Cardinal Vincent Nichols and the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury have written joint letters to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and to Israel’s Ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, voicing opposition to any potential Israeli annexation of the West Bank.
In a statement released on Friday, the letters are quoted as stating that Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Archbishop Justin Welby “unambiguously support the fundamental right of Israel’s citizens to live in peace and safety,” but add that this must be “secured through negotiation rather than annexation.”
Last month, Israel’s new coalition government was finally established with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s long-held proposal to annex the Jordan Valley agreed upon as one of the government’s key policy platforms. Since Israel’s announcement that partial annexation of the West Bank will commence from July 1, many groups have raised concerns that unilateral annexation would leave Palestinians in annexed territories without residence rights and would violate international law, with the UN Security Council meeting later this month to discuss the developments.
The Vatican released a statement on May 20 expressing “concern about any future actions that could further compromise dialogue” between Israel and Palestine. The statement was released in response to a telephone call between the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Saeb Erekat and the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, where the PLO leader relayed his concerns about “the possibility of Israel applying its sovereignty unilaterally” in the West Bank.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued a letter on June 1 stating that “any unilateral moves toward annexation by Israel would be damaging to efforts to restart peace negotiations and contrary to international law.” The Prime Minister was responding to a cross-party letter written by Conservative MP Crispin Blunt and signed by 126 MPs, which expressed “outrage at the new Israeli Government’s declared plan to annex areas of territories it occupied in June 1967,” saying that they feared Israel would use “the cover of the Covid-19 pandemic to seek to implement this egregious plan”.
This was followed by a further open letter, signed by over forty British Jewish figures, including Simon Schama and Sir Malcolm Rifkind, which was sent to Israel’s Ambassador Mark Regev. The letter condemned the “divisive toxicity of debate” generated by the potential annexations and asked the Israeli government to reconsider its plans.
Last week, Ambassador Regev responded to the criticism. “The policy of consecutive Israeli governments has in fact always been that Israeli law must be extended to parts of the West Bank as part of any final status reality,” he said. “I know many friends of Israel here in the United Kingdom share that view.”
The recent developments follow Palestine’s rejection of US President Donald Trump’s proposed Middle East Peace Plan, which had specified increased Israeli control over parts of the West Bank.
Ambassador Regev said that he found it “regrettable but unsurprising that [President Trump’s] plan was immediately rejected outright by the Palestinian leadership, who dogmatically cling to one-sided UN and EU ‘peace plans’ that consistently ignore Israel’s vital concerns.”
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh later responded to President Trump with a counter-proposal that rejected any reduction in the sum total of Palestinian territory and proposed the establishment of a “sovereign Palestinian state, independent and demilitarized” with “minor modifications of borders where necessary”.