On December 15, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that Australia would recognize West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Though the country has no plans to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem just yet, a defense and trade office will be set up in the interim. Morrison also said Australia is committed to a two-state solution, and resolved that East Jerusalem serve as the capital for Palestinians once a peace deal is achieved.
Morrison is considered a staunch supporter of Israel. Assuming office in August, he has been eager to retain the strong relationship Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cultivated over the last few years. Morrison’s decision will also further encourage Israeli occupation and defiance of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The decision has produced strong reactions. The Israeli government has said it believes Australia’s decision to recognize only West Jerusalem as the capital is not enough. In a statement from the country’s Foreign Ministry, Israeli officials welcomed the decision, but “expected more.” Minister for Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hangebi further explained the country’s position in a tweet, emphasizing that there is only one Jerusalem (instead of the divided terms of “East” and “West”), and that it is the eternal capital of Israel only.
For their part, Palestinian Authority (PA) officials called Australia’s announcement irresponsible and a violation of United Nations resolutions. They have called upon other Arab and Muslim nations to apply “boycott measures,” and withdraw their ambassadors from Canberra, Australia’s capital. The Arab League (with the exception of Bahrain) has come out in support of the PA and effectively condemned Australia’s decision in a statement, calling it “irresponsible and biased.” Australia’s closest neighbors, Malaysia and Indonesia, described the decision as “premature” and a “humiliation to the Palestinians.” Home to the largest Muslim population in the world, Indonesia has even threatened to change its trade policies if Australia moves its embassy to Jerusalem.
Other critics have been vocal about Australia’s major policy shift, including the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network. The group condemned the announcement, saying it may irreparably damage Australia’s trade, security, and international relations.
Israel has long been the recipient of massive amounts of foreign aid from Western nations around the world and has enjoyed a powerful lobbying presence in Western states. In recent years, however, Israel’s policies, as well as Netanyahu himself, have come under international scrutiny, most notably from the United Nations.
Following the United States’ decision to recognize both West and East Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move its embassy to the city earlier this year, Netanyahu has been attempting to persuade other countries to follow suit. This push to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is but another tactic intended to secure Israel’s dominance over any potential peace talks with the Palestinians. Sadly, it appears to be working.