Australia may sour ties with ASEAN if embassy moves to Jerusalem - Anwar

Hugh Fox
October 19, 2018

Australia might soon follow in controversial U.S. footsteps and relocate its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the country's new prime minister hinted after discussing the issue with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

Morrison said he was persuaded to consider reversing the government's long-held position to keep the nation's embassy in Tel Aviv by Dave Sharma, a former Australian ambassador to Israel and the governing Liberal Party's candidate in a special election this weekend in the Sydney-based district of Wentworth.

Morrison's announcement would mean a shift in Australian foreign policy implemented by his predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, who refused to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and relocate the embassy to that city as well as supported the agreement to denuclearise Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was "very thankful" for his Australian counterpart's decision in a post on Twitter Tuesday.

"We will continue to strengthen ties between", he said in the Tweet.

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Recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital would follow US President Donald Trump's controversial decision last December and reverse decades of foreign policy as well as inflaming tensions with some of the country's Asian neighbours.

The Indonesian foreign minister said her country supported the two-state solution in the Middle East conflict and warned Australia against threatening security.

Trump broke with decades of policy in moving the USA embassy to Jerusalem earlier this year, infuriating Palestinians who see the eastern section of the city as the capital of a future state.

Indonesia, the world's biggest Muslim-majority country and a major buyer of wheat and beef, bought more than A$3 billion of Australian agricultural commodities in 2017, according to government data.

"Australia is a sovereign nation, we're allowed to engage in conversations", Morrison told reporters in Australia on Wednesday, local time.

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Mr Morrison's comments came out of the blue just four days before a crunch by-election in an area with a large Jewish population, fuelling claims that domestic politics are behind his sudden shift in position. That is, until the USA under Donald Trump moved its embassy to Jerusalem this year.

A Tuesday statement published by the official Palestinian WAFA news agency claimed Morrison "harmed Australia's interests and its worldwide standing", and urged the Australian opposition, civil society organizations, the business sector and the Arab and Islamic communities to press the Australian government to reconsider its position.

Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi said the government questions the merits of Morrison's announcement and has conveyed its "strong concern". Frankly, our current policy of adherence to the JCPOA nuclear deal is not serving Australia's most basic national interests, given both the opposition of the US Administration and most Arab states to it, and the reality that its provisions all but guarantee a nuclear-armed Iran in a few years time. The eastern sector of Jerusalem is considered to have been annexed by Israel in the 1967 war, while the Jewish State regards the whole city as its capital.

"I've been pleased to be able to explain very clearly the nature of the announcements that I've made today and I've been very pleased with the response that I've received from President Joko Widodo", Mr Morrison said.

Despite this, the United States proceeded with its plan by relocating its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May.

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The BBC also cited the premier as saying that one future scenario could involve Australia recognizing a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem al-Quds and an Israeli capital in West Jerusalem al-Quds.

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