Morrison stands by Jerusalem plans

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Peter Haskin

PRIME Minister Scott Morrison has issued an emphatic warning about the gulf between the Coalition government’s policies on Israel and those of the ALP.

At a briefing for multicultural media, The AJN asked the PM about the possibility of accelerating plans to move Australia’s embassy to West Jerusalem, rather than wait for an elusive comprehensive peace settlement, which is the government’s position as outlined by Morrison late last year.

The PM’s answer was a firm “no” – there would be no unilateral move of the embassy outside of a final-status deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

“Our policy was set up very clearly towards the end of last year. We considered the matter thoroughly and we have recognised West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. We think this is a very significant statement. It is the most forward-leaning position on the nation of Israel that any Australian government has ever adopted.

“I know that the Opposition has said that they would reverse that decision … I find that very disappointing,” he said.

However, while there will be no short-term embassy shift, Morrison said Australia is planning to move trade and defence-related offices to West Jerusalem, a decision “that makes, just frankly, an enormous amount of sense, and practically a lot of these things have been occurring formally that way anyway for some period of time, but we will be establishing that presence, and there is a provision to undertake that over the next 12 months”.

Morrison also reminded voters that his government has taken a very strong stance against anti-Israel motions in the UN General Assembly. “There are far too many of these motions, and Australia stands I think almost, if not without peer, when it comes down to our support of Israel,” he told The AJN.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten last year criticised Morrison’s policy shift on the embassy as a “rookie mistake by an L-plate prime minister” and shadow foreign affairs minister Penny Wong had tweeted that the ALP does not “support unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and in government would reverse this decision”.

And in December last year, Labor’s national conference gave a future ALP cabinet the go-ahead to unilaterally recognise a Palestinian state, further separating its policies on Israel from those of the Coalition.

PETER KOHN