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Palestinian rights group threatens legal action if UK embassy moved to Jerusalem

Moving embassy would constitute a violation of the UK’s obligations under international law, says UK-based group
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, left, with British counterpart Liz Truss at the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2022 (Reuters)
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid (left) with British counterpart Liz Truss at the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2022 (Reuters)

A UK-based Palestinian rights group has written to British Prime Minister Liz Truss, warning her that any attempt to move the British embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be unlawful and could result in the group issuing judicial review proceedings.

A detailed independent legal opinion obtained by the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP), which was sent to Truss on Tuesday, states that there are strong grounds to conclude that moving the embassy would constitute a violation of the UK’s obligations under international law, as it would imply recognition of unilateral legislative, administrative and other measures adopted by Israel in relation to Jerusalem.

In a statement on Wednesday, the ICJP said: "These measures, which include Israel’s enactment of Basic Law 1980 declaring Jerusalem 'complete and united' as Israel’s capital, have been repeatedly declared invalid by UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council.

"The UN Security Council has affirmed that the enactment of the Basic Law 1980 constitutes a violation of international law."

The legal opinion also found that there were strong grounds to conclude that the move would violate the UK’s obligations under the Geneva Conventions.

The move by the ICJP comes after Truss pledged last month to review the current location of the UK embassy, stating the review was "to ensure we are operating on the strongest footing within Israel”.

On Tuesday, Middle East Eye exclusively revealed that the British government holds a plot of land in Jerusalem earmarked for decades as the site of a future embassy in Israel.

The site in the Talpiot neighbourhood, known as the Orange Plot, was retained by the British government as part of a 1960s agreement transferring ownership to the Israeli government of other assets acquired during the Palestinian Mandate.

'Unthinkable consequences'

The moving of the embassy would reverse decades of UK policy in line with international convention which holds that Jerusalem’s status should only be decided following final negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, and that moving the embassy would be de facto recognition that the city was Israel’s capital.

Truss’s review has been widely condemned, including from within her own Conservative Party. Former Foreign Secretary William Hague said that moving the embassy would align the government with Donald Trump, while religious leaders in the UK, including Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, have expressed concern.

Exclusive: The Jerusalem plot held by the UK as future site of embassy in Israel
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All ambassadors to the UK of Arab states have rejected the move, including those from states that have normalised relations with Israel.

In Jerusalem, senior Muslim leaders, including the leaders of the Islamic Waqf, have written to the UK’s King Charles to warn that moving the embassy would inflame an “already unstable situation in Jerusalem”.

Tayab Ali, an ICJP director and partner at the law firm Bindmans, which helped prepare the legal opinion, said: “The Prime Minister [Liz Truss] has demonstrated over the last few weeks the dangers of carelessly announcing and implementing policies that are not thought through and without proper consultation. 

"The prime minister should not approach international situations in the same way. 

"We cannot as a country champion the Ukrainian fight for freedom from forced annexation and forced territorial acquisition and then create policy for Israel which so badly undermines the British assertion of the primacy of international law and the UN charter. 

"The consequences of carelessness at this level would be unthinkable.”

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