US embassy in Jerusalem the following May.

Britain was one of 128 countries that voted in favor of a United Nations resolution condemning Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem and recognize it as Israel’s capital. The resolution called on countries not to move their diplomatic missions to Jerusalem.

Candidates in the UK and elsewhere have long teased moving their country’s embassy to Jerusalem in pitches to Jewish or pro-Israel voters, though follow-through is generally stymied by diplomatic and security concerns.

In this March 21, 2019 file photo, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman stand next to the dedication plaque at the US Embassy in Jerusalem. (Jim Young/Pool photo via AP, File)

Three countries — Honduras, Guatemala, and Kosovo — have followed the US despite resistance from the international community. Others, including the UK, maintain their lead missions in Tel Aviv.

Israel captured the eastern part of the city from Jordan during the Six Day War in 1967 and annexed it in 1980, in a move declared illegal under international law by the United Nations Security Council.

Results of the UK Conservative Party leadership contest are expected on September 5.

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