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Australia quietly drops recognition of West Jerusalem as capital of Israel

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Australia has quietly dropped its recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, unwinding language adopted by Scott Morrison’s government after the US moved its own embassy from Tel Aviv.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has retained the bipartisan position that Australia “is committed to a two-state solution in which Israel and a future Palestinian state co‑exist, in peace and security, within internationally recognised borders”.

But in the past few days it has deleted two sentences from its website that were first added after then prime minister Morrison unveiled a new Australian policy four years ago.

The freshly deleted sentences said: “Consistent with this longstanding policy, in December 2018, Australia recognised West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, being the seat of the Knesset and many of the institutions of the Israeli government.

“Australia looks forward to moving its embassy to West Jerusalem when practical, in support of, and after the final status determination of, a two-state solution.”

The foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, had said in 2018 that Labor “does not support unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and in government would reverse this decision” – but the language remained on the Dfat website as recently as last week.

The Israel section of the website was updated after Guardian Australia asked the government questions about the matter.

A spokesperson for Dfat said: “The Australian government continues to consider the final status of Jerusalem as a matter to be resolved as part of any peace negotiations.”

The status of Jerusalem is one of the most sensitive issues in the long-running conflict, given that both Israelis and Palestinians claim it as their capital.

East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have been considered occupied Palestinian territory under international law since the six-day war in 1967. Israeli leaders have repeatedly said Jerusalem is the “eternal, undivided” capital of Israel.

In 2017, then US president Donald Trump directed the state department to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as he “determined that it is time to officially recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel”.

The following year, in the final week of the Wentworth byelection campaign, Morrison declared that he was “open-minded” about following the US move and promised an Australian government review.

At the time, Labor accused Morrison of playing “games with longstanding foreign policy positions five days out from a byelection”.

Australia’s spy agency warned ministers that the proposed move may “provoke protest, unrest and possibly some violence in Gaza and the West Bank”.

Later the Australian government settled on a fallback policy that did not go as far as Trump.

The December 2018 policy was to recognise West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but not to move the Australian embassy there until after a peace agreement.

Morrison also acknowledged “the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a future state with its capital in East Jerusalem”, while saying “slavish adherence to the conventional wisdom over decades” would only entrench “a rancid stalemate”.

The head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, Izzat Abdulhadi, said it was his “expectation and hope” that the new Labor government would change its policy in a number of areas.

“From our perspective, the issue of Jerusalem, East and West, is one of the final-status issues and should be resolved through negotiations and according to international law,” he said.

He said he hoped the new Australian government would proceed with “immediate recognition of the state of Palestine to adhere to ALP’s 2018 and 2021 legally binding resolution of ALP national conferences”.

In both 2018 and 2021, Labor’s national conference backed a resolution that “supports the recognition and right of Israel and Palestine to exist as two states within secure and recognised borders” and “calls on the next Labor government to recognise Palestine as a state”.

However, those resolutions did not set a specific deadline, saying only that the party expected “that this issue will be an important priority for the next Labor government”.

In June, Australia did not sign up to a US-led statement about Israel and the Palestinian territories, instead raising deep concerns about “human rights abuses and the lack of progress towards a just and enduring two-state solution”.

Australia’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Amanda Gorely, agreed with the US argument that the UN human rights council brings “disproportionate scrutiny to Israel” but she also indicated the Australian government would seek to take a balanced approach.

“Australia’s guiding principle will be advancing the cause for peace,” Gorely said in June. “Viewing any conflict from one perspective will not achieve that goal.”

Despite the recent deletion of language about West Jerusalem and the Australian embassy, Dfat’s Israel country brief still retains much of its original content.

The old and new versions both say Australia is “strongly opposed to unfair targeting of Israel in the United Nations and other multilateral institutions”.

“However, we make clear our concerns about Israeli actions that undermine the prospects of a two-state solution and continue to urge Israel and other actors to respect international law,” both versions say.

Israel’s embassy in Canberra was also contacted for comment.

Article link:
Article source: The Guardian | Daniel Hurst | 17 Oct 2022

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000

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