UK archbishop ‘concerned’ over embassy move to Jerusalem

British Prime Minister Liz Truss has told her Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid she is weighing the possible relocation from Tel Aviv.

British Prime Minister Liz Truss and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid hold a bilateral meeting as they attend the 77th U.N. General Assembly, in New York, U.S., September 21, 2022
UK Prime Minister Liz Truss and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid met last month at the UN General Assembly in New York [File: Toby Melville/Pool/Reuters]

The archbishop of Canterbury has expressed reservations about a potential move of the British embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, media outlet Jewish News reported.

UK Prime Minister Liz Truss told her Israeli counterpart, Yair Lapid, that she is weighing the relocation when they met last month at the United Nations in New York. Such a decision would follow the same move by former US President Donald Trump in 2018.

Truss recently described herself as a “huge Zionist” and a “huge supporter of Israel”.

“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,” a spokesperson for Archbishop Justin Welby said in a statement.

“He is in touch with Christian leaders in the Holy Land and continues to pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” it said.

Israeli police vans are seen parked in front of the British embassy
Israeli police vans are seen parked in front of the British embassy in Tel Aviv on August 31, 2006 [File: Gil Cohen Magen/Reuters]

The statement from Welby came a day after Cardinal Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster, also called on Truss to decide against moving the embassy to Jerusalem.

“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,” he posted on Twitter.

“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,” he said.

Talk of moving the embassy was also condemned by the Arab League.

“I reiterate our rejection and condemnation of any unilateral decisions that might breach the legal or the historical status of the holy city of Jerusalem or to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which is the occupying power, according to international law,” Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in a video address last week.

“I call upon the British government to abide by the two-state solution and refrain from taking any illegal action that could compromise this formula as a basis for the final settlement,” he said.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh expressed his own concern last week.

“Any change in the status quo in Jerusalem would undermine the two-state solution and will be considered a tacit recognition of the city’s annexation to Israel, which will encourage the occupying state,” Shtayyeh said.

The UK has had its Israel embassy in Tel Aviv for decades despite Israel designating Jerusalem as its capital.

US embassy move

Trump provoked controversy by announcing he would relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem in 2017 and officially did so a year later. The move infuriated Palestinians and spurred international condemnation.

Previous American presidents and the leaders of nearly every other country have refrained from opening embassies in Jerusalem until the city’s final status is resolved through Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Palestinian leaders see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

The Trump administration also closed the US consulate in Jerusalem, an office that for years had served as the de facto embassy to the Palestinians.

The current secretary of state, Antony Blinken, has pledged to reopen it, a move Israel said would challenge its sovereignty over Jerusalem.

The US, Kosovo, Honduras and Guatemala are the only governments with embassies in Jerusalem.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies