Liz Truss has said she is considering moving the British embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in a controversial move that would break with decades of British foreign policy to follow in Donald Trump’s footsteps.
During a meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, the prime minister told Israel’s interim leader, Yair Lapid, of an “evaluation of the building’s current location,” Downing Street said in a statement.
The status of Jerusalem, which Israelis and Palestinians claim as their capital, is one of the most sensitive issues in the long-running conflict.
East Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, has been considered an occupied Palestinian territory under international law since the Six Day War in 1967.
Like the vast majority of the international community, the UK’s stance until now has been that the divided city should house consulates rather than embassies, until a final peace deal is reached.
Trump’s 2018 fulfillment of an election campaign promise to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital sparked international condemnation and sparked protests and clashes in which Israeli forces killed dozens of Palestinians. The then British Prime Minister Theresa May criticized the move at the time.
On Thursday, the Israeli prime minister tweeted his thanks to Truss for what he described as “considering positively” the move. “We will continue to strengthen the partnership between the countries,” he said.
The Guardian understands that the embassy move was one of the options presented to Truss by Foreign Office officials in late 2021 during her stint as Secretary of State. During her two years at the State Department, however, she made no substantial policy changes.
The prime minister appears to have first publicized the idea of moving the embassy in a letter to the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) parliamentary group during the summer’s Tory leadership campaign.
She wrote: “I understand the importance and sensitivity of the location of the British Embassy in Israel. I have had many conversations with my good friend… Lapid on this subject. Recognizing that, I will revise one step to ensure we operate on the strongest base in Israel.”
During an argument with CFI, she vowed that “under my leadership Israel will not have a faithful friend in the world. I did that as Secretary of State and as Secretary of Commerce. I don’t just speak the gossip – I walk the walk.”
Foreign Secretary Amanda Milling urged in the House of Commons on September 6 by backbench Tory MP Michael Fabricant to follow the US and move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem: “The British embassy in Israel is located located in Tel Aviv. I am aware of the possibility of a review but will not speculate further on this point.”
Her comments suggest that the review is only just beginning, but proponents of the move within the Conservative Party argue that the proposal will prove less controversial than it was even a few years ago, as the Trump administration sets a precedent and thaw in relations between Israel and some Arab countries after the Abraham Accords.
Downing Street has been contacted to explain how long the assessment will take.
Except for the US, only three states have embassies to Israel in Jerusalem – Kosovo, Honduras and Guatemala – all of which moved from Tel Aviv following the US move.