Morrison’s imperfect but praiseworthy Jerusalem move

Noa Bloch.

ON the occasion of Israel’s 70th birthday, Gil Troy called on the international Zionist community to reclaim Zionism, even if it “doesn’t poll well”.

In his article, Troy explains that Zionism is one of many important issues which should be championed, despite apparent popular dissent.

If history was dictated by polling, there would have been no American Revolution and no abolition of slavery. Troy challenges us to resist those who oppose Israel from dictating the political agenda and taking a stand, where we know it to be guided by moral clarity.

Today’s Australian Jewish community faces a similar opportunity. Our community should be proud that our Prime Minister has exercised moral clarity, even if it is imperfect and may not “poll well”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently announced that his government would officially recognise West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and begin the process of identifying a suitable site for the Australian embassy there.

Although the overwhelming response from the Australian Jewish community has been positive, others have been lukewarm. The Israeli Foreign Ministry and US administration described the announcement as a “step in the right direction”, Benjamin Netanyahu has remained uncharacteristically silent and Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel’s Minister for Regional Cooperation, went so far as to call it a “mistake”.

Since 1967, the whole city of Jerusalem has been the sovereign territory of Israel. It is for this reason that members of the conservative Likud party did not welcome the announcement which appeared to divide Jerusalem.

However, supporting the Prime Minister’s announcement does not derogate from Israel’s territorial claim over the whole city. The announcement may not be perfect but should nonetheless be welcomed.

Having watched these events play out from Israel, I believe there are two reasons we should support the recent announcement.

First, the announcement does its best to strike a balance between Israel’s sovereignty and the Palestinians’ desires for self-determination. The Australian government remains committed to a two-state solution. Having discussed the matter with many Israelis, I believe this to also be the general consensus on the ground.

Although the average Israeli is cynical about the stalled peace process, they are sympathetic to the desires of individual Palestinians to establish their own nation state which could include part of East Jerusalem as the capital.

What the Prime Minister has done is seek to uphold this reality. While affirming Israel’s right to choose its own capital, the government has affirmed its commitment to the possibility of a Palestinian state, provided it is part of a negotiated outcome.

Secondly and most importantly, the announcement does not prejudge the status of East Jerusalem nor unilaterally recognise a Palestinian state. Although the Prime Minister limited his recognition to West Jerusalem, he did not conclude that part or all of East Jerusalem would necessarily be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

He acknowledged the “aspirations of the Palestinian people” but included an important caveat: that the final status of the whole city of Jerusalem can only be achieved through negotiations between the two parties. As the Palestinian Authority is yet to return to the negotiating table in good faith, there is still plenty of water to flow under the bridge.

Although some may be dissatisfied, it is important for our community to reflect on the enormity of this announcement. A sitting Prime Minister has officially recognised the historic connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem, has called out the UN for its “antisemitic agenda” and flagged the possibility of imposing autonomous sanctions on Iran, all while trying to respect the civilian populations of both sides of the conflict.

And most importantly, even if the announcement is imperfect and doesn’t poll well, in the words of Gil Troy, “if we don’t stand up for ourselves, who are we?”

NOA BLOCH is public affairs chair of the Zionist Federation of Australia.