Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Dec. 15 that his center-right government was formally recognizing West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but will not move its embassy there immediately.
“Australia now recognises West Jerusalem, being the seat of the Knesset and many of the institutions of government, is the capital of Israel. West Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” he said.
Morrison flagged Australia would follow suit in October.
The status of Jerusalem, home to sites holy to the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faiths, is one of the biggest obstacles to a peace agreement between Israel and Palestinians.
Israel regards all of the city as its capital, including the eastern sector which it annexed after the 1967 Middle East war, and wants all embassies based there.
While Trump said the United States embassy move was “to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” he emphasized that the United States was “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,” he said.
But Morrison was seen to be going one step further in his announcement by naming east and west, and adding that the Australian government supports a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.
“Furthermore recognising our commitment to a two-state solution, the Australian government has also resolved to acknowledge the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a future state with its capital in East Jerusalem,” he said.
Perhaps unnoticed, Morrison did acknowledge that “Jerusalem’s ultimate status, including its borders and boundaries, is a final status issue to be resolved between the parties.”
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Dec. 16 said in response to the announcement that Australia has “no right” to “divide Jerusalem.”
Mahathir who was in Bangkok to receive an honorary doctorate from Rangsit University critcized Australia’s formal recognition of west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“Jerusalem has always been under Palestine, so why are they taking the initiative to divide Jerusalem not belonging to them, but to divide between the Arabs and the Jews. They have no right,” he said.
Muslim-majority Malaysia does not formally recognise Israel’s right to exist and had voiced concerns that such embassy moves could unnecessarily inflame tensions in the Middle East.
Israeli minister for regional cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi also commented on the Pacific nation’s announcement on Dec. 16.
“Australia is deep and intimate friend of many years’ standing of Israel. We were happy to hear that it has an interest to clarify its recognition in Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“But to our regret, within this positive news they made a mistake. There is no division between the east of the city and west of the city.
“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,” Hanegbi said.
Morrison had said in his speech that having the Australian embassy in West Jerusalem was not “in dispute of where Israel is a resident within those borders” according to the 1967 boundaries, although that seems to have gone unnoticed.
He added that the Australian government will not move its embassy from Tel Aviv to West Jerusalem until the final status of the city is determined under a peace settlement, but instead will open a trade and defence office.
Additional reporting by NTD staff.