Agencies (Qasioun) - Australia announced on Saturday that it now recognizes West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and will move its Tel Aviv embassy once a peace settlement is reached.
“Australia now recognizes West Jerusalem, being the seat of the Knesset and many of the institutions of government, is the capital of Israel,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australian said on Saturday.
“It is the right of every country to determine its national capital,” Mr. Morrison said in a speech to the Sydney Institute, a public affairs forum.
“We look forward to moving our embassy to West Jerusalem when practical, in support of and after final status determination,” he added.
The announcement makes Australia one of a handful of countries to recognize part of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and represents a change in the country’s long-held policy on the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
The move follows the lead of President Trump who formally acknowledged the city as Israel’s capital last year and moved the United States embassy there in May.
The possibility of Australia moving its embassy first emerged during a high-profile political campaign for a pivotal seat in a local election in October.
Critics said floating the idea to move the embassy was an attempt to pander to voters in an electorate with a large Jewish population. The Liberal Party candidate, a former ambassador to Israel, lost the election, resulting in the governing coalition losing its majority in Parliament.
But talk of a potential embassy move also angered Indonesia and Malaysia, important regional partners with Muslim-majority populations. A trade deal between Australia and Indonesia was delayed after Indonesian officials said the deal would go forward only if Australia reconsidered its position.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs issued a warning on Friday for citizens traveling to Indonesia to avoid protests at embassies and consulates in the country.
Mr. Morrison’s announcement was criticized as a “reckless and foolish action,” by Bill Shorten, the leader of the opposition Labor Party. “What he’s doing is confusing his own political interest with our national interests,” Mr. Shorten said.
Mr. Morrison said the country was still committed to a “two state solution,” and acknowledged the desire of Palestinians for a capital in East Jerusalem.
“The international community must move beyond ritual denunciations of Israel to urge a return to negotiations of a two state solution,” he said.
Australia will also establish a trade and defense office in Jerusalem to encourage a bilateral relationship between the two countries, he said.
The search has already begun in West Jerusalem for a possible site for the Australian embassy.
Source: The New York Times