By Reem Walid, BA Politics and International Relations
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak abandoned the controversial plans to relocate the British embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem earlier this month. The decision was announced during a press briefing just over a week after he had been elected as the new prime minister following the resignation of his predecessor, Liz Truss.
It comes as a surprise U-turn policy decision from Rishi Sunak, who has been an outspoken supporter of Israel, calling it a ‘shining beacon of hope,’ and who previously said he was willing to relocate the embassy during his leadership contest earlier this year. Husam Zumlot, the Palestinian ambassador to the UK, welcomed the announcement. In a statement, he said, ‘We would like to thank 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. There is much work to be done to create a conducive environment for peace in the Middle East and make amends for the historic injustice caused by the Balfour Declaration 105 years ago.’
“Husam Zumlot, the Palestinian ambassador to the UK…’There is much work to be done to create a conducive environment for peace in the Middle East and make amends for the historic injustice caused by the Balfour Declaration 105 years ago.’“
However, the UK government’s stance remains firmly aligned with Israel, with the friendship between Liz Truss and her Israeli counterparts smoothly transitioning to Sunak. When the then Israeli Prime Minister, Yair Lapid, congratulated Sunak on his new role, he said the UK and Israel are close allies and that he ‘look[ed] forward to working together, showing the embassy decision does not necessarily mean the frosting of ties between the two countries. Rishi Sunak has also vowed to fight against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which aims to end international support for Israel.
The renewed conversations surrounding embassy locations in Israel touch on the sensitive topic of Jerusalem, which contains holy sites that carry symbolic importance for all three Abrahamic religions. In 2017, Donald Trump formally announced Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, ordering the US embassy’s move, despite its contested status. If the UK follows suit, it will be one of three countries breaking international law – the others being the US and Guatemala. However, other states have also announced they are contemplating the controversial decision including Romania and Paraguay.
Critics have warned of the potentially dire consequences for the occupation if countries chose to relocate their embassies in the holy city, stating it could quash any possibilities of reaching a two-state solution. A UN expert on the state of human rights in Palestine, Francesca Albanese, has condemned the move, ‘Sheltering Israel’s [sic] from accountability or condoning its illegal actions tarnishes the credibility of the [international] community.’
Jerusalem is home to the al-Aqsa compound, which is the third holiest mosque in Islam. It is believed to be where the prophet led a congregational prayer of all previous prophets in his miraculous night journey. The mosque falls in the same area as Temple Mount, which is the holiest site for Jews. It has been a site of political and religious tension, prone to breakouts by protestors when Israel storms the compound, like in July last year. Alternatively, Israeli officials or settlers are allowed in to tour the compound under military protection.
Since 2020 there has been an increase in the level of confrontations, and reports show that 2022 has been the bloodiest year for Palestinians, with over 125 deaths in the West Bank alone just last month.
Photo Caption: Israeli President Herzog met Rishi Sunak for the first time this month (Credit: Haim Zach / Wikimedia Commons).