An English cardinal and the Archbishop of Canterbury have expressed their joint opposition to the potential annexation of West Bank territory.
A statement released June 12 by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury said that Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Archbishop Justin Welby had written letters objecting “to any move by the Government of Israel to annex West Bank territory” after July 1.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last Sunday that he intends to annex all West Bank settlements July 1, the earliest date allowed under a deal agreed by the country’s new ruling coalition.
According to the Times of Israel, this would mean that the government would extend Israeli sovereignty to around 3% of West Bank territory, comprising 132 settlements that are home to an estimated 450,000 Israelis.
Nichols and Welby addressed the letters to Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Israel’s ambassador to the U.K., Mark Regev.
The statement said that the two leaders emphasized 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 added that they argued it was essential “that both Israelis and Palestinians may live without violence or the threat of violence from each other or other armed groups.”
The intervention by Nichols, the president of the English and Welsh bishops’ conference, and Welby, the leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, follows the publication May 7 of a letter from Catholic bishops, Orthodox patriarchs, and Protestant leaders in the Holy Land. The letter said that the Israeli government’s annexation plans “would bring about the loss of any remaining hope for the success of the peace process.”
Also in May, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s chief negotiator expressed concern about the potential annexation in a phone call to the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States.
Saeb Erekat, the PLO leader who negotiated the Oslo Accords, called Archbishop Paul Gallagher to say that “the possibility of Israel applying its sovereignty unilaterally” in the Palestinian territories would be “further jeopardizing” to the peace process.
In a statement issued May 20 following the call, the Holy See reaffirmed its support of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, and respect for the borders internationally recognized before 1967.
“The Holy See is following the situation closely, and expresses concern about any future actions that could further compromise dialogue,” the Vatican stated.
The Holy See expressed hope that the Israelis and Palestinians will be able to directly negotiate an agreement with the help of the International Community that will lead to peace -- “so that peace may finally reign in the Holy Land, so beloved by Jews and Christians and Muslims.”