Australia considers following U.S. on Jerusalem embassy

Lior Mizrahi  Getty ImagesJerusalem

Lior Mizrahi Getty ImagesJerusalem

Palestinians, Arab states and Malaysia have criticized Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's announcement that he would consider the possibility of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving his country's embassy to it, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the step, which he described as "brave".

His suggestion of moving the embassy to Jerusalem reflects solidarity with Israel's assertion that Jerusalem should be recognised as Israel's capital city, a position that US President Donald Trump tried (and failed) to convince the United Nations to support.

Morrison, Australia's new prime minister, said on Tuesday he was "open" to following the USA, which 10 months ago announced it was moving its embassy to Jerusalem.

"Minister Payne emphasised that there had been no change to Australia's commitment to the Middle East peace process and to a durable and resilient two-state solution that allowed Israel and a future Palestinian state to exist side by side, within internationally recognised borders", he said.

Instead, he said the move was proposed by Dave Sharma, a former Australian ambassador to Israel who is competing in an upcoming by-election seeking a seat in parliament for Morrison's conservative Liberal Party.

He said, "No decision has been made in regarding the recognition of the capital or the movement of an embassy", but that Australia's "government is open-minded about this".

Should it make the move, Australia would be joining the US, Paraguay, Honduras and Guatemala - although the new president of Paraguay has already opted to move his country's embassy back to Tel Aviv.

Meanwhile, Indonesia, which is a strong supporter of a Palestinian state, raised concerns which could derail the ongoing trade deal with Australia.

"We will continue to work closely and cooperatively with our allies and our partners all around the world on these issues", Morrison said.

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West Jerusalem, where the Knesset and the other main organs of the Israeli government are located, has been sovereign Israeli territory since 1948.

Media reports have suggested that the possible shift in Canberra's foreign policy is related to the October 20 by-election in Wentworth, which has a Jewish community of about 12.5 percent.

A picture taken on 14 May 2018, shows a general view of the United States Embassy in Jerusalem.

"Australia, by doing so, is risking trade and business relations with the rest of the world, particularly the Arab world and Muslim countries", he said at a joint news conference with Indonesia's foreign minister.

As to Morrison's claim that by joining Washington in a move to Jerusalem this would be "consistent" with pursuing a two-state solution, he does not explain how, or why, this might be the case. The move ruptured generations of worldwide consensus that Jerusalem's status should be settled as part of a two-state deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

The opposition center-left Labor Party said the announcement was a desperate attempt to win the by-election in the Wentworth electorate.

Australia will also review its support for the Iran nuclear agreement due to "potentially destabilizing behavior in the Middle East when it comes to the activities of Iran", Morrison said Tuesday.

"I have made this decision without any reference to the United States".

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