Israel, Aussie Jews respond to Morrison’s Jerusalem announcement

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Saturday that Australia recognizes west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (R) (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (R)
Israel and Australia’s organized Jewish community walked out of step Sunday over Canberra’s decision to recognize west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu making no mention of it at the weekly cabinet meeting, while the major organization representing Australian Jews praised the move.
Bahrain, meanwhile, defend Australia, calling an Arab League statement decrying the step “unrealistic.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Saturday that Australia recognizes west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and hopes to see a two-state solution with east Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state. He said Canberra would only move its embassy “after final-status determination,” but would open a trade and defense office in the city.
While Netanyahu often uses the opening of Sunday’s cabinet meeting to comment on major diplomatic developments, he made no mention of Morrison’s announcement, an indication that he had hoped for more.
Asked about the Australian step at the start of the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said, “We issued a statement at the Foreign Ministry. I have nothing to add to it.”
That statement was a decidedly tepid one, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon saying the decision to open a trade and defense office in Jerusalem was “a step in the right direction.”
Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi gave voice to Israel’s disappointment at Australia’s step, telling reporters before the cabinet meeting that, “to our regret, within this positive news they made a mistake.”
Saying Australia is a “deep and intimate friend of many years’ standing,” Hanegbi said Canberra erred in its decision.
“There is no division between the east of the city and west of the city,” he said. “Jerusalem is one whole, united. Israel’s control over it is eternal. Our sovereignty will not be partitioned nor undermined. And we hope Australia will soon find the way to fix the mistake it made.”
The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC), on the other hand, issued a statement welcoming the “government’s acknowledgment of the reality” that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.”
“While AIJAC acknowledges that the Australian Embassy will not be moved to Jerusalem immediately, we strongly welcome the Australian government’s recognition of the reality that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and has been since 1949,” AIJAC’s national chair Mark Leibler said.
“AUSTRALIA HAS finally ended the anomaly whereby Israel is the only country in the world which does not have the right to choose its own capital on its own sovereign territory,” he added.
The organization’s executive-director, Colin Rubenstein, said the step was “an important part of international efforts to demonstrate to the Palestinian leadership that its refusal to negotiate in the expectation that the international community will accept Palestinian demands without the need for compromise will not succeed.”
Rubenstein said, “This principled decision in the right direction demonstrates the prime minister’s courage in standing up to bullies who have tried to intimidate him but who do not have the interests of peace at heart.”
Among those bullies were Malaysia, whose Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Sunday criticized Australia, saying it had “no rights” to recognize west Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem should remain as it is now and not the capital of Israel,” Mahathir said. “Jerusalem has always been under Palestine, so why are they taking the initiative to divide Jerusalem not belonging to them, but to divide the Arabs and the Jews? They have no rights.”
In November Mahathir warned that an Australian change of policy on Jerusalem would increase terrorism.
On the other side of the spectrum, Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa took issue with the Arab League's condemnation of the move as “blatantly biased towards the positions and policies of the Israeli occupation."
Khalifa described the Arab League’s statement as “mere rhetoric and irresponsible.”
“Australia’s stance does not impact the legitimate Palestinian demands, first among them being east Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, and it does not contradict the Arab Peace Initiative,” he said in a tweet.
Khalid has previously said Israel had the right to defend itself against Iran. As Persian Gulf countries and Israel are increasingly cooperating behind the scenes, Bahrain is considered a likely candidate to be among the first to take that cooperation fully public by establishing ties with the Jewish state.
Reuters contributed to this report