Australia has boldly moved to recognise West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It, however, keeps its embassy in Tel Aviv pending a peaceful resolution between Palestine and Israel.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed the news Saturday, saying: ‘Australia now recognises West Jerusalem – being the seat of the Knesset and many of the institutions of government – as the capital of Israel,” adding: “We look forward to moving our embassy to West Jerusalem when practical, in support of and after final status of determination.’
Yet Morrison stopped short of recognising East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, saying only: ‘Recognising our commitment to a two-state solution, the Australian government is also resolved to acknowledge the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a future state with its capital in East Jerusalem.’
The move will likely be interpreted as a watered-down version of what was previously promised by the Australian government after Morrison vowed to follow the US’ lead and recognise the whole city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. According to local newspaper the Australian, the country’s opposition leader Bill Shorten slammed the decision not to move the embassy as a ‘humiliating back-down from a rushed by-election announcement’.
Other Australian opposition politicians joined Shorten in his condemnation, accusing Morrison – who could face elections next year – of acting in self-interest. Australia’s Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Penny Wong, labelled the announcement ‘nothing more than a face-saving exercise,’ according to Al Jazeera.
The decision is also likely to be received with disappointment by both Israel and Palestine, with both parties rejecting the other’s claim to Jerusalem as their capital. The division of Jerusalem is not formally recognised under international law, adhering instead to UN Resolution 181 – which declared the city a corpus separatum – and the terms of the Oslo Accords which left the status of Jerusalem to be resolved in ‘final status’ negotiations.
Reacting to Australia’s announcement, Secretary General of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Saeb Erekat, said in a statement:
From the beginning, we’ve perceived the Australian government’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as one wherein petty domestic politics steer irresponsible policies that contradict world peace and security. In fact, the reference to West Jerusalem in their announcement reflects Australia’s inability to go ahead as was previously announced.
‘All of Jerusalem remains a final status issue for negotiations, while East Jerusalem, under international law, is an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territory,’ Erekat added.
Israel has yet to issue a statement on the decision.
Australia’s intent to relocate its embassy first came into the public domain in October, with Morrison saying that he was ‘open-minded’ about the prospect. ‘No decision has been made regarding the recognition of a capital or the movement of an embassy […] but at the same time, what we are simply doing is being open to that suggestion,’ he explained.
This prompted a furious backlash from Malaysia and Indonesia, two countries that have historically been supportive of the Palestinian cause.
This week, speculation that Australia would go ahead with its decision was reignited, with the government meeting on Tuesday to discuss its options. However, despite expectations that an announcement would be made on Wednesday, Australia instead said a decision was ‘still pending’.
Since the US recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017 and relocated the embassy in May, only Guatemala and Paraguay have followed suit. However, within months of relocating its mission, Paraguay reversed the decision and moved the embassy back to Tel Aviv, citing a desire to support ‘broad, lasting and just peace’ among Israelis and Palestinians.