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Arab states said to warn UK that moving embassy to Jerusalem could risk trade deal

Ambassadors to London from every Arab country reportedly penned a letter to UK Prime Minister Liz Truss urging her not to go ahead with a plan she’s weighing to move the British embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The Arab ambassadors wrote that such a move would be “illegal and ill-judged,” The Guardian reported on Friday.

The letter was sent last week just before Truss traveled to New York where she spoke before the United Nations General Assembly and also met with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, whom she informed that her office would be engaging in a review of the embassy’s current location.

Signatories of the letter included the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, who signed the Abraham Accords with Israel in 2020 along with Morocco, which normalized ties with Israel shortly thereafter.

The report said that the countries who back the Abraham Accords have been the most ardent opponents to a possible British embassy move as they fear that their decision to embrace Israel will be viewed as what led countries to subsequently break the supposed taboo of moving their missions to Jerusalem.

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Similar objections have been raised by the UK’s European allies, according to The Guardian.

View of the UK Embassy in Tel Aviv (Google Maps screenshot)

Israel views Jerusalem as its undivided capital, while most of the international community does not recognize it as such and deems the final borders of the city as dependent on peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Only the US, Guatemala, Kosovo and Honduras have opened embassies in Jerusalem. Other countries, including Hungary, the Czech Republic, Serbia, and Australia, have official trade or defense branches in Jerusalem.

While The Guardian did not cite any sources for its reporting, it said that some Arab diplomats have even warned that moving the British embassy to Jerusalem could place a long-negotiated free trade agreement between the UK and the Gulf Cooperation Council at risk, even as its set to be signed at the end of the year.

Palestinian Ambassador to the UK Husam Zomlot warned in a statement that “Any embassy move would be a blatant violation of international law and the UK’s historic responsibilities. It undermines the two-state solution and inflames an already volatile situation in Jerusalem, the rest of the occupied territories, and among communities in the UK and worldwide. It would be disastrous.”

President Donald Trump, center, with from left, Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, Sept. 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

An unnamed former British diplomat told The Guardian that Truss was a “pound-shop Trump” seeking to emulate the former president who was the first to make such a move in 2018. “She seems to think she should ape Donald Trump. The difference is that the US is big enough to get its way in the Middle East. The UK is not. If the UK shifted its embassy it would have a domino effect amongst some countries in the European Union, such as Hungary, but probably not, and will damage British interest in the Arab world.”

When Trump announced his plan to relocate the US embassy in 2017, then-UK prime minister Theresa May was critical.

Truss, however, told the UK’s Conservative Friends of Israel last month, before she became prime minister, that she would review the UK’s decision to remain in Tel Aviv if she became the British leader.

“I understand the importance and sensitivity of the location of the British Embassy in Israel. I’ve had many conversations with my good friend Prime Minister Yair Lapid on this topic,” she said.