Emulating the pragmatic example set by Russia last year, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the right decision by announcing that Australia would move its embassy in Tel Aviv to West Jerusalem one day.
“Australia now recognizes West Jerusalem, being the seat of the Knesset and many of the institutions of government, is the capital of Israel,” he said on December 15. “It is the right of every country to determine its national capital. We look forward to moving our embassy to West Jerusalem when practical, in support of and after final status determination.”
Last April, in a bold and unexpected maneuver, Russia became the world’s first country to recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. As the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement, “We reaffirm our commitment to the United Nations-approved principles for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement, which include the status of East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state. At the same time, we must state that in this context we view West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
By making this important announcement, Russia drew a line in the sand, throwing its weight behind a two-state solution, the only realistic method of resolving Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians by means of diplomacy.
Within the internationally accepted framework of a two-state solution, the Palestinians are logically entitled to East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, Israel’s fierce objections notwithstanding. The Palestinians are as much attached to Jerusalem as Israel, and should not be denied the opportunity, when it arises, to establish their capital in the eastern half of the city.
Israel expected Australia to move its embassy to Jerusalem, in line with its claim on the entire city and in accordance with U.S. President Donald Trump’s formula, as enunciated last December. But Australia disappointed the Israeli government by confining its announcement to West Jerusalem rather than to all of Jerusalem. In doing so, Australia reiterated its commitment to a two-state solution and acknowledged the Palestinian desire for their capital to be in East Jerusalem.
To sweeten the bitter pill, Australia disclosed it would open trade and defence offices in Jerusalem to enhance its relations with Israel.
Australia is not the only country that has had second thoughts about transferring its embassy to Jerusalem. Earlier this year, Guatemala and Paraguay moved their embassies there, but subsequently, Paraguay went back to the status quo ante and transferred its embassy back to Tel Aviv.
The Czech Republic had indicated it would move its embassy to Jerusalem, but instead it opened Czech House, a cultural and trade facility, in the city.
Ultimately, Jerusalem will be a final status issue for negotiations should Israel and the Palestinians resume peace talks, which were broken off four years ago. But as the foreign minister of Bahrain, Khalid bin Ahmed al Khalifa, noted on December 15, Australia’s position on Jerusalem does not negate the legitimate demand of the Palestinians to build their future capital in East Jerusalem. Nor, as he correctly added, does it contradict the 2002 Arab peace proposal, which Israel has rejected.
In recognizing West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Australia, like Russia, acted realistically. Israel’s right-wing government, blithely disregarding legitimate Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem, acts as if it is the sole claimant to the city.
This, of course, is a fallacy. At the end of the day, Jerusalem should be shared by Jews, Muslims and Christians alike. Australia’s recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital embedded that idea into its Middle East policy.
It was a wise and sensible decision that other countries may wish to follow.