Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said he’s “open” to the idea of moving Australia’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He described the move—which would fly in the face of broad international consensus, and effectively recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital—as a “sensible” proposal, The Guardian reported. After the US, Australia would be the first country to action this controversial relocation.
A quick primer here: as it stands, Jerusalem’s international status is one of fierce dispute. Both Israelis and Palestinians share a claim to it as their holy city as part of a “two-state solution”. The majority of the United Nations does not accept that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, despite the Israelis claiming it as their own “complete and unified” city after occupying parts of Eastern Jerusalem—which Palestinians view as their territory—in 1967. Instead, the UN has declared Jerusalem’s status to be one of “corpus separatum”: that is, an international city that is administered by the UN itself. International consensus is generally that Jerusalem’s status should be settled in a peace deal between Israel and Palestine.
Controversially, the United States announced in December of last year that it would officially recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and make plans to move its embassy there. Fierce protests broke out in Gaza as a result, and at least 58 Palestinians were killed. A number of countries, including Britain, France, Italy, and Germany, condemned the US's decision and declared it a mistake. Now Morrison has suggested that he’s considering following in step with the Trump administration.
“The orthodoxy that’s driven this debate which says issues like considering the question of the capital are taboo. I think we have to challenge that,” Morrison said. “We’re committed to a two-state solution, but frankly, it hasn’t been going that well. Not a lot of progress has been made. And you don’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results.”
Critics have attributed Morrison’s recently adopted stance to the upcoming local byelection in the Sydney electorate of Wentworth, set to take place this weekend. It’s been suggested that the prime minister is hoping to appeal to the large Jewish community within the electorate.
Others, meanwhile, have pressed Morrison on whether his position is influenced by his religious views. Many right-wing Christians and evangelicals see the idea of Jerusalem being the capital of Israel as aligning with biblical prophecy regarding the second coming of Jesus and the Rapture. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for one, has attempted to appeal to certain religious devotees for this reason.
“My faith and religion has nothing to do with this decision,” Morrison insisted.
Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted this morning to confirm that he’d discussed the matter with Morrison.
“I spoke today with [Scott Morrison],” he wrote. “He informed me that he is considering officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel & moving the Australian embassy to Jerusalem. I’m very thankful to him for this. We will continue to strengthen ties between [Australia and Israel].”