Australia open to moving embassy to Jerusalem: PM

AUSTRALIA'S PRIME MINISTER SCOTT MORRISON
AUSTRALIA'S PRIME MINISTER SCOTT MORRISON

He denies being pressured by US or trying to woo Jewish voters in Sydney by-election

SYDNEY • Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said yesterday that he was "open-minded" about recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moving Australia's embassy there, following the lead of US President Donald Trump.

"Australia should be open-minded to this," Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

"We're committed to a two-state solution but, frankly, it hasn't been going that well."

The apparent change of foreign policy by Australia was welcomed by Israel but swiftly criticised by Palestinian representatives.

In Canberra, ambassadors from 13 Arab countries held a meeting, concerned that Australia's possible move to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital could damage peace prospects there, the Egyptian Ambassador to Australia, Mr Mohamed Khairat, said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Mr Morrison had telephoned to explain his shift, said on Twitter that he was "very thankful" the Australian Premier was considering the move.

"He informed me that he is considering officially recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel & moving the Australian embassy to Jerusalem. I'm very thankful to him for this," Mr Netanyahu tweeted.

Mr Khairat told Reuters: "We have agreed that we will send a letter to the Foreign Minister expressing our worries and our concern about such a statement."

"Any decision like that might damage the peace process... This will have very negative implications on the relations between Australia and not only Arab countries but many other (Islamic countries) as well," he said.

Mr Trump's decision last December to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem enraged Palestinians and upset the Arab world and Western allies.

TWO-STATE SYSTEM

We're committed to a two-state solution but, frankly, it hasn't been going that well.

AUSTRALIA'S PRIME MINISTER SCOTT MORRISON

Some critics say Mr Morrison's comments came about as he faces a crucial by-election in four days in Sydney at which his centre-right coalition runs the risk of losing its tenuous hold on power.

The by-election is in the Sydney harbourside seat of Wentworth. Census figures show 12.5 per cent of the people in Wentworth are Jewish, a significantly larger proportion than elsewhere in Australia.

The Liberal candidate contesting the by-election on Saturday, Mr Dave Sharma, is a former Australian ambassador to Israel who has floated the idea in the past.

 

Mr Morrison will have to negotiate with independent lawmakers in order to continue governing in a minority if the coalition loses Saturday's by-election.

But the Prime Minister rejected suggestions that his decision was a result of US pressure or related to the by-election.

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

"It has not come up in any discussion that I have had with the President or officials."

NEGATIVE IMPACT

This will have very negative implications on the relations between Australia and not only Arab countries but many other (Islamic countries) as well.

EGYPTIAN ENVOY TO AUSTRALIA MOHAMED KHAIRAT

Mr Morrison added that no decision had been made and he was simply being open to the suggestion.

The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper described his apparent change of heart as "unprincipled and craven".

University of Sydney political analyst Rod Tiffen said the shift in position was being driven by domestic politics. "Three days out from the Wentworth by-election, it's pretty blatant... to the extent that there is a Jewish vote there, it probably helps," Mr Tiffen said.

The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest obstacles to a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel regards all of the city, including the eastern sector that it annexed after the 1967 Middle East war, as its capital.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2018, with the headline 'Australia open to moving embassy to Jerusalem: PM'. Print Edition | Subscribe