UK embassy in Israel: Archbishop of Canterbury ‘concerned’ by possible move to Jerusalem

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby at the Israeli presidential compound in Jerusalem in May 2017 (AFP)

Peter Oborne

Middle East Eye  /  October 7, 2022

Church of England spokesperson: Justin Welby in touch with other church leaders on plans floated by UK PM Liz Truss.

Church leaders in the UK have jointly expressed alarm at the “potential impact” if the British government moves its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

In a rare intervention, a spokesperson told Middle East Eye that Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is “concerned” about the move, which was floated by British Prime Minister Liz Truss in a meeting with her Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid last month.

The spokesperson told MEE: “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 spokesperson added that Welby “is in touch with Christian leaders in the Holy Land and continues to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”

An embassy move to Jerusalem would reverse the longstanding British position. The UK has long maintained its embassy in Tel Aviv as part of a longstanding policy that the city’s final status should be decided following negotiations.

If the British embassy were to be moved, Truss would be following in the footsteps of former US President Donald Trump, who, in defiance of international law, shifted the US embassy to Jerusalem, a move taken as formal recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the city.

Conservatives discuss move

The statement means that Anglican and Catholic churches now stand shoulder to shoulder in their alarm at the UK potentially moving its embassy to a holy city considered sacred by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

 The Archbishop of Canterbury made his concern public hours after Britain’s most senior Catholic wrote to Truss warning her against the move.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, said: “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 cardinal added that Pope Francis and leaders of churches in Israel and Palestine had “long called for the international status quo on Jerusalem to be upheld, in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions”.

MEE understands that other churches in the UK are likely to oppose the move. It is also expected that church leaders from all denominations in Jerusalem will denounce Truss’s proposal.

Four years ago, all 13 Christian denominations in Jerusalem came together to condemn Trump’s announcement that the US embassy would move to the city.

In a joint statement they stated: “We are certain that such steps will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division.”

The Muslim Council of Britain has also written to Truss, saying that the move would represent the “legitimization of the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem”. It warned that the move would damage “Britain’s international reputation.” 

The Labour, Liberal Democrat and Scottish National Parties have all told Middle East Eye that they oppose the move and would campaign against it.

The plan was first suggested by Truss in a letter to the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), a pro-Israel lobby group, during the Conservative leadership campaign earlier this year her predecessor Boris Johnson departed as Tory leader.  

At the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham this week, the CFI called for the move. Jake Berry, the Conservative party chairman, pledged his “unwavering commitment… to build strong relationships with the state of Israel and to support it in its fight to ensure that it remains safe, and that the capital in Jerusalem is the home to our new embassy”.

On Tuesday, MEE published a briefing note, circulated by the CFI to affiliated Conservative MPs, which stated that the UK government already owned land in west Jerusalem that had been earmarked as a site for a new embassy. 

The briefing note said a move to relocate the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be “a bureaucratic one that recognizes the reality on the ground”.

Peter Oborne won best commentary/blogging in both 2022 and 2017, and was also named freelancer of the year in 2016 at the Drum Online Media Awards for articles he wrote for Middle East Eye

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 ‘No valid reason’ to move British embassy to Jerusalem, says UK cardinal

Rayhan Uddin

Middle East Eye  /  October 6, 2022

Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster, writes to Liz Truss expressing ‘profound concern’ over potential relocation, a day after opposition parties rejected move.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster, has called on Prime Minister Liz Truss to reconsider her intention to explore moving the UK’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. 

Nichols, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said he had written to the prime minister to express his “profound concern” over the review of the embassy location. 

It comes a day after the UK’s Labour, Liberal Democrat and Scottish National Party told Middle East Eye they opposed the move and would campaign against it. 

“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,” Nichols said in a statement on Thursday. 

The cardinal added that Pope Francis and leaders of churches in Israel and Palestine had “long called for the international status quo on Jerusalem to be upheld, in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions”.

“The city must be shared as a common patrimony, never becoming an exclusive monopoly of any party,” he added.

“I can see no valid reason why a move needs now to be considered. I ask the Prime Minister earnestly to reconsider the intention she has expressed and to focus all efforts on seeking a two-state solution, in which Jerusalem would have a guaranteed special status.”

Land for new embassy identified 

Earlier this week, senior Conservatives called for the embassy to be moved at an event organized by Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), a pro-Israel lobby group, at the ruling party’s annual conference in Birmingham.

Speaking at the event, Jake Berry, the Conservative party chairman, pledged his “unwavering commitment… to build strong relationships with the state of Israel and to support it in its fight to ensure that it remains safe, and that the capital in Jerusalem is the home to our new embassy”.

On Tuesday, MEE published a briefing note circulated by CFI to affiliated Conservative members of parliament, which stated that the UK government already owned land in west Jerusalem earmarked as a site for a new embassy. 

The briefing note said a move to relocate the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be “a bureaucratic one that recognizes the reality on the ground”.

MEE also published a “suggested casework response”, provided to Conservative MPs and crafted for their constituents regarding a move to Jerusalem. 

An embassy move to Jerusalem would reverse decades of British policy. The UK has long maintained its diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv – even after Israel declared Jerusalem as its capital – as part of a longstanding policy that the city’s final status should be decided following negotiations.

In 1967, Israel occupied and annexed the eastern part of the city of Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as the capital of a future state, in a move that has never been recognized by the international community or international law.

If the British embassy were to be moved, Truss would be following in the footsteps of former US President Donald Trump, who, in defiance of international law, moved the US embassy to Jerusalem in 2017, a move that as taken as formal recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the city.

Rayhan Uddin is a Middle East Eye journalist based in London