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Canberra backtracks on Jerusalem

Australia has officially rescinded a decision of the previous government to recognize west Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

By Erin Viner

The unexpected reversal was announced by Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong, who said the decision was made by the administration of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese yesterday.

Previous Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared Canberra’s recognition of the western side of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2018. Morrison’s Liberal-led coalition lost a national election in May, returning a Labor government to power for the first time in nine years.

“Today the government has reaffirmed Australia’s previous and long-standing position that Jerusalem is a final status issue” to be “resolved as part of any peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian peoples,” Minister Wong declared at a press conference, emphasizing that Australia “remains committed to a Two-State Solution in which Israel and a future Palestinian state can coexist in peace and security within internationally recognized borders” and that the new leadership “will not support an approach that undermines this prospect.”

Canberra’s top diplomat went on to say, “I regret that Mr. Morrison’s decision to play politics resulted in Australia’s shifting position, and the distress these shifts have caused to many people in the Australian community who care deeply about this issue,” adding that the move “put Australia out of step with the majority of the international community.”

Muslim-majority neighbors Indonesia and Malaysia were particularly incensed by the 2018 decision. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad warned Morrison that relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem would risk a rise of terror attacks against Australia.

The United StatesGuatemalaHonduras and Kosovo have opened embassies in Jerusalem, while Equatorial Guinea, Malawi and Suriname have also pledged to do so and the United Kingdom is currently considering the matter. Hungary, the Czech Republic and Colombia have also opened diplomatic or trade offices in the city.

It should also be noted that under former Prime Minister Morrison, Australia joined Israel, the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada and Japan in officially designating the Islamist Hamas in its entirety as a terrorist organization; while joining  17 other countries to brand the Iran-backed Hezbollah organization as the same.

Despite revocation of its historic stance on Jerusalem, Wong maintained that “Australia will always be a steadfast friend of Israel.”

Pointing out that Australia was “amongst the first countries to formally recognize Israel under Labor Prime Minister Ben Chifley,” the Foreign Minister vowed that her country will “not waiver in our support of both Israel and the Jewish community in Australia,” while also underscoring that, “We are equally unwavering in our support of the Palestinian people, including the provision of humanitarian support.”

Britain’s The Guardian daily newspaper was the first to report a change to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website that removed listing of west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital yesterday. In an apparent effort at damage control, Wong had earlier told reporters the department website had been updated “ahead of government processes.”

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid was quick to express dismay over the move – as well as its handling.

“In light of the way in which this decision was made in Australia, as a hasty response to an incorrect report in the media, we can only hope that the Australian government manages other matters more seriously and professionally,” he said in an official statement.

“Jerusalem is the eternal and united capital of Israel and nothing will ever change that,” he underscored.

“Israel expresses its deep disappointment in the face of the Australian government’s decision which emanated from short-sighted political considerations,” said the Israeli Foreign Ministry, while announcing that Australia’s Ambassador to Israel has been summoned to address the matter.

“Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years and will continue to be the State of Israel’s eternal and united capital, regardless of this-or-that decision,” the Foreign Ministry emphasized.

Morrison’s decision had come one year after former United States President Donald Trump had recognized Jerusalem as the capital, without elaborating on the boundaries of the city, which was reunified after Israel liberated the eastern side from Jordan during the 1967 Six Day War.

The Palestinians, who demand east Jerusalem – the location of major Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites – as the capital of a future state; had ostracized the Trump administration over the historical move.

Assistant Palestinian Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Ahmed al-Deek praised Australia’s turnaround for “correcting the wrong decision” by the previous government that saw Jerusalem as the capital of what he termed “the state of the occupation” in violation of international law.