Australia's Jerusalem decision is more like Moscow's than Washington's

Saturday's announcement by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is more similar to what Moscow did last year than what Washington did.

December 16, 2018 07:53
3 minute read.
A Hebrew and English sign is seen at the entrance to the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel

A Hebrew and English sign is seen at the entrance to the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, October 16, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)


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On April 6, 2017, exactly eight months before US President Donald Trump made his dramatic announcement in the White House recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, Russia's Foreign Ministry quietly issued a statement saying that “we view west Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

Neither the Prime Minister’s Office nor the Foreign Ministry had any immediate reaction to the Russian statement, even though it represented the first time any country recognized any part of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

But Israel was wary of applauding the move, since the Russian statement also said that Moscow was committed “to the UN-approved principles for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement, which include the status of east Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state.”

Even though there was benefit even in the recognition of west Jerusalem as Israel's capital – since the formal position of Russia and the international community until then was that Jerusalem should eventually be a corpus separatum under a permanent international regime – it also effectively divided the city, saying there will not be one unified Jerusalem in the end, but rather a divided city that would be the capital of two states. And that is something that runs completely contrary to Israel’s declared position.

Contrast that to Trump's announcement on December 6, 2017: “I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

At the same time, he did add the following caveat: “This decision is not intended, in any way, to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement.  We want an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians.  We are not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders.  Those questions are up to the parties involved.”

But he did not formally divide the city into east and west, and call for two separate capitals for two separate states – that he left to be resolved by the parties at a later time. He recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital, not “west Jerusalem.”

Saturday's announcement by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison that Canberra recognizes west Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and will recognize east Jerusalem as a capital of a Palestinian state after an agreement is reached, is more similar to what Moscow did last year than what Washington did then.

And, like the Russians, Morrison made clear there was no intention at this time to move the embassy.

Which explains Israel's much less enthusiastic response to Morrison’s announcement than to Trump's.

The Prime Minister's Office did not immediately issue a statement praising the move; the foreign Ministry's spokesman only tepidly welcomed it, saying Australia’s decision to open its Trade and Defense office in Jerusalem was a “step in the right direction;” and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein called the step “puzzling.”

Jerusalem had hoped for more, and it's eyes are now cast on Brazil's President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, who has said he will move his country's embassy to the capital.

Tellingly, while Morrison's announcement was vehemently panned by the Palestinians, the Arab League, and Australia's neighbors Indonesia and Malaysia – likely to ignite protests against the Australian embassy in those two countries – Russia's decision did not trigger any similar response at the time.  For instance, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat did not write at the the, as he did Saturday,  that the Russian move “contradicts world peace and security;” nor did Hanan Ashrawi accuse Putin -- as she did Morison -- of trying to “bribe the Zionist lobby.” 

The silence when Moscow took this step, in contrast to the noise accompanying the Australian move, shows that those objecting to any recognition of an Israeli hold on any part of Jerusalem were afraid of antagonizing Russian President Vladimir Putin and knew fully well that they were not going to move the Russians. No such compunctions nor considerations are in play now when it comes to Morrison and the Australians.

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