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Catholic leader warns Truss against potential UK Jerusalem embassy move

Archbishop of Westminster cautions new prime minister that such a move would undermine chances of a two-state solution and harm Britain’s standing in international community

Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales Vincent Gerard Nichols poses in front the St. Peter's Basilica during a reception for the Cardinal Newman Canonization at Pontifical Urban College, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Vatican City, Vatican. (Franco Origlia/pool photo via AP)
Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales Vincent Gerard Nichols poses in front the St. Peter's Basilica during a reception for the Cardinal Newman Canonization at Pontifical Urban College, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Vatican City, Vatican. (Franco Origlia/pool photo via AP)

The most senior Catholic leader in England has written to new UK Prime Minister Liz Truss to urge her not to move the country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, said on Twitter Thursday that “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.”

Conservative Party officials have indicated on multiple occasions that they would consider moving the embassy to Jerusalem, most recently at the Conservative Friends of Israel conference in Birmingham on Sunday.

At a reception organized by Conservative Friends of Israel at the conference on Sunday, Truss said she is a “huge Zionist and huge supporter of Israel” and pledged she would “take the UK-Israel relationship from strength to strength.”

The Conservative Party chairman Jake Berry promised to support Israel “in its fight to ensure that it remains safe and that the capital in Jerusalem is the home to our new Embassy.”

But Cardinal Nichols reiterated the Church’s belief the holy city should be international, and not held by either side.

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

“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,” Nichols said.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh on Monday voiced concern about the potential move.

Speaking ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting in Ramallah, Shtayyeh warned that any embassy move would only “encourage” the “occupying power,” and “undermine” the potential for a two-state solution, according to a statement carried by the PA’s official Wafa news agency.

Shtayyeh said that moving the embassy would violate international law and cited Britain’s role in Israel’s eventual establishment through the Balfour Declaration, which Shtayyeh charged is still responsible for the Palestinians’ plight.

The Balfour Declaration, issued in 1917 by the then-foreign secretary Arthur James Balfour, expressed British support for “a national home for the Jewish people” and is seen as a precursor to Israel’s creation in 1948.

The declaration is viewed by Israelis as one of the most consequential events of the Jewish state’s establishment. Many Palestinians share that view, though with far less positivity.

Last week, the Guardian reported that the ambassadors of all Arab states sent a joint letter to Truss warning against moving the British embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The letter was sent in September, just before Truss traveled to New York, where she spoke before the United Nations General Assembly and also met with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, whom she informed that her office would be engaging in a review of the embassy’s current location.

Signatories of the letter included the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, who signed the Abraham Accords with Israel in 2020, along with Morocco, which normalized ties with Israel shortly thereafter.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid, right, meets with UK Prime Minister Liz Truss, left, in New York City, September 21, 2022. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Similar objections have been raised by the UK’s European allies, according to the report.

Israel views Jerusalem as its undivided capital, while most of the international community does not recognize it as such and deems the final borders of the city as dependent on peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Only the US, Guatemala, Kosovo and Honduras have opened embassies in Jerusalem. Other countries, including Hungary, the Czech Republic, Serbia and Australia, have official trade or defense branches in Jerusalem.

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