SYDNEY • Australia's conservative Prime Minister yesterday stood by his decision to recognise West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, despite criticism from neighbouring Muslim countries.
Canberra became one of a handful of governments to follow United States President Donald Trump's lead and recognise the contested city as Israel's capital, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced last Saturday.
But a contentious embassy shift from Tel Aviv - a proposal made during a crucial Sydney by-election that critics said was timed to attract Jewish voters - will not occur until a peace settlement is achieved.
Muslim-majority Malaysia said yesterday that it "strongly opposes" the decision to recognise West Jerusalem. The announcement was "premature and a humiliation to the Palestinians and their struggle for the right to self-determination", the government said.
Said Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad: "In the eyes of Arab countries, this is not something you can accept."
Tun Dr Mahathir, who was on a visit to Thailand, said dividing Jerusalem into West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem, "will only stir more anger".
Australia's immediate neighbour, Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation, was angered by the embassy move proposal in the run-up to the by-election. Its Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mr Arrmanatha Nasir, noted last Saturday that Australia had not moved its embassy to Jerusalem, and called on all members of the United Nations to recognise a Palestinian state "based on the principle of two-state solutions".
Mr Morrison made the announcement in an address to The Sydney Institute in a move he said was aimed at advancing the stalled Middle East peace process.
A MOVE FOR PEACE
The rancid stalemate has to be broken.
AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER SCOTT MORRISON, saying the move was aimed at advancing the stalled Middle East peace process.
"The rancid stalemate has to be broken," he said in a question-and-answer session after his speech.
Israel's embassy in Canberra yesterday said the decision was the right move. "Israel views the decision of the Australian government to open its Trade and Defence Office in Jerusalem as a step in the right direction," the Israeli foreign ministry said in a statement.
Both Israel and the Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital.
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said: "The policies of this Australian administration have done nothing to advance the two-state solution."
He added in a statement: "All of Jerusalem remains a final status issue for negotiations, while East Jerusalem, under international law, is an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territory."
The Arab League's assistant secretary-general for Palestine and the Occupied Arab Territories, Mr Saeed Abu Ali, condemned Australia's decision as a break with the international community's position and one that disregards international law.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG