In second fall-out with Donald Trump in just over a week, Theresa May has said she disagrees with the US President’s “unhelpful” decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The UK Prime Minister’s comments followed Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn blasting the decision to reverse decades of US policy as a “reckless threat to peace” that threatens to further inflame Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
Last week, May clashed with Trump after he shared inflammatory anti-Muslim videos from the far-right Britain First group.
In defiance of warnings from around the world, Trump said his administration would begin a process of moving the US embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which is expected to take years.
The status of Jerusalem – home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions – is one of the thorniest obstacles to reaching a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Trump said in Washington. “While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering.”
In response, May made clear the British Embassy to Israel is based in Tel Aviv and “we have no plans to move it”.
She said: “We disagree with the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem and recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital before a final status agreement. We believe it is unhelpful in terms of prospects for peace in the region. The British Embassy to Israel is based in Tel Aviv and we have no plans to move it.
“Our position on the status of Jerusalem is clear and long-standing: it should be determined in a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and Jerusalem should ultimately be the shared capital of the Israeli and Palestinian states. In line with relevant Security Council Resolutions, we regard East Jerusalem as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”
And Corbyn said: “Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, including occupied Palestinian territory, is a reckless threat to peace.
“The British Government must condemn this dangerous act and work for a just and viable settlement of the conflict.”
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran said: “The Prime Minister must use what remains of the special relationship to urge President Trump to reconsider his decision.
“There is now a high probability that the two state solution will be in tatters, and yet another round of violence in the region can be expected.
“Trump risks bolstering support for extremists, recklessly increasing the likelihood of an upsurge in potential new attacks in the west.”
In his statement, Trump also vowed to help work toward a peace deal that is “acceptable to both sides,” and said he would support a two-state solution if it was agreed to by both sides.
“This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality,” he said. “It is also the right thing to do.”
There is no immediate timeline for when the relocation will occur. The pending move, which Trump had long offered as a promise to his evangelical voting base and pro-Israel American Jews, has already provoked outrage across the Middle East.
Palestinians took to the streets of Gaza City and the city of Rafah, chanting “Death to America”, “death to Israel” and “down with Trump”. They burned American and Israeli flags as well as photos of Trump.
In response to Trump’s announcement, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the move and said that the United States is withdrawing from its role as mediator in the peace process.
“The decision by President Trump will not change the reality of the city of Jerusalem and will not give any legitimacy to the Israelis on this issue,” Abbas said.
Both Israelis and Palestinians lay claim to Jerusalem, but Israel has controlled the city since 1967.
Most United Nations members don’t recognise Israel’s sovereignty over East Jerusalem, arguing instead that the city should possess international status. For decades, US policy has stated that Israelis and Palestinians should negotiate the city’s status among themselves.
Since Palestinians also consider Jerusalem their capital, any policy that appears to favor the Israelis’ claim over the Palestinians’ is extremely contentious. The status of Jerusalem has therefore long been a key issue in the peace process, and Palestinian officials have said that any change to the city’s status would be destructive.
In 1995, Congress passed a law requiring the American embassy to be relocated to Jerusalem. However, every president since then has signed a national security waiver every six months to delay the move. Trump is still expected to sign the waiver, as the timing of the embassy move remains unclear and the law requires cuts to State Department funding if the deadline lapses.
Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton made similar vows to move the embassy during their presidential campaigns, but both ultimately decided not to pursue the relocation when faced with political realities.
Trump signed the waiver to delay the relocation in June. It’s not clear why he decided to recognise Jerusalem as the capital now, although the administration has signaled for weeks that a change was coming. Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to travel to Israel later this month.