Arab League chief condemns UK government over 'illegal' Jerusalem embassy plan

Ahmed Aboul Gheit urges Britain to reconsider proposal to move diplomatic base in Israel

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The British foreign secretary has been urged to “refrain from taking any illegal action” by the head of the Arab League after the UK’s proposal to move its Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

James Cleverly watched as Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Secretary General of the Arab League, gave a speech via video link condemning the potential move during a reception at the Conservative Party conference on Tuesday.

The embattled British Prime Minister Liz Truss had earlier announced in a letter to Conservative Friends of Israel that she would open a review of the location of the embassy.

This has caused anger among Arab diplomats who believe such a move would legitimise Israel’s invasion of East Jerusalem after its occupation in the 1967 war.

During a reception hosted by the Arab Ambassadors’ Council in London, Mr Gheit gave a televised address watched by Mr Cleverly, the new Minister for Trade Policy, Conor Burns, and senior Conservative MPs.

“I take this opportunity to express our concern over the recent statements by Prime Minister Truss on reviewing the location of the UK embassy in Israel,” said Mr Gheit, a veteran Egyptian diplomat. “I reiterate our rejection and condemnation of any unilateral decisions that might breach the legal or the historical status of the holy city of Jerusalem or to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which is the occupying power according to international law.

“I call upon the British government to abide by the two-state solution and refrain from taking any illegal action that could compromise this formula as a basis for the final settlement.”

Palestinians would regard the move as Britain rejecting its long-standing commitment of the two-state solution, including a capital in East Jerusalem.

But in remarks to a fringe event hosted by the Conservative Friends of Israel at the Birmingham conference on Monday, Ms Truss said she was “a supporter of Israel” who wanted to “take the UK-Israel relationship from strength to strength”.

British Prime Minister Liz Truss and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid hold a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, Wednesday, Sept.  21, 2022.  (Toby Melville / Pool Photo via AP)

However, the Jerusalem embassy could potentially undermine both the British-Israel relationship and London’s strong links with Gulf states.

The National understands that both Israeli and Gulf figures fear it could also undermine the Abraham Accords which have promoted greater understanding between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain.

“Arab leaders are not only baffled by this move but are angry that it could bring harm to the Abraham Accords,” a senior Conservative told The National. “We are told this is not particularly welcomed by senior figures in Israel and certainly not by the Gulf states and will damage Britain’s standing in the Arab world.”

The move could also threaten the potential free-trade agreement between Britain and the six Gulf Co-operation Council states that it was hoped would be signed by the end of this year.

Before Mr Gheit's address, Mr Cleverly, Britain's former Middle East minister, told the reception he was going to "renew his journey of knowledge and understanding of the Arab world" because it was "the fulcrum point in our world".

"The Arab world is of course influential, far beyond its geography," he said. "It is a place of huge opportunity and it is also, sadly, a place of challenge and turbulence. But together I know we can all work to address the challenges and difficulties that the region faces and make the most of the opportunities that the future brings."

During a speech hosted by the Conservative Middle East Council, Gen Sir Simon Mayall, the UK government’s former chief Arab adviser, said moving the embassy could shatter trust in Britain in the region.

“You cannot surge trust,” he said, in relation to any future conflict where support might be needed. “You cannot pull it out of a drawer if you neglect it.”

Questions have also been raised about Britain’s policy in the region after the government failed to reappoint a Middle East and North Africa minister, despite suggestions that it might revive the post axed by Boris Johnson’s government in early February.

Instead it has carved up the area, appointing Lord Tariq Ahmad as Middle East, South Asia and United Nations minister, while absorbing North Africa into the Africa portfolio under junior minister Gillian Keegan.

Updated: October 06, 2022, 5:11 AM