The new Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison attends a news conference in Canberra, Australia August 24, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/DAVID GRAY/FILE PHOTO)
Australia’s cabinet met on Tuesday and discussed recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but no decision was announced.
Reuters quoted an official familiar with the issue who said that “the decision is still pending.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in mid-October – in the heat of an important by-election in a district with a large Jewish population – that he was open to the idea of recognizing Jerusalem.
Dave Sharma, Australia’s former ambassador to Israel and the Liberal Party candidate in that election
, did not win the seat. Morrison, who credited Sharma with influencing his thinking on the issue, has not retracted his comments about Jerusalem.
This has angered both Australia’s Muslim neighbors – Indonesia and Malaysia – as well as many others in the Arab world.
Indonesia, the country with the largest number of Muslims in the world, has indicated that Australia may lose its much sought after Free Trade Agreement because of the step.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, in a tweet on Tuesday, called upon “All Arab and Muslim countries to sever all relations with Australia, if it recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”
Erekat said that Arab and Muslim countries have adopted a resolution calling to break off ties with countries that recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
One cabinet minister was quoted in The Sydney Morning Herald as saying that a “practical and pragmatic approach” was needed to ensure that Australia’s Muslim trading partners are not upset, but also so that it does not appear that Morrison is backing down from what he said in October. At the time, Morrison came under criticism for his announcement right before the by-election, with his critics charging that he was “pandering” to the Jewish constituents in the district.
The Australian newspaper, which reported that several senior cabinet members were in favor of Jerusalem’s recognition, said this would not mean that Australia would move its embassy, but rather open a consular office in the city. The paper cited the price of $200 million for an embassy move, noting it was prohibitive.
The paper also wrote that a decision on the matter may be announced on Wednesday at the Council of Australian Governments’ meeting.
US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December, and Washington moved its embassy in May. Only Guatemala has followed Washington’s lead and moved its embassy, although Brazil’s president-elect Jair Bolsonaro has indicated that he may do the same
In April 2017, Russia recognized west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while saying east Jerusalem will be the capital of a future Palestinian state.