Mixed reaction to Prime Minister’s announcement

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking at the Sydney Institute last Saturday. Photo: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

THE Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) has called Labor’s pledge to reverse the Morrison government’s recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “hasty and ill-advised”.

Hours after Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s statement last Saturday, opposition foreign affairs spokesperson Penny Wong confirmed that in government, Labor would reverse the decision.
ECAJ president Anton Block and co-CEOs Peter Wertheim and Alex Ryvchin said in response, “Recognising that Israel’s seat of government is located in the western part of Jerusalem, which is incontestably sovereign Israeli territory, does not in any way impact upon or pre-empt the future status of the contested eastern and other parts of the city.”

Morrison said on Saturday Australia’s embassy will remain in Tel Aviv until a peace deal is reached, while a trade and defence office will open in Jerusalem in the interim.

“Being the seat of the Knesset and many of the institutions of government … West Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” he said.

“Recognising our commitment to a two-state solution, the Australian government has also resolved to acknowledge the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a future state with its capital in East Jerusalem.”

The Prime Minister also took aim at Iran’s destabilising activities in the Middle East and beyond – including its proliferation of ballistic missiles – and also slammed the United Nations for bullying Israel and for its “antisemitic agenda”.

But it was the recognition of West Jerusalem that had everyone talking this week, with much of the negativity emanating from Israel itself.

The Foreign Ministry called it “a step in the right direction”, to which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had “nothing to add” at his weekly cabinet meeting.

Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein told Israeli Army Radio it was a setback and he “expected more from a friendly country like Australia”, while close Netanyahu confidant Minister Tzachi Hanegbi called it “a mistake”.

Israel’s position is that Jerusalem “is its eternal, undivided capital”.
Morrison did not mention West Jerusalem when he first floated the idea of recognising Jerusalem and moving Australia’s embassy prior to October’s Wentworth by-election, a move some called a ploy for Jewish votes.

Analysts have interpreted the eventual announcement as a compromise, after Indonesia, with whom Australia is negotiating a free trade deal, expressed concerns.

According to The Australian, Morrison ignored the majority opinion of the panel created to advise on the issue, which rejected the compromise on the basis it did not advance Australia’s national interests.

Wong – who moved a motion at Labor’s federal conference on Tuesday calling on a Labor government to “recognise Palestine as a state” – accused Morrison of putting “his own domestic political interest before the national interest”.

“He made a decision to junk longstanding bipartisan foreign policy in a cynical attempt to win votes,” she said.

Jewish Labor Macnamara candidate Josh Burns suggested Morrison “go and tell the Israelis living in East Jerusalem (including in the Old City) that they don’t live in his version of their capital”.

But his Jewish Liberal rival Kate Ashmor said, “Thousands of Jewish residents in Macnamara welcome the Morrison government’s courageous and principled announcement.”

The announcement was supported by former Australian ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma, whom Morrison credited with the inspiration for the initial reveal in October.

Stating “it rights a historical wrong”, Sharma said, “It re-states our support for the emergence of a Palestinian state through negotiations … and it sends a message that Israel is here to stay, and that intransigence by others will not be allowed to prevent Israel from enjoying the normal attributes of any state, including the right to designate its own capital.”

ECAJ called Morrison’s announcement “a simple acknowledgement of a reality that has existed since 1950”.

“[It] sends a message to Palestinian leaders that their unilateralist approach … is rejected by reasonable people. It’s a failed strategy, and the Palestinians need to return to the negotiating table,” ECAJ said.

Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council executive director Colin Rubenstein said the announcement “shows a real commitment to progressing a two-state peace”.

“Australia has finally ended the anomaly whereby Israel is the only country in the world which does not have the right to choose its own capital,” he said.

Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler said, “Australia has made the principled decision to determine its own foreign policy, based on our own values.”

GARETH NARUNSKY