Uproar After Morrison’s Recognition of West Jerusalem as Capital of Israel – Does it Deserve the Controversy?

Within months of the US officially opening their embassy in Jerusalem, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison partially followed suit by recognising West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Morrison asserted that he would also recognise East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine once a two-state solution had been reached. Labour, who had discouraged such an announcement, citing concerns of a backlash by members of the Muslim community, swiftly responded with scathing criticism.

On multiple occasions, both the Liberal and Labour Party have expressed their desire for a two-state solution. During the closing sessions of their national conference for 2018, the ALP expressed support for “the recognition and right of Israel and Palestine to exist as two states within secure and recognised borders”. Herein lies a recognition that a two-state solution is a viable path to peace. Morrison’s recognition aligns with the two-state solution in recognising the Western part of Jerusalem to Israel and East Jerusalem as part of a future Palestinian state. “What we are saying is we’ve got to move this forward. The rancid stalemate has to be broken,” Morrison said.

Labor’s negative response to Morrison’s announcement is at odds with their previous rhetoric. Penny Wong, the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Australian Labor Party condemned Morrison’s decision as a “reckless move”. On the 14th of December 2018, she tweeted, “Labor does not support unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and in government would reverse this decision”. Wong misreported Liberal by omitting the important distinction that only West Jerusalem had been recognised as the capital, thus obscuring the reality that it is reasonable and in line with a two-state solution.

If both the Liberal and Labour party share the same objective, why has a step in this direction spawned such a controversy? What other motives could lie behind the uproar?

Wong adds, “Mr Morrison has caused offence to some of our nearest neighbours, harmed Australia’s international reputation, and our nation’s interests.” By nearest neighbours, Wong refers to countries with a Muslim majority such as Indonesia and Malaysia who threatened economic sanctions on Australia following the recognition and suggested potential terrorism threats.

Indonesia’s response to Morrison’s recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel included 6 points. Their second point “notes Australia’s position to support the principle of a two-state solution with East Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Palestine”. However, none of their 6 points note Australia’s recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. If Indonesia and Labor support a two-state solution, wouldn’t that mean the existence of a state of Israel somewhere?

Recognising West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is simply a reality. In 1948, Israel accepted the partition plan outlined by the UN to share the region between Israelis and Palestinians. Chaos ensued in the following days: 5 neighbouring Arab countries invaded and attacked Israel with the intention to annihilate it. Miraculously winning the war, Israel gained control of West Jerusalem and located its Knesset (government) there since. For over three thousand years, Jews have faced Jerusalem while praying, referred to it extensively after meals, in prayers and after the Jewish festival of Passover.

It is an understatement to say that the situation is complex. But if Labor is concerned with pleasing everybody, they can expect no positive change. Hamas, the governing body in Gaza since 2006, is recognised as a terrorist organisation by many countries including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the EU, Egypt and Japan. Considering Hamas directs its humanitarian aid granted to it for its terrorism aims towards Israel, it is unsurprising that it refuses to recognise Israel’s right to exist in any form. Labor would be hard pressed to appease such an organisation.

To claim support for a two-state solution but to oppose its enactment for fear of causing upset as Labor has done is weak, and misunderstands the importance of compromise from all sides.

Paraguay offers a precedent for Labour. President of Paraguay, Mario Abdo Benítez who took office in August 2018, reversed the three month old decision to move their embassy to Jerusalem. In response, Israel stated it would close its Paraguay embassy and recall its ambassador for consultations. World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder, described it as an “unnecessary strain in ties between two historically strong friends”. Likewise, Australia’s relationship with Israel has historically been very strong and would be wounded by Labour removing the embassy.  If Labour, as claimed, is prepared to dishonour Australia’s decision, they may diminish the worth of Australian decisions and their standing as a reliable country. As mentioned, however, pleasing everybody is not an ethical nor possible basis from which to form decisions.

An ethical decision should focus on peace. Morrison’s decision does not impede a two-state solution.  On the contrary, if Labor indeed makes the effort to repeal Morrison’s decision as stated, it will reveal a blatant show of insincerity towards the two-state solution and of peace in the Middle East.

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