Boris Johnson has called on Donald Trump to show “leadership” in restoring momentum to the Middle East peace process, after the US president sparked waves of protest by announcing he was recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and would move the American embassy to the holy city.
Mr Trump’s announcement on Wednesday was described as “unhelpful” by Mr Johnson and Prime Minister Theresa May, while Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt said that other countries would now have to come forward to fill the “trust deficit” the US had created in peace negotiations betweenIsrael and Palestine.
Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said that the Government had been “made to look like fools” by Mr Trump, and that Britain needed leaders willing to “stand up to him”.
But Mr Johnson insisted that the US remained the “pre-eminent power” able to exert influence on the Middle East peace process and said there was now an opportunity for progress to be made.
Answering questions after a speech at the Foreign Office in London, Mr Johnson said: “A lot of people are very excited and interested in possibilities that the American administration, the Trump administration, could bring to the Middle East peace process.
“There is an opportunity, there is a conjuncture of the stars, there is a moment – people think – when progress could be made.
“I think, this decision having been announced by President Trump, the world would like to see some serious announcements by the US about how they see the Middle East peace process and how to bring the two sides together.
“I think that’s what we all want to see. If we are going to have a move of the US embassy, then let’s also see some moves towards the long overdue resolution of the Middle East peace process.”
While recognising that the UK had a “moral obligation” to work towards peace in the Middle East, he added: “The United States is the pre-eminent power that can now show leadership in resolving this question.
“I hope we will see from the US administration some policies and some programmes to bring the parties together.”
Mr Johnson stressed that the Government stuck by its position that the status of Jerusalem must be resolved as part of a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.
He added: “I view premature recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moves of embassies as not helpful in this context. It’s something we want to do but it cannot be done until you have progress towards a two-state solution.
“I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. I recognise of course that, by act of Congress, America is committed to doing it since 1995 in principle.
“But I think America and all her allies have for a long time thought that was a card that should not be played until we could use it as an incentive to get the peace process moving.”
Asking an urgent question in the Commons about Mr Trump’s announcement, Ms Thornberry was scathing about the Government’s policy towards the US.
“They told us that holding his hand and hugging him close, indulging him with the offer of a state visit, was the best way of wielding influence and shaping his policies,” said the shadow foreign secretary.
“But on Jerusalem, as on so many other issues before, they have been made to look like fools.
“Weak, ignored and entirely without influence.
“When will they realise that bending over for a bully only encourages that behaviour, when what our country needs and what the world needs is a British Government prepared to stand up to him?”
Mr Burt told MPs the UK was co-sponsoring a meeting with European partners on Friday at the UN Security Council where the issue will be discussed.
He also urged the US administration to now bring forward detailed proposals for an Israeli and Palestinian settlement.
“The process has to move on,” he said, adding: “If the process was derailed by this, that would compound the unhelpfulness of the decision.”
Mr Burt went on to say: “The nature of the United States as a broker in the region will have been affected: that is I’m sure something that we’re going to discuss tomorrow at the UN as to how the process can be taken forward.
“The United States will continue to play an important part but there is no doubt that there’s a trust deficit because of yesterday’s announcement and it is for other states to fill that gap in order to make sure that the prospects for peace are not diminished.”
Tory Bob Blackman (Harrow East) suggested that Mr Trump’s move “could end up being quite a good decision” if it leads to peace talks.
But Mr Burt said he had “no sense that yesterday’s decision made a contribution to advancing the peace process”.