(October 13, 2022 / JNS) In Britain, it’s diplomatic Groundhog Day all over again.
Prime Minister Liz Truss has said she wants to move the British embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
When former U.S. President Donald Trump similarly proposed moving the American embassy, liberals grabbed for the smelling salts. The outcome of such a move, they predicted, would be Armageddon. The entire Arab world would rise up in fury. The relocation of the embassy would utterly destroy the cause of peace.
None of this occurred. Instead, the precise opposite took place. The embassy was moved in May 2018. In Sept. 2020, the historic Abraham Accords were signed between Israel and the Gulf states, a development that did more to advance the cause of peace between Israel and the Arabs than anything else over the course of the previous century.
Yet Truss’s aspiration has provoked similar hysteria in Britain. While the main representative organization of British Jews, the Board of Deputies, has said it hopes the embassy move will happen, the foreign policy establishment, along with the usual Israel-bashing suspects and some left-wing British Jews, have all gone into meltdown.
It’s as if the whole experience of the U.S. embassy move—the ludicrously overheated response to Trump’s plan and the actual, rather wonderful aftermath—never happened.
Thus, Labour MP Naz Shah sent a letter to Truss warning that moving the British embassy might become a “catalyst of uncontrollable catastrophic events.” Similarly, the left-wing Jewish group Yachad claimed the move “could spark protests and violence” and the U.K. would be helping entrench such “violence.” What’s their evidence for such a prediction? There isn’t any.
The British establishment has similarly been clutching its pearls and piously intoning its fears for peace. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has expressed his “concern” about the move “before a negotiated settlement between Palestinians and Israelis has been reached.” Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the country’s most senior Catholic cleric, said that relocating the embassy would be “seriously damaging to any possibility of lasting peace in the region.” Given the unwavering rejectionism, violence and incitement by the Palestinian Arabs, the idea that a peaceful settlement would otherwise be a real option is simply delusional.
But the delusion goes deeper. Many of those crying foul over the plan seem to believe that moving the embassy to Jerusalem would scupper the “two-state solution” and cement Israel’s supposed land-grab of the eastern part of the city.
In The Guardian, H.A. Hellyer of the Royal United Services Institute and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace wrote, “To move the embassy to Jerusalem would be to recognize Israel’s invasion and occupation of east Jerusalem as legitimate.”
This is nonsense. Like the U.S. embassy, the U.K. equivalent would be situated in the west of the city and utterly irrelevant to the status of eastern Jerusalem.
The real reason for the objection is the foreign policy establishment’s obsessional and misguided belief that Israel isn’t entitled to claim Jerusalem as its capital at all.
This is because, in the 1947 Partition Plan for Palestine embodied in United Nations Resolution 181, which proposed that the land be divided between a state for the Jews and a state for the Arabs, Jerusalem was designated as a corpus separatum under a special international regime to be administered by the U.N.
The U.K. never actually voted for the resolution, choosing instead to abstain. But the idea that this status for Jerusalem is currently authoritative is absurd, because the entire Partition Plan was rejected by the Arabs.
As the international law professor Eugene Kontorovich has written, the key doctrine under international law that determines the borders of a state is uti possidetis juris (“as you possess under law”). According to this principle, Israel’s borders at the moment of independence were the borders of Mandatory Palestine—which included all of Jerusalem as well as Judea and Samaria.
Kontorovich wrote in 2019, “The U.N., in its thousands of resolutions to the contrary, flagrantly ignores that principle.” Not only was Resolution 181 a non-binding recommendation, but “having been rejected by the Arabs, it was never implemented and did not in fact result in a partition of the Mandate.”
Perhaps the most startlingly ill-informed response to the proposed embassy move has come from former Conservative Party leader and ex-Foreign Secretary William Hague. He wrote in The Times: “This would be a breach of U.N. 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 whole of the rest of the world.”
This is simply wrong on every count. There is no Security Council resolution preventing the U.K. or any other country from establishing its embassy in Jerusalem. Doing so would have no effect on creating a Palestinian state, whose capital could still be situated in eastern Jerusalem.
But perhaps most telling—and most dispiriting—was Hague’s gratuitous swipe at Trump.
The U.S. embassy wasn’t Trump’s personal trophy. It was the embassy of the United States, of which he was the president. Moving it to Jerusalem was the policy of the U.S. government.
One might expect Hague, a former foreign secretary, to understand that. Claiming that moving Britain’s embassy would “align with Trump” is the kind of phrase associated with those exhibiting such an obsession with Trump that they somehow deny in their minds that he was ever actually the president.
Few expect that the British embassy will actually be moved. Indeed, given the chaos that has engulfed Truss since she became prime minister, with the financial crisis and collapse in electoral support sparked by her scorched-earth economic policies currently threatening to bring her down before she has her feet properly under the Downing Street table, moving the embassy would hardly seem to be a priority.
If it were to happen, however, it would not only be an enormous boost to Israel. It would also represent a dramatic change in British policy.
Unlike the U.S., where despite various presidents’ relative coolness towards Israel the Christian heartlands remain solidly supportive, Britain’s attitude towards the Jewish state has always been at best ambiguous and at worst—as in Mandatory Palestine—actively hostile.
Moving the embassy would not only start to reset Britain’s shameful attitude towards Israel. It would also advance the cause of peace.
The only reason this century-old conflict continues is that the Palestinian Arabs have repudiated the two-state solution. They have refused repeated offers of a state of their own, because their goal is not a Palestinian state but the eradication of the Israeli one.
Towards this infernal goal, their principal weapon has been the refusal by Britain and other western countries to recognize the Palestinians’ real agenda, providing them instead with funding, training and diplomatic recognition.
In other words, Britain and the rest of the west have incentivized, rewarded and perpetuated the war against Israel by going along with the morally bankrupt proposition that the Palestinian Arabs are entitled to a state of their own, even though their actual purpose is to use that state as a means to destroy Israel.
By moving the embassy, Truss—who describes herself as a “huge Zionist”—would be signaling an end to the shameful British capitulation to the Palestinians’ lies and blackmail.
That is precisely why there’s been such a reaction. While the average British citizen doesn’t have an opinion about Israel one way or the other, Britain’s elites loathe Israel on a scale that just doesn’t exist in America.
The proposal to move the British embassy has lifted a stone, and we can all see what has crawled out from underneath.
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for The Times of London, her personal and political memoir Guardian Angel has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel The Legacy. Go to melaniephillips.substack.com to access her work.
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