Archbishops condemn West Bank annexation

Pic: Dennis Jarvis

By Lianne Kolirin, 16 June 2020

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster have written to Israel’s ambassador to Britain to protest against Israel’s plan to annex West Bank territory next month.

In a highly unusual move, the Most Rev Justin Welby has joined forces with Cardinal Vincent Nichols, head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, to voice their concern about the proposed action after 1 July. They also shared their views in a separate letter with prime minister Boris Johnson.

Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has long campaigned to extend the country’s sovereignty into parts of the West Bank, land captured by Israel in 1967.

In January US president Donald Trump unveiled a peace plan for the Middle East that would allow Israel to annex parts of the West Bank. The rest of the territory, together with Gaza, would become an independent state.

The plan has been rejected outright by the Palestinians and has drawn international condemnation for extinguishing the peace process.

At the time the plan was revealed, the British foreign secretary Dominic Raab said: “Any such unilateral moves would be damaging to renewed efforts to restart peace negotiations, and contrary to international law.”

Those feelings were echoed last month by many church leaders in the Holy Land who signed a declaration calling for the plan to be scrapped. The 13 faith leaders said the annexation plan “raises serious and catastrophic questions about the feasibility of any peaceful agreement” in the region.

The statement read: “The Council of Patriarchs and Heads of the Holy Land Churches views such unilateral annexation plans with the utmost concern and calls upon the State of Israel to refrain from such unilateral moves, which would bring about the loss of any remaining hope for the success of the peace process.”

A statement issued by Archbishop Welby and Archbishop Nichols said their letters made clear that they “unambiguously support the fundamental right of Israel’s citizens to live in peace and safety but these prospects can only be secured through negotiation rather than annexation”.

It is essential that both Israelis and Palestinians may live without violence or the threat of violence from each other or other armed groups, they emphasised.

The Israeli Embassy did not respond to a request for comment. Downing Street said the letter was “being processed”.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “Any move to unilaterally annex territory, without an agreement negotiated by the parties, would be contrary to international law and damaging to peace efforts. The foreign secretary expressed the UK’s opposition to the unilateral annexation of territory when he spoke to the Israeli alternate prime minister Benny Gantz on 20 May and Israel’s foreign minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, on 2 June.”