OPINION: Four reasons why Jerusalem is the right location for the UK’s embassy

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OPINION: Four reasons why Jerusalem is the right location for the UK’s embassy

Nobody seriously believes there can be any form of agreement without Jerusalem being recognised as Israel's, argues Gary Mond, chair of the National Jewish Assembly.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (right) walks alongside the Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ahead of a meeting at the Commonwealth And Development Office in London. Picture date: Monday November 29, 2021.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (right) walks alongside the Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ahead of a meeting at the Commonwealth And Development Office in London. Picture date: Monday November 29, 2021.

The issue of whether the British embassy in Israel should or should not be moved to Jerusalem appears to have ignited the Jewish community in the past ten days.

Anna Roisin’s blog Hidden in plain sight: Palestinian Jerusalem is certainly educational about the Arab communities who live in Jerusalem, yet there is a disconnect between what she writes on the one hand and her opposition to the embassy move on the other.

There are four main issues. First, her use of the term “Palestinian Jerusalem”. The word “Palestinian” was not used to describe Arab communities in the region until it was coined by Yasser Arafat in 1964, three years before the Six Day War which led to Jerusalem being united again. Prior to that, up until 1948, the world generally referred to “Palestinians” as the Jews who lived in what was to become modern Israel, and subsequently they were called Israelis. The “Palestinian” flag until 1948 contained a Magen David, the Palestine Post was the region’s Jewish newspaper and Palestinian football teams comprised Jews. To bestow the term “Palestinian Jerusalem” on those parts of the city which were predominantly occupied by the Arab communities is hence inaccurate.

The second issue is that the Jews were ethnically cleansed from the Old City and East Jerusalem by the invading Jordanian and Arab armies in 1948. Jews were the majority of the population of the Old City. Synagogues were desecrated and destroyed and the vibrant Jewish community erased. Jewish homes throughout all the quarters in the Old City were seized.  Not one Jew was allowed to remain. The Jewish neighbourhood of Simon HaTsadik (Simon the Just) became the Moslem area of Sheikh Jarrah. Shaufat refugee camp was constructed in 1964 on seized “Jewish” land which legally was owned by the JNF, as explained in Lyn Julius’s article Jerusalem issue is more complex than you think.

The third issue relates to why there should be any argument at all for dividing Jerusalem again. There are other cities in the world, even capital cities, where people of a different ethnic and/or religious background from the country’s principal denomination comprise a substantial minority, or even a majority, of that city’s inhabitants.

That of itself is no reason to agree to splitting Jerusalem – or indeed any other city – along such lines. Additionally, and from a historical perspective, Ramallah was always the regional capital for the local Arab communities and would, if a two-state solution ever came to pass, be the appropriate capital for a new entity.

The fourth issue, and probably the most central to the entire debate, are the practical arguments on the matter of the embassy move. The default position for the location of an embassy is a country’s capital city, and it is for the country itself to decide the latter’s location. Israel has declared that Jerusalem is its capital city, and this must be respected. Therefore, the contentions of those who are opposed to moving the British embassy to Jerusalem need to be exposed to scrutiny.

From the recent furore triggered by Marie van der Zyl’s speech at the Conservative Friends of Israel reception on 2 October, it seems that the principal case against the embassy move is that somehow it will make reaching a peaceful solution with the Arabs more difficult. I believe that this is wrong on a number of levels.

One, the UK already has a consulate in east Jerusalem which exists to serve the interest of the local Arab communities. Why, therefore, should there not be an embassy in Jerusalem to serve Israeli citizens? Two, any form of agreement regarding a two-state solution seems improbable at present. From their speeches and actions, the leaders of the Arab communities in Judea and Samaria don’t appear to want a state: instead they give the impression that they want the termination of the Jewish state.

On the other hand the Israelis, facing yet another election, have many other issues to consider – their security, the cost of living in Israel, the split between religious and secular interests and more.

For better or for worse, a two-state solution is a long way from almost all of their minds. Three, the Abraham Accords and the immense benefits for the region flowing from them has shown that the relocation of the US embassy in Jerusalem has had no adverse effect. Neither would the relocation of the British embassy, and it is nonsensical to argue that the Americans get away with it because they are powerful and we are not.

Finally, nobody seriously believes that there can be any form of agreement without Jerusalem being recognised as Israeli. So why delay the embassy move? To me, it seems that the same groups who were opposed to the late Queen Elizabeth II visiting Israel are the ones who oppose the embassy move. I hope that our new Prime Minister can ignore them and proceed.

Additionally, William Hague’s contention that moving the embassy to Jerusalem would “align the UK with Donald Trump’s foreign policy” is irrelevant. It is perfectly possible to disagree with much of Trump’s policies, if one wishes to do so, while having in this case a common viewpoint.

In conclusion, and returning to Marie van der Zyl’s 2 October speech, it is great that she has put the weight of the Board of Deputies behind the embassy move.

  • Gary Mond is the Chairman of the National Jewish Assembly.
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