UKLFI: Supporting Israel with legal skills

UKLFI clarifies legalities of British Embassy move to Jerusalem

UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) has written to James Cleverly, Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Affairs, to clarify the legal position regarding the potential move of the British Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

At her recent meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Prime Minister Liz Truss discussed this possibility.   Jonathan Turner, chief executive of UKLFI said in his letter to Cleverly: “We hope that the UK government will follow through with the move and will not be deterred by naysayers conjuring up chimeras.”

UKLFI has seen a copy of a letter dated 20 September 2022, sent to Mr Cleverly by Michael Lynk and Ardi Imseis, as well as the Early Day Motion (EDM) tabled by Alyn Smith MP opposing this move. UKLFI’s letter to Cleverly explained why the points made by Lynk and Imseis are irrelevant and/or misconceived.

The letter from Lynk and Imseis is almost entirely about East Jerusalem. Contrary to their view, there are strong legal arguments that Israel has sovereignty in East Jerusalem, as summarised in a submission UKLFI made to the International Criminal Court in March 2020: .

However, the status of East Jerusalem is irrelevant to the proposal to move the British Embassy; it is not suggested that it should be located in East Jerusalem. Moving the Embassy to West Jerusalem would not endorse Israel’s claim to sovereignty in East Jerusalem

Conversely, refusing to locate the British Embassy in West Jerusalem is inconsistent with support for a two State solution. Under any realistic two State solution, West Jerusalem would remain under Israeli rule. Failing to locate the British Embassy in West Jerusalem casts doubt on Britain’s commitment to such a solution, as well as discriminating against Israel by comparison with other States whose choice of capital city is respected.

Mr Lynk’s letter and the EDM misinterpret UN Security Council Resolution 478. In this resolution, adopted in 1980, “the Holy City of Jerusalem” referred to the Old City of Jerusalem, where the main holy sites are located, or possibly East Jerusalem generally. The references in the Resolution to changing the character and status of “the Holy City of Jerusalem” would make no sense if they included West Jerusalem, since the character and status of West Jerusalem were not changed by Israel’s Basic Law on Jerusalem of 1980, at which the UNSC Resolution was directed. Correctly interpreted, its provision “The Security Council …… calls upon … Those States that have established missions at Jerusalem to withdraw such missions from the Holy City” did not apply to missions in West Jerusalem.

Furthermore, UNSC Resolution 478 was not adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. As the US Secretary of State, Edmund Muskie, noted in his address to the Security Council meeting immediately prior to its adoption, its provision regarding diplomatic missions was not binding and without force: see the Minutes at §111. A further Resolution was proposed under Chapter VII at the same time (S/14106), but was not adopted.

In any event, there have been fundamental changes in the Middle East over the 40 years since UNSC Resolution 478, including the 1994 Peace Agreement between Jordan and Israel, the Oslo Accords, the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and the Abraham Accords. The 1980 Resolution is not relevant to the current situation.

Contrary to the dire predictions made by some commentators, the decision in 2018 of the United States to locate its Embassy in Jerusalem did not have adverse consequences on international relations. On the contrary, this move was followed by the US-sponsored Abraham Accords between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain, and further normalisation agreements with Morocco and Sudan in 2020, as well as the recent US mediation to resolve issues between the Lebanon and Israel regarding their exclusive economic zones.