Church leaders in Jerusalem have joined the mounting criticism of the British government’s review of the location of its embassy to Israel.
The Council of Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem expressed “grave concern” at the review, which could see the embassy moved to the city from Tel Aviv. Such a move, they said, would be a “counterproductive endeavour” and “a further impediment to advancing the already moribund peace process”.
In a statement issued on 10 October, they said that the Corpus Separatum, the special status of Jerusalem recognised by the international community, was essential to guarding religious freedom and access to the holy places in the city.
“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 said.
It continued: “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.”
This follows repeated indications from the prime minister, Liz Truss, that her government would consider moving the embassy to Jerusalem, most recently in a letter published in the journal of the Conservative Friends of Israel.
She wrote: “I understand the importance and sensitivity of the location of the British embassy in Israel and I am committed to a review to ensure we are operating on the strongest footing with Israel.”
The Church leaders warned that this would “seriously undermine” political negotiations in the region.
“Indeed,” they said, “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.
“We cannot believe that this is the message the British government wishes to send to the world.”
The council includes the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, and the heads of the Greek Melkite, Maronite, Syriac and Armenian Catholic Churches in the city, which are in full communion with the Holy See. The Orthodox patriarchs and the heads of the city’s episcopal and evangelical churches are also on the council.
Their intervention follows criticism of the prime minister’s proposals from the Archbishop of Westminster. Cardinal Vincent Nichols wrote to Liz Truss on 6 October to express his “profound concern”, and said that he saw “no valid reason” to consider the move.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was “concerned about the potential impact of moving the British embassy” and “continues to pray for the peace of Jerusalem”, a spokesperson told Jewish News on 7 October.