Scott Morrison open to moving Australia's embassy in Israel to Jerusalem

Clay Curtis
October 16, 2018

Prime Minister Scott Morrison called a press conference to say he was "open-minded" to proposals to formally recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move his nation's embassy - a sharp break with the policy of successive Australian governments for decades.

Australia will consider recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moving its embassy there from Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says.

Morrison "informed me that he is considering officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel & moving the Australian embassy to Jerusalem".

Although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Morrison's initiative, the response from neighbouring Indonesia - the world's largest Muslim nation - was less welcoming. "I believe if they country proceed with the plan, its neighbouring countries in ASEAN must register a very, very strong protest against the Australian government", he warned.

He also said Australia remains committed to finding a two-state solution to Israel's conflict with the Palestinians.

Mr Morrison said he spoke to Joko Widodo overnight as part of the countries' management of the relationship.

But even if Australia ends up doing nothing on Jerusalem, the joint statement released Tuesday contains other good news for Israel.

While not a signatory to the 2015 landmark nuclear pact with Iran, Australia reversing its current support of the deal, and possibly supporting the United States sanctions on Tehran, would greatly please Israel - probably even more than a recognition of West Jerusalem as its capital.

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If Australia does indeed relocate its embassy to Jerusalem, it will become the third country to recognize the city as the capital of Israel.

Turnbull's government had explicitly distanced itself from the decision by Trump to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as "unhelpful" to the peace process.

Ambassadors from 13 Arab countries met in Canberra on Tuesday and agreed to send a letter to Australia's foreign minister expressing their concern, Egyptian ambassador to Australia Mohamed Khairat said.

Morrison is a member of the Liberal party that in June of this year saw its members vote in favor of a non-binding motion to urge the government to move its embassy.

"Foreign policy and Australia's national interest are far too important to be played with in this fashion", lawmaker Penny Wong said. He said no decision had been made and he was simply being open to the suggestion.

The joint statement that Australia's leaders issued Tuesday appears to more closely resemble the Russian declaration than it does US President Donald Trump's landmark recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital eight months later.

Israel regards all of the city, including the eastern sector that it illegally annexed after the 1967 Middle East war, as its capital while the Palestinians, with broad global backing, want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state that they hope to establish in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

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