Australian PM to announce he is 'open' to moving embassy to Jerusalem

PM says Dave Sharma, ex-Aussie envoy and candidate in key by-election, swayed him on issue.

The new Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison attends a news conference in Canberra, Australia August 24, 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS/DAVID GRAY/FILE PHOTO)
The new Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison attends a news conference in Canberra, Australia August 24, 2018
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison is open to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to moving its embassy to the capital, Australian media reported on Monday.
Morrison is scheduled to make the announcement on Tuesday when he is to deliver a foreign policy statement explaining why Australia will vote “no” to recognizing the PA as the chair of an important bloc of nations called the G77 in the UN, The Australian reported.
Morrison is also expected to adopt a much tougher position against Iran, and announce a review whether Australia should follow the US and abandon the Iranian nuclear deal.
Morrison spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about his intentions during a Monday phone call.
Netanyahu thanked Morrison, and the two also discussed ways to strengthen the bilateral relationship.
Morrison credited former Australian ambassador Dave Sharma for influencing his opinion on the embassy move.
“The previous discussion was premised on the point that you couldn’t pursue this issue without risking or without prejudicing the final status. Now Dave is arguing the opposite to that and he’s saying that is possible,” The Sydney Morning Herald quoted Morrison as saying.
Morrison said that Sharma was arguing the move can be consistent with Australia’s long-running position of support for a two-state solution, and is “actually changing the way in which the issue is conceived.”
Sharma, a Liberal Party candidate in a crucial Australian by-election next week, said Monday that Australia should be open to considering moving its embassy.
His comments came during a candidates’ forum in Wentworth, the heavily Jewish district in and around Sydney which will hold a special election to fill the vacancy left when Malcolm Turnbull stepped down in August. The former Australian prime minister held that seat since 2004 and announced his resignation after being ousted from his party’s top leadership post.
The Wentworth by-election, scheduled for Saturday, is critical because if the Liberal Party does not hold onto the seat – which has long been considered a safe Liberal seat – then the Morrison government could lose its one-seat majority.
Morrison is expected to come under a great deal of criticism now for the timing of his announcement regarding Jerusalem, and may be accused of trying to win over the significant Jewish vote in Wentworth. The Wentworth Division encompasses parts of Sydney and some of its wealthiest suburbs. Turnbull has held the seat for 14 years.
According to The Guardian, there are an estimated 20,000 Jews in Wentworth, making up some 12.5% of the population and their vote is critical in the election.
Colin Rubenstein, the head of AIJAC, the Australia Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, said Morrison’s position is “principled, measured, considered and responsible, a prime minister exercising true leadership.”
Rubenstein was part of an AIJAC delegation that met Morrison last week.
Sharma is facing off against independent candidate Kerryn Phelps, who is a convert to Judaism, and Labor’s Tim Murray.
Asked about moving the embassy to Jerusalem at Monday’s election forum, Sharma said, “I think we should be open to considering it as Australians. The US has done it.”
He added, however, that this needed to be done within the context of a two-state solution.
Australia abstained in December in the UN General Assembly vote that blasted the US for moving its embassy.
Former Liberal prime minister Tony Abbott, however, has come across strongly in favor of moving the embassy.
Sharma tweeted in December: “Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem, though risky, carries with it an opportunity to advance peace. Will he take it?” After the move in May, Sharma – responding to Abbott who tweeted that Australia should consider following the US lead – tweeted in response: “Even if we don’t move the embassy, we should at least consider recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (w/o prejudice to its final boundaries or potential status as capital of future Palestinian state).
Where else do we disagree with a country about where its capital is?” Sharma was a highly-regarded, active and high-profile ambassador during his four years in Israel from 2013 to 2017. Among the key events during his tenure was Netanyahu’s trip to Australia in February 2017, the first-ever visit by a US prime minister to the country.