Australia warns citizens on travelling in Indonesia ahead of expected Jerusalem move

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expected to announce that his government will follow US President Donald Trump's lead and recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expected to announce that his government will follow US President Donald Trump's lead and recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia on Friday (Dec 14) warned citizens to take care while travelling in neighbouring Muslim-majority Indonesia, ahead of an expected but contentious move by Canberra to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expected to announce - as soon as Saturday - that his government will follow United States President Donald Trump's lead and recognise the contested city as Israel's capital.

Scores of Australians preparing to jet off to Bali and other tropical island destinations for upcoming summer holidays should "exercise a high degree of caution", the Department of Foreign Affairs warned.

Officials in Canberra told AFP they expected the announcement to come on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, but cautioned that events could yet alter those plans.

Both Israel and the Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital. Critics say declaring Jerusalem the capital of either inflames tensions and prejudges the outcome of final status peace talks.

Mr Trump's decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv in May prompted tens of thousands of Palestinians to approach the heavily-protected Israeli border fence amid often violent demonstrations.

At least 62 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire on the day of the US embassy move.

 
 
 

Mr Morrison is expected to stop short of actually shifting Australia's diplomatic corps to the Holy City, amid fears about the cost and security implications.

But recognising Jerusalem would help the embattled Australian PM - who faces the prospect of an election drubbing next year - with Jewish and conservative Christian voters and win him friends in the White House.

His supporters argue Israel has the right to choose its own capital, and peace talks are dead in the water, so there is no peace to prejudge.

But the move still risks heightening unrest, not least in Australia's immediate neighbour and the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Jakarta protests

Indonesia's government, facing domestic pressure at home, reacted angrily earlier this year when Mr Morrison floated the idea of both recognising Jerusalem and moving the Australian embassy there.

The issue has put the conclusion of a bilateral trade agreement on hold.

In the meantime, Australia's foreign ministry has moved to prepare the ground.

"Demonstrations have been held in recent weeks around the Australian Embassy in Jakarta and the Australian Consulate-General in Surabaya," it warned in a public notice on Friday.

"Protests may continue at the Embassy in Jakarta or at any of Australia's Consulates-General in Surabaya, Bali and Makassar," the Department of Foreign Affairs said. "Exercise a high degree of caution."

Tensions are currently running high between Israel and the Palestinians.

At least 235 Palestinians and two Israelis have died during violence in Gaza since March, mostly in border clashes.

On Thursday, the Israeli army launched raids into the Palestinian city of Ramallah after a Palestinian shot dead two Israeli soldiers at a bus stop in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to "legalise" thousands of settlements - homes considered unlawfully built even by Israel.

In total, six people were killed in the most violent 24 hours to hit the West Bank and Jerusalem in months.