On 21st September 2022, whilst attending the UN General Assembly in New York City, the Prime Minister told her Israeli counterpart that the UK Government will review moving the UK Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
As I'm sure you are aware, Jerusalem maintains a unique position under international law. Both Israelis and Palestinians hold spiritual and national store in the ancient city. In the initial United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, Jerusalem was due to hold Corpus separatum status - with West Jerusalem as an Israeli capital city, and East Jerusalem desired by Palestinians as the capital of a sovereign Palestinian state. Despite this Partition Plan never coming into fruition, the widely held, diplomatic consensus of the international community is that Jerusalem should be a dual capital - the result of a peaceful and equitable two-state solution.
In July 1980, the Israeli Government passed the so-called ‘basic law’, unilaterally naming Jerusalem as the united capital of the State of Israel. In response, UN Security Council passed Resolution 478 (1980) – which affirmed “that the enactment of the “basic law” by Israel constitutes a violation of international law”, stated that moves to alter the status of Jerusalem “are null and void and must be rescinded”, and called upon UN Member States “that have established diplomatic missions at Jerusalem to withdraw such missions from the Holy City.” By extension, any country that goes against this and recognises exclusive Israeli jurisdiction and political legitimacy over Jerusalem is also in violation of international law.
As you will recall, then-President Donald Trump’s decision in 2017 to move the United States Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem sparked international condemnation. The UN General Assembly, the European Union, and 14 out of 15 Member States of the UN Security Council (including the UK) opposed President Trump’s decision, which went against 70 years of international diplomatic protocol.
It is deeply concerning that the UK Government could move the Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Such a move would not bring greater peace and stability to the region; instead, it would break international law, fan the flames of division and grievance, and could easily result in resurgent violence.
The 2018-19 Gaza Border Protests – resulting in fatalities on both sides - were motivated in part by the moving of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem. The very suggestion that the UK Government could willingly risk an upsurge in violence and fatalities again is unfathomable.
Let me be clear: the SNP stand in complete opposition to any plans to move the UK Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. We believe this would be an unequivocal violation of international law and a serious barrier to the peacebuilding process. It would be a diplomatic slap in the face to the UK's Palestinian counterparts, and would do nothing to bring greater peace and order to Israel.
My colleague in Westminster Alyn Smith MP (as SNP Foreign Affairs Spokesperson) has tabled an Early Day Motion expressing the SNP's position, and also wrote to the Foreign Secretary (before the Prime Minister's formal announcement in New York) to demand answers
In short, please rest assured that SNP MPs in Westminster will do everything in our power to voice our staunch opposition. The UK Government must be stopped from embarking upon a Trumpian, provocative, and illegal relocation of the Embassy in Israel.
Israel and Palestine have seen heightened violence and tension over the past few months, including: Israeli forces storming the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex in Jerusalem during Ramadan, injuring around 160 Palestinians; a series of deadly attacks against Israeli citizens perpetrated by Palestinian and Arab Israeli assailants; the killing of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh by Israeli fire, and subsequent violence perpetrated by Israeli police at her funeral; the Israeli military raiding the premises of seven Palestinian human rights and aid organisations; the Islamic Jihad terrorist group firing over 1000 rockets into southern Israel from Gaza, inflicting minor injuries on dozens of Israelis; and the killings of 49 Gazans (including 17 children) in Israeli drone strikes. Any move that could exacerbate this volatile situation would be reckless and irresponsible.
The UK has a diplomatic responsibility to ensure a fair and peaceful outcome for both Palestinians and Israelis. Palestinians have exactly the same right to call Jerusalem their capital as their Israeli counterparts. Granting privileged recognition to one side and not the other – and in the absence of a final peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians - is undiplomatic, unjustifiable, and illegal. If the UK is to be an arbiter for peacebuilding, reconciliation, and fairness, it cannot consider moving the UK Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Please rest assured that SNP MPs will not stop voicing our opposition to these plans in the strongest possible terms.