In May 2018, the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, setting a dangerous precedent that simultaneously encouraged Israel to continue its annexation and colonisation of Palestinian land and invited third states to join in violating their obligations under international law. Although condemned by many states, others, including Guatemala and Paraguay, followed suit and acquiesced by opening embassies in Jerusalem merely ten days after. The normalisation of the US move was relatively swift, with various states, including the United Kingdom (UK) announcing that they would attend meetings in the new embassy.
The European Union took a clear position on this latest political manoeuvre. Prior to the move, the head of the EU delegation to the United Nations stated unequivocally that it continues to uphold the international consensus on Jerusalem. This includes the refusal to locate diplomatic missions in Jerusalem until its final status has been resolved. This was reiterated by individual EU Member States including France, who issued a statement following the move stating that it contravened international law. Yet a joint EU statement condemning the US’s move was blocked by the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania, all of whom attended the opening ceremony of the embassy.
These latest political maneuverings in Jerusalem are worrisome, but they follow a deteriorating trajectory for the Palestinians in the city. The international community has long been impotent with regard to securing Palestinian legal and historic rights in both East and West Jerusalem. These include the right of return for refugees, restitution of property, and full political rights. This failure to go beyond rhetoric and statements of condemnation and to implement international law has allowed Israel to entrench its control over the Palestinian people and their land. The recent normalisation of Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem by the US and others is particularly dangerous; it yet again sends a message to Israel that it faces no consequences for annexing Palestinian land and, more generally, for violating international law. With this in mind, this paper addresses the role of the EU in Jerusalem and offers some recommendations to go beyond rhetoric.