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Church of England, British Catholic Church and local Christian leaders oppose British embassy move to Jerusalem

Church leaders’ assert that ‘just and lasting peace’ in Jerusalem will only come from negotiations with the P.A.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols in Rome, Italy, Oct. 13, 2019. (Photo: Arthur Edwards/Pool via REUTERS)

Top British Christian leaders have articulated opposition to British Prime Minister Liz Truss’ consideration of moving the British embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital city.

While embassies are normally situated in a country’s capital city, Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols, one of the most senior officials within the Catholic Church in Britain, expressed “profound concern” at the shift of British policy. In a letter to Truss, Nichols urged the British prime minister to not move the British embassy to Jerusalem. 

“A relocation of the U.K. embassy would be seriously damaging to any possibility of lasting peace in the region and to the international reputation of the United Kingdom,” Nichols stated

Nichols is highly influential among British Catholic clergy, as a result of his position as the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Nichols argued that his opposition to the embassy move is consistent with the “status quo” policy in Jerusalem, advocated by the Catholic Church and defined by Islamic sentiment in the Jewish state.

“Pope Francis and the leaders of churches in the Holy Land have long called for the international status quo on Jerusalem to be upheld, in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations. The city must be shared as a common patrimony, never becoming an exclusive monopoly of any party,” Nichols argued. 

The United States-based organization, Stop Antisemitism, criticized Nichols on social media while stressing the conduct of the Catholic Church during the Holocaust. 

“The Catholic Church did enough during WWII. Your input and opinions are not needed – today or EVER. Perhaps you can instead spend your time giving back the countless Jewish artifacts stolen from Jewish families during the Holocaust that you refuse to give back,” the organization stated. 

However, opposition to the potential embassy move is not only coming from the British Catholic Church. The head of the Church of England, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has reportedly echoed Nichols’ concerns. 

“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,” read the statement. “He is in touch with Christian leaders in the Holy Land and continues to pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” Welby’s spokesperson said in an official statement released to The Jewish News, based in Britain

Local Christian leaders in Jerusalem also appear to oppose the move of the British embassy to the capital city. In an official statement on Monday, the Council of the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem called even considering moving the embassy to Jerusalem “as a further impediment to advancing the already moribund Peace Process.”

In their statement, dated Oct. 10, the church leaders stated that only an initiative of negotiations between Israel and the P.A. “in order to move forward with a time-delimited and phased Peace Initiative” that accords with “International Law and relevant U.N. resolutions” will result in “a just and lasting peace” in Jerusalem.

“[T]he very act of reviewing the placement of the British Embassy not only suggests that negotiated agreements regarding Jerusalem and the West Bank have already resolved the ongoing disputes between the involved parties – when in fact they have not – but also implies that no such negotiations are needed: that the continuing military occupation of those territories and the unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem are both acceptable,” the Jerusalem-based patriarchate said. “We cannot believe that this is the message that the British government wishes to send to the world.” 

Earlier in October, ambassadors from every Arab state warned the British government against moving its embassy to Jerusalem. In a letter penned to the British prime minister, the Arab diplomats warned that moving the British embassy would be “illegal and ill-judged.” 

The signatories included ambassadors of Arab states that have diplomatic relations with Israel – Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. 

In line with biblical promises, Israel views Jerusalem as its undivided capital; nevertheless, the P.A., which has already claimed statehood in various forums, has voiced a claim to “East” Jerusalem as its future capital. 

While the P.A.’s actions and policies align with the ultimate motive of replacing the Jewish people in the Promised Land, talk of respecting the “status quo” vis-a-vis the Temple Mount implies that Jewish worship should be forbidden. The internationally defined “status quo” as it applies to Jerusalem itself, according to the Council of the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches, takes into account the churches’ perception that “ecclesiastical jurisdictions cover all of the political territories of the Holy Land.”

“The religious Status Quo in Jerusalem is essential for preserving the harmony of our Holy City and good relations between religious communities around the globe,” the statement read. “Implicit to the recognition of this Status Quo is the aforementioned Corpus Separatum that most of the world’s governments have applied by refraining from locating their embassies in Jerusalem until a final status agreement on the Holy City has been reached.” 

“The contemplated movement of the British Embassy to Jerusalem would severely undermine this key principle … and the political negotiations that it seeks to advance,” the church leaders said.

Where the political motive of these church leaders carries a perception of shared Christian jurisdiction over Israel’s territory including its holiest city, Jerusalem, many countries, including those in the West, appear to support the PLO’s unilateral demand to establish an Arab capital. This capital would be located in the eastern neighborhoods of Jerusalem, which – per pre-1967 ceasefire lines – include the Old City, the Western Wall and the holy Temple Mount itself. 

While Israel’s diplomatic standing has improved substantially in recent years, most countries maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv. The only countries that have opened embassies in Jerusalem are the United States, Honduras, Guatemala and Kosovo. In addition, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Australia and Hungary have opened defense or trade branches in Jerusalem, to pair with their Tel Aviv-based embassies. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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