During the Wentworth by-election campaign, amongst growing fears that the government would lose the seat, Scott Morrison raised the possibility of moving Australia’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. After a widespread backlash at the idea, he is yet to make a decision.
The right-wing of the Liberal Party strongly supports the move. In June the party’s federal council voted in favour, following Donald Trump’s controversial decision to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in December 2017.
Julie Bishop, the foreign affairs minister at the time, remained firm that Australia would not be relocating its embassy to Jerusalem stating, “Jerusalem is a final status issue and we have maintained that position for decades”. This stance was repeated by then Treasurer Scott Morrison. It was reported that the national security committee of cabinet had also formed a consensus that the risks associated with the move outweighed any positives.
The disputed status of Jerusalem has been a critical issue in the supposed “peace process” between Israel and the Palestinians. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital has meant dismissing the idea its status is still part of negotiations.
Israel has occupied the western part of Jerusalem since 1949 following the Nakba. In 1967, during the Six Day War, Israel invaded and occupied the rest of the city and later annexed it. Palestinians in Jerusalem have lived under violent military occupation ever since. In the days following Trump’s announcement, dozens of Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces protesting the proposed move.
Australia’s Muslim neighbours, notably Indonesia and Malaysia, have voiced their displeasure at the idea. Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation and a state that is explicitly pro-Palestine, has delayed signing its free trade deal with Australia until Morrison clarifies his stance.
There have also been protests outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta in opposition to the proposed move. Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has warned that Australia moving its embassy to Jerusalem could encourage terrorism, triggering a war of words with Treasurer Josh Frydenburg and Liberal Senator James Paterson.
Morrison’s decision is due by Christmas. He is now in a bind—does he refuse the right in his own party or risk further diplomatic blowback? Either way there will be further egg on Morrison’s face.
By Ruby Wawn