Liz Truss was in office for less than two months and was already criticized harshly for her actions in both domestic and foreign matters. Described as a “walking disaster”, the Prime Minister of Britain, announced on September 21st that she is considering moving the British Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. While she was still the foreign minister, Truss had announced that she was a “huge Zionist” and a “huge supporter of Israel”. Her consideration has already been condemned by the British public, politicians, and the international community, and now she is being warned of legal action against her. What it would mean for Britain and the Palestinians if the Conservative Party supports the move of the British Embassy to Jerusalem?
1. Ethics Violation of neutrality over the Israeli-Palestinian issue, effectively discarding support for a “two-state solution”.
After countless efforts to bring Israel and Palestine together for negotiations, and after the international community, including Britain, has spent years on the matter, this move would indicate that Britain does not support the continuation of negotiations to reach a “two-state solution”. Britain would join the United States, Honduras, Guatemala and Kosovo, as the countries that have moved their embassies to Jerusalem. The US under President Trump faced a lot of criticism for the relocation of the US embassy, and regardless of this disapproval, what was most feared was a domino effect that would encourage more countries to follow. The US today under President Biden still has made no action for moving back the US Embassy to Tel Aviv. With Pro-Israeli lobbying groups gaining momentum both in the US and the UK, some expect that other countries will follow, making the negotiations for a “two-state solution” more difficult with time.
2. Risk preventing a free-trade agreement between the UK and the Gulf Cooperation Council
The UK will face issues, especially with the Arab countries. It is highly unlikely that current agreements will stop the cooperation between the UK and the Arab world, however, the GCC talks for a free-trade agreement with the UK may be jeopardized. The GCC consisting of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, started the negations with the UK late this summer. It is predicted that a free trade agreement with the GCC is expected to increase trade by at least 16 per cent, adding at least £1.6 billion a year to the UK economy and contributing an additional £600 million or more to UK workers’ annual wages.
The continuous Conservative Party’s support to Israel might become an obstacle in the negotiations, as well as the violation of human rights by the GCC states. However, the latter has not yet been part of the discussion as the British government seems to avoid the topic by focusing on environmental and labour protections, public health, animal welfare and food standards. Thus, a jeopardized negotiation process is highly celebrated by human rights organizations that are against the free trade agreement.
3. Bad Reputation
Growing unpopular by the day, Liz Truss appears to have everyone turned against her with many celebrating her resignation. The move has been rejected by every Arab-state ambassador to the UK.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has warned the British government that its international reputation will be destroyed, along with “seriously damaging to any possibility of lasting peace in the region”.
Former British Foreign Secretary and former leader of the Conservative Party, William Hague, told Truss: “This would be a breach of UN security council resolutions by one of its permanent members, break a longstanding commitment to work for two states for Israelis and Palestinians, and align Britain in foreign affairs with Donald Trump and three small states rather than the rest of the world.”
4. With international condemnation also comes legal action
The UK-based International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICPJ) sent a letter to Truss last week, in which they warned her that legal action will be taken.
The grounds for this come as Britain would appear to violate its obligation under the Geneva Conventions “not to encourage, aid or assist violations of the Conventions by another State”. Israel has declared Jerusalem as ‘complete and united’ under the enactment of Basic Law 1980. The UN has affirmed repeatedly that the enactment of this law ultimately constitutes a violation of international law. The UK has a long reputation for supporting and respecting international law. Its reputation at an international law level will be questioned, along with its efforts in international law enforcement.
“We cannot 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…”Tayab Ali
In hindsight, the international condemnation of the UK might give momentum to supporters of the “two-state solution”, by mobilizing the international community on the issue, appearing stronger in support of more dialogue. On a multilateral level, if legal action was to be put forward, it would alter the course of the negotiations as it would put more pressure on Israel as it copes to create stronger bilateral agreements. Finally, with the war in Ukraine, international law might evolve when it comes to territorial annexation. Tayab Ali, an ICJP director and partner at the law firm Bindmans said last week: “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.”
Countless party members of the Conservative Party resigned during the last two weeks which is a clear indicator that the party is divided. Will the reaction and condemnation both domestically and abroad, convince the Conservative Party which has been highly lobbied by pro-Israeli groups to keep the British Embassy in Tel Aviv? The next weeks will prove crucial as the matter gains momentum.