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Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese PA Images

Australia reverses recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli capital

Jerusalem is claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians, and most foreign governments avoid formally declaring it the capital of either state.

AUSTRALIA HAS SAID it will no longer recognise West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a policy reversal that prompted a curt rebuke from the Jewish state.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the city’s status should be decided through Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, unwinding a contentious declaration by the previous conservative government.

In 2018, Australia’s then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison followed US president Donald Trump’s lead and unilaterally recognised West Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

The move caused a domestic backlash in Australia and friction with neighbouring Indonesia – the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation – temporarily derailing a bilateral free trade deal.

“I know this has caused conflict and distress in part of the Australian community, and today the government seeks to resolve that,” Wong said.

Jerusalem is claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians, and most foreign governments avoid formally declaring it the capital of either state.

“We will not support an approach that undermines” a two-state solution, Wong said, adding: “Australia’s embassy has always been, and remains, in Tel Aviv”.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid criticised Tuesday’s move – which comes before November 1 elections.

“We can only hope that the Australian government manages other matters more seriously and professionally,” he said.

Israel annexed east Jerusalem following the 1967 Six Day War, and declared the entire city its “eternal and indivisible capital”.

Palestinians claim the eastern part as the capital of a future state.

Wong insisted that the decision did not signal any broader shift in policy or a new-found hostility towards Israel.

“Australia will always be a steadfast friend of Israel. We were amongst the first countries to formally recognise Israel,” she said.

“We will not waver in our support of Israel and the Jewish community in Australia. We are equally unwavering in our support of the Palestinian people, including humanitarian support.”

The centre-left Labor party, with Anthony Albanese as prime minister and Wong as foreign minister, came to power in May 2022 after strongly opposing the previous government’s Jerusalem policy.

Wong accused the Morrison government of making the Jerusalem decision to influence a by-election in a Sydney suburb with a sizeable Jewish community.

“You know what this was? This was a cynical play, unsuccessful, to win the seat of Wentworth and a by-election.”

Canberra’s shift was foreshadowed by the removal of language about the Israeli capital on the website of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Although Australia is not a major player in peace talks, Ran Porat, a historian and researcher at Melbourne’s Monash University, said the move was significant.

“In the Middle East in general symbolism is very much at the centre of many conflicts. Symbolism is not negligible, it’s not unimportant.”

The move could be seized on Israel’s opposition Likud, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, as evidence of the government’s failings ahead of a general election.

Lapid will be disappointed, Porat added, but the response had to walk “between the disagreement and not souring relations with Canberra”.

© AFP 2022

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