Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Australia’s Labor Party, leading the polls by just 2% in a tight race with the Liberals that will be decided on Saturday, said that if it unseats Liberal Prime Minister Scott Morrison, it would reverse Canberra’s decision last year to recognize west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) published on Monday a list of answers that the Liberals, Labor and Greens provided on issues of importance to Australia’s Jewish community.
Asked about the Jerusalem issue, Labor said, “We support the widely held view of the international community that the future of Jerusalem needs to be decided by the parties to the Middle East conflict as part of a negotiated peace settlement. That is why Labor does not support unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and in Government would reverse this decision.”
A poll conducted for the Australians on Monday found that the Bill Shorten-led Labor party is clinging to a 51-49 lead over Morrison’s Liberals. According to Australia’s 2016 census, there are some 91,000 Jews Down Under, or 0.4% of the population, and some 604,000 Muslims, representing 2.6% of the population.
Morrison’s decision to recognize part of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December was made as a result of his saying two months earlier that he was “open” to the idea of recognizing Jerusalem and moving the Australian embassy there. That comment was made in the heat of a key by-election held in a heavily Jewish area of Sydney where David Sharma, the Liberal party’s candidate and Australia’s former ambassador to Israel, was running for a seat. Sharma lost the election.
In December, Morrison recognized west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and in April opened a Trade and Defense Office in the Migdal Ha’ir office tower on King George Street there.
Labor, in its answer to the ECAJ questionnaire, called Morrison’s move a “shameful act” that “put his own domestic political interest before the national interest. He decided to junk longstanding bipartisan foreign policy in a cynical attempt to win votes.”
The move, according to Labor, was a “desperate political tactic” taken against the advice of the relevant agencies and without consulting Australia’s “partners and allies,” or either the Israelis or Palestinians.
“The result of the chaos and confusion has been clear. Mr Morrison caused offence to some of our nearest neighbors, harmed Australia’s international reputation, and our nation’s interests,” the statement said.
The Liberal Party, in its answer to the Jerusalem question, said that Morrison “made it clear that it is the fundamental right of every country to determine its national capital. As a result of the Morrison Government’s decision, Australia recognizes West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, being the seat of the Knesset and many of the institutions of government. The Morrison Government further looks forward to moving the Australian Embassy to west Jerusalem when practical, in support of, and after final status determination.”
As to whether Australia should recognize “Palestine” as a state outside the framework of a negotiated agreement, a position adopted in December by Labor’s National Conference with the caveat that this will be a decision for the future Labor government to take, the party did not give a clear response in its answer provided to the ECAJ.
“A Shorten Labor Government would ensure that any decision taken contributes to a peaceful resolution of the conflict and to progress towards a two-state solution,” the party said.
The Liberals, in their response, made clear they were opposed to such a move. “Australia has long held that aspirations for Palestinian statehood can only be realized through direct negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel,” their statement read.
Regarding the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, both parties expressed opposition. But while the Liberals called it an “antisemitic” campaign, Labor sufficed by stating that it has always opposed the movement and believes “a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will only come from open dialogue and discussion between the parties, not from a policy of exclusion.
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