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Jerusalem churches on edge over possible UK embassy move to capital

Patriarchs and heads of churches fear acceptance of Israel’s ‘military occupation’ and ‘unilateral annexation’ of East Jerusalem if London shifts location of its mission

Exterior of the Christ Church in Jerusalem's Old City, June 2022. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
Exterior of the Christ Church in Jerusalem's Old City, June 2022. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Jerusalem church leaders on Monday expressed their “grave concern” about Britain potentially moving their embassy in Israel to the contested and sacred city.

Last month, British Prime Minister Liz Truss told her Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid “about her review of the current location of the British embassy in Israel,” according to her office.

The announcement raised the prospect of London following in Washington’s steps under former US president Donald Trump, who in 2018 relocated the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The move broke with decades of international consensus, as governments have refused to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of either an Israeli or Palestinian state before a lasting peace accord is reached.

On Monday, Jerusalem church heads warned that moving the British embassy “would severely undermine this key principle… and the political negotiations that it seeks to advance.”

The Council of the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem represents all denominations in the city, which is home to the holiest site in Christianity.

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

Jerusalem’s Old City also hosts the most sacred site in Judaism and the third-holiest site in Islam.

“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,” said the church heads.

Britain’s review, they added, implied that there was no need for peace talks, and that “the continuing military occupation of those territories and the unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem are both acceptable.”

Israel captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank — the site of numerous biblical tales including the birth of Jesus — during the 1967 Six-Day War.

Noting that Christians have lived in the territory “under many different empires and governments” for some 2,000 years, they pressed the British government to “redouble their diplomatic efforts” towards an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Their intervention from Jerusalem follows similar statements by church leaders in Britain.

A spokesperson for the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the senior bishop of the Anglican Church, last week told the UK website Jewish News he was “concerned about the potential impact of moving the British embassy” to Jerusalem.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the country’s most senior Catholic cleric, said on Thursday that relocating the embassy would “be seriously damaging to any possibility of lasting peace in the region.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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