Israel: Liz Truss considers UK embassy move to Jerusalem - why it’s controversial, what did Donald Trump do?

Liz Truss spoke with Israel’s interim leader Yair Lapid during the United Nations General Assembly in New York about the potential embassy move

Prime Minister Liz Truss is considering moving the UK embassy in Israel to the city of Jerusalem.

The new UK leader met with Yair Lapid, the caretaker Prime Minister of Israel, during a meeting at the United Nations General Assembly in New York about the potential move. The move could be controversial, with Jerusalem a highly contested location between Iraelis and Palestinians.

Ms Truss has maintained the Conservative Party’s commitment to being supportive of Israel. During her leadership contest campaign, she first introduced the idea of moving the embassy to Jerusalem.

Liz Truss met with Israel caretaker Prime Minster Yair Lapid at the UN general Assembly in new York to discuss a controversial embassy move. (Credit: Getty Images)

What did Liz Truss say about moving the UK Israel embassy to Jerusalem?

Ms Truss met with Mr Lapid on Thursday (22 September) in New York at the UN General Assembly. Ms Truss told Mr Lapid during their meeting that a review was underway over the location of the embassy.

The Israeli Prime Minister said in a tweet following the meeting that the pair had discussed the move, with Ms Truss “positively considering” the likelihood. He added: “We will continue to strengthen the partnership between the countries.”

It is believed that Ms Truss first made the proposition to move the embassy, which is currently located in Tel Aviv, in her time as Foreign Secretary. She put the option forward in 2021, however did not proceed with any major changes during her time in the role.

During her Tory leadership campaign, she told the Conservative Friends of Israel: “I understand the importance and sensitivity of the location of the British embassy in Israel. I’ve had many conversations with my good friend ... Lapid on this topic.

“Acknowledging that, I will review a move to ensure we are operating on the strongest footing within Israel.”

Why would the move be controversial?

Jerusalem has been highly contested by both Israeli and Palestinians as their rightful capital city. It is steeped in religious significance for both sides, while also being at the centre of the political debate between the two parties.

Israel claims the entire city of Jerusalem as its capital city. Palestine recognises the eastern sectors of the city as the capital city of a free Palestine.

It is a key location in the Jewish faith and is recognised as the spiritual home of Jewish people across the world as it is considered the centre of the world and therefore where God resides. Jerusalem is also key to Islam, with it being classed as the third holiest city behind Mecca and Medina.

With both sides arguing over the status of the city as capital, moving a major embassy to Jerusalem in favour of Israel would in effect show that the UK recognises Israel’s claim to the city. Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian Ambassador to the UK, said of the prospective UK embassy move: "It is extremely unfortunate that Prime Minister Liz Truss uses her first appearance at the UN to commit to potentially breaking international law by promising a ‘review’ of the location of the British embassy to Israel.

“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. Such promise is immoral, illegal and irresponsible."

What happened when Donald Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem?

Controversy rose when then-US President Donald Trump moved the US embassy to the city in early December 2018, which led to clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters. It came after Mr Trump announced that the US would formally recognise Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel.

In an address from the White House’s Diplomatic Reception Room, Mr Trump said: “This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do. It’s something that has to be done.”

Pro-Palestinian supporter protested against Donald Trump’s plan to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. (credit: Getty Images)

Mr Trump’s announcement was rejected by many world leaders, including the UK, France, Japan, Italy and Sweden. The United Nations Security Councilheld an emergency meeting on the matter, where the move was condenmed by 14 out of 15 of its members. However, the motion failed after the US vetoed it.

While former Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the move as a “historical landmark”, there were protests and demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip against the move. There were also demonstrations from pro-Palestine supporters in the US, Europe, Pakistan and Indonesia, among other places.

During the demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, nine Palestinian were killed, while two members of the Hamas organisation were killed in an Israeli airstike. An Israeli security guard was also stabbed and critically wounded near Jerusalem’s central bus station.

Current US President Joe Biden condemned Mr Trump’s policy change during his candidacy for the presidency. However, he has not yet announced plans to move to the embassy away from Jerusalem.