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Religious leaders warn Government against moving British embassy to Jerusalem

12 October 2022

Alamy

The British Embassy, Ha-Yarkon Street, Tel Aviv, in Israel

The British Embassy, Ha-Yarkon Street, Tel Aviv, in Israel

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has joined religious and political leaders in expressing concern about the prospect of the UK’s moving its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

In a statement to Jewish News last Friday, a spokesperson for Archbishop Welby said: “The Archbishop is concerned about the potential impact of moving the British embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem before a negotiated settlement between Palestinians and Israelis has been reached.” 

The possibility that the British embassy could be moved to Jerusalem was announced by the Prime Minister at a meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister, Yair Lapid, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last month. A Downing Street statement said that Ms Truss had told Mr Lapid that “a review of the current location” was to be conducted.

In 2018, the United States’ embassy in Israel was relocated to Jerusalem, in line with a policy advocated by President Trump. Only three other states have embassies in Jerusalem rather than Tel Aviv: Honduras, Guatemala, and Kosovo.

The possibility that the UK might join this group has been widely criticised by religious and political leaders.

On Thursday morning, the Church of Scotland announced that it had contributed to a “private letter” to Ms Truss, sent on Tuesday, asking her to “maintain the obligation of all nations to respect the historic status quo of the Holy City, in conformity with the relevant UN resolutions”.

The letter was reportedly also signed by representatives from the Church of England, United Reformed Church, Methodist Church, Quakers, Christian Aid, and other churches and organisations.

In a statement, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland,  Dr Iain Greenshields, said on Thursday that the Church of Scotland has “consistently supported a negotiated solution to the ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territory, which includes East Jerusalem, and unilateral UK action to move its embassy would not support efforts to see a peaceful, long-term resolution of this historic injustice.”

On Thursday of last week, the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, also wrote to Ms Truss to express “profound concern” over the proposal.

In a post on Twitter, Cardinal Nichols said that “such a relocation of the UK Embassy would be seriously damaging to any possibility of lasting peace in the region and to the international reputation of the United Kingdom.”

The status of Jerusalem is a highly sensitive issue, as, under international law, East Jerusalem is Palestinian territory illegally occupied by Israel.

The interventions by Archbishop Welby and Cardinal Nichols were welcomed by trustees of the Balfour Project, a British organisation that campaigns for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine, in a letter to the Church Times this week.

The Rt Revd Michael Doe, a former Bishop of Swindon, and the Very Revd Nicholas Frayling, who was Dean of Chichester from 2002 to 2014, write that “to move our Embassy to Jerusalem would be to condone the illegal activity of an occupying power, including its illegal annexation of East Jerusalem.”

On Monday, a statement was released by the Council of the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, a group representing over a dozen denominations with a presence in Jerusalem. “Rather than commit valuable governmental resources to such a counterproductive endeavor, we encourage the British Prime Minister and government to instead redouble their diplomatic efforts towards facilitating the restart of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” the clerics urged.

The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, expressed support for the statement, and has written to Liz Truss to express his reservations about the proposal. 

Also on Monday, a group of Islamic leaders in Jerusalem expressed “deep concern” at the implications of such a relocation. In a letter to the King on Monday, leaders of the Council of the the Islamic Jerusalem Awqaf and Al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs wrote that they opposed any move, as it would undermine the peace process and exacerbate an “already unstable situation in Jerusalem”.

On Tuesday morning, a former Foreign Secretary, William Hague, argued that the British embassy should not be moved to Jerusalem. Mr Hague described such a move as “a breach of UN Security Council resolutions”. It would “align Britain in foreign affairs with Donald Trump and three small states rather than the whole of the rest of the world”, he wrote in The Times.

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