Another Country Recognizes West Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital
Australia is following in the U.S.’ footsteps by announcing a plan to move their embassy to Jerusalem.
The Australian government has officially recognized the disputed city of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a move that will anger Palestine which also lays claim to the city. Canberra, however, will not relocate its embassy to the city any time soon due to the large costs of the relocation.
Australian Prime Minister and Liberal Party leader, Scott Morrison, announced the shift in the country’s foreign policy on Saturday as a balanced and measured decision.
“Australia now recognizes West Jerusalem, being the seat of the Knesset and many of the institutions of government, is the capital of Israel. We look forward to moving our embassy to West Jerusalem when practical… and after the final status determination,” Morrison said in Sydney.
Despite the embassy relocation delay, Australia will set up an office handling trade and defense in West Jerusalem.
Morrison also recognized Canberra’s commitment to a two-state solution, adding that his administration supports East Jerusalem as the capital for Palestine.
Opposition Parties Call the Move ‘Politically Motivated’
Not all Australian parties are happy with the government’s decision. Opposition parties suspect that the move was politically motivated ahead of the upcoming federal election in 2019.
But Bill Shorten, Labour Party leader, said that Australia’s decision to enact West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but postpone the relocation of its embassy, is a “humiliating backdown”.
“What I’m worried is that Mr. Morrison put his political interest ahead of our national interest,” Shorten said.
Australia’s Green Party leader, Richard Di Natale, stated the recognition delivered by Morrison is “irresponsible” as it can ruin the peace process. He added the best way to put forward the peace prospect in Israel and Palestine is to recognize a Palestine state, as The Guardian reported.
Some suspect Morrison was facing a potential loss of support from Jewish and Conservative Christian voters in the federal ballot in 2019. In the recently held House of Representatives (HOR) election for the Wentworth district in New South Wales, Morrison’s fellow Liberal Party member, Dave Sharma, lost to Kerryn Phelps, an independent.
The HOR seat for Wentworth was empty after Malcolm Turnbull was ousted from his post as Australia’s prime minister. He later resigned as a HOR member representing the region. The loss is a big blow to Morrison, who replaced Turnbull as prime minister.
Jerusalem: A Divided City
Israel won the six-day war in 1967. The Jewish state did not only defeat Arab troops but also annexed the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria.
“There are two main points of the 1967 war, including a rapid shift from fear for defeat ahead of the war to euphoria and feelings and faiths that everything is possible, and the emotional impact after occupying the Old Town,” said Menachem Klein, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University, Israel.
The victory of the Likud Party in 1977, under the leadership of Menachem Begin, helped strengthened the notion that Jerusalem was an integral part of Israel’s identity, marked by the entrance of religious-based settlers.
Israel sparked international outrage after a Knesset member (the Knesset is Israel’s legislative body) issued a law proclaiming, “A complete, united Jerusalem, is the capital of Israel” in 1980.
In response, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed a resolution declaring Israel’s proclamation of Jerusalem as their capital “a violation of international law” and declared it “null and void” and that it must be rescinded. The UNSC also called upon member states to withdraw their embassies from Jerusalem and instead move them to Tel Aviv, 22 of 24 states did.
In 1995, the U.S. Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act which required the U.S. to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Donald Trump did just that in 2018 when he moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem despite much international outrage. All the members of the UNSC, except for the U.S., passed a resolution condemning the move but the U.S. vetoed the resolution.
The status of Jerusalem has been one of the most contentious issues in modern times. It is one of the oldest cities in the world and considered holy in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The city has been captured and recaptured 44 times, destroyed twice and attacked 52 times.
Response To Australia’s Move
Head of the Palestine delegate in Canberra, Izzat Abdulhadi argued that Australia’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will trigger a faith-based war in the region.
According to him, Morrison’s decision may ruin and destroy the Middle East peace process. He called on Arab nations to be prepared to pull out their ambassadors from Australia and consider economic sanctions.
One expert called out the importance of the nuances of Australia’s move. Hikmahanto Juwana, an Indonesian international relations expert, said that Morrison took the safest path by recognizing West Jerusalem, but not the Eastern part, as Israel’s capital.
“Well, in my opinion, Australia is playing safe as the holy site for three faiths is in East Jerusalem, while the Western part is recognized by many Western countries as the entity under Israel,” Juwana told Indonesia’s Republika.
However, Juwana added, the main problem is not the location of West or East Jerusalem. The primary issue is recognizing any part of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
“…therefore they ask countries who have representatives to relocate their embassies so there is a recognition that Jerusalem, regardless of the West or the East side, is endorsed by other countries as Israel’s capital,” Juwana explained.
Last month, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said her side urged Australia and other states to support the Israel-Palestine peace process.
Indonesia is one of the most influential Muslim states and its relationship with Australia is not something Australia can gloss over, especially as a major trade deal between the two states looms.
Indonesia and Australia were supposed to sign a trade deal, but the Jerusalem issue will likely postpone the plan. It is still uncertain whether the Joko Widodo administration will cancel the deal — a deal that has taken years of negotiation for the sake of what some people are calling a ‘symbolic’ or ‘emotional’ move on Australia’s part.