Senior Catholic bishops have condemned the United Kingdom government’s announcement that it is reviewing the possibility of moving its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, and the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, both issued statements in recent days calling on Prime Minister Liz Truss to abandon the policy review.
“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,” said Cardinal Nichols in a public statement Oct. 6.
Truss, who assumed office in September, previously signaled her openness to reviewing the embassy’s location during her campaign for the leadership of the governing Conservative Party during the summer.
The UK prime minister apparently confirmed the policy review in a meeting with her Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid in a meeting during the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 22, after which Lapid thanked her publicly for “positively considering the move.”
Nichols subsequently said that he had written to Truss, voicing “profound concern” over the potential move.
Saying he cannot see any valid reason for such a move, the cardinal asked Truss to reconsider, and to instead invest in pursuing a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which Jerusalem has a secured special status.
“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 UN resolutions,” Nichols said. “The city must be shared as a common patrimony, never becoming an exclusive monopoly of any party.”
In an October 10 statement, the Council of the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem also voiced “grave concern” over Truss’ call for a review of the embassy’s placement.
The council, which includes Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, said the move would send the wrong message to the world.
“As a city holy to the three Abrahamic Faiths representing more than half the world’s population, Jerusalem has long been recognized by the International Community, including the United Kingdom, as having a special status (Corpus Separatum), one aimed at safeguarding the freedom of religion, the sacred character of Jerusalem as a Holy City, and the respect for, and freedom of access to, its holy places,” the council said.
“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.”
Moving the UK embassy to Jerusalem would undermine efforts for peace, religious harmony, and political negotiations aimed at a two-state solution, the religious leaders said.
“Indeed, the 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.”
They called on the prime minister to focus diplomatic efforts on resuming negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, in pursuit of lasting peace.
Under the leadership of President Donald Trump, the United States in 2018 moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The move was condemned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as by Pope Francis, who at the time issued “a heartfelt appeal to ensure that everyone is committed to respecting the status quo of the city, in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations.”
“Jerusalem is a unique city, sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, where the Holy Places for the respective religions are venerated, and it has a special vocation to peace,” said the pope when the decision to move the U.S. embassy was announced.
“I pray to the Lord that such identity be preserved and strengthened for the benefit of the Holy Land, the Middle East and the entire world, and that wisdom and prudence prevail, to avoid adding new elements of tension in a world already shaken and scarred by many cruel conflicts.”