Whether or not we move our em­bassy, Scott Mor­ri­son has shifted the de­bate

The Weekend Australian - - COMMENTARY - GER­ARD HEN­DER­SON Ger­ard Hen­der­son is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of The Syd­ney In­sti­tute. His Me­dia Watch Dog blog can be found at theaus­

Jerusalem is the cap­i­tal of Is­rael. It has been since the cre­ation of Is­rael in 1948. And it will re­main that as long as Is­rael ex­ists. Every na­tion de­cides the lo­ca­tion of its cap­i­tal city. There is no rea­son a dif­fer­ent stan­dard should ap­ply to Is­rael.

All the ma­jor demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions of Is­rael are lo­cated within the Green Line — that is, within the bound­aries of Is­rael as at 1948. West Jerusalem is home to Is­rael’s par­lia­ment, Supreme Court, the of­fi­cial res­i­dences of the pres­i­dent and the prime min­is­ter, and many gov­ern­ment de­part­ments. All new am­bas­sadors to Is­rael re­ceive their cre­den­tials in West Jerusalem.

Suc­ces­sive can­di­dates for the US pres­i­dency have promised, if elected, to move the US em­bassy from Tel Aviv to West Jerusalem. Only Don­ald Trump hon­oured his elec­tion prom­ise. The US em­bassy in Jerusalem opened in May this year.

In an ar­ti­cle in The Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald on May 18, Dave Sharma, our am­bas­sador to Is­rael from 2013 to 2017, wrote about how the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion had bro­ken a taboo.

He added: “As a prag­matic and so­lu­tion-ori­ented na­tion, Aus­tralia should be pre­pared to lend our sup­port to this com­mon­sense propo­si­tion.” He also wrote that Aus­tralia “should con­sider recog­nis­ing Jerusalem as the cap­i­tal of Is­rael, without prej­u­dice to its fi­nal bound­aries and while ac­knowl­edg­ing East Jerusalem as the ex­pected cap­i­tal of a fu­ture Pales­tinian state”.

The Turn­bull gov­ern­ment con­sid­ered whether Aus­tralia should re­lo­cate its em­bassy and de­cided against the pro­posal. When Sharma wrote that Aus­tralia should con­sider fol­low­ing Trump’s lead, he had no idea Turn­bull would be re­placed as prime min­is­ter on Au­gust 24 and al­most im­me­di­ately would quit par­lia­ment, forc­ing a by-elec­tion in his seat of Went­worth in Septem­ber.

At this stage, Sharma was not an­tic­i­pat­ing an at­tempt to en­ter fed­eral pol­i­tics. As it turned out, he won pre­s­e­lec­tion as Lib­eral can­di­date in the Went­worth by-elec­tion. Late in the cam­paign, the new Prime Min­is­ter, Scott Mor­ri­son, em­braced Sharma’s po­si­tion and said the Coali­tion would con­sider re­lo­cat­ing Aus­tralia’s em­bassy.

Cer­tainly the tim­ing of this an­nounce­ment was not ideal; it led to spec­u­la­tion Mor­ri­son had made it for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons. It is true Jews make up about 12 per cent of Went­worth’s pop­u­la­tion, but 88 per cent of the elec­torate is not Jewish.

What­ever the mo­ti­va­tion for Mor­ri­son’s com­ment, Jewish in­de­pen­dent Ker­ryn Phelps de­feated the non-Jewish Sharma. In the Guardian Aus­tralia and else­where it was spec­u­lated that Mor­ri­son’s an­nounce­ment was driven by his evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian­ity.

In fact, Mor­ri­son is a prac­ti­cal politi­cian who is not given to for­eign pol­icy de­ci­sions mo­ti­vated by re­li­gious faith. There is no ev­i­dence he acted on the be­lief, held by some Amer­i­can evan­gel­i­cals, that the se­cond com­ing of Je­sus Christ will oc­cur only when Jerusalem is re­plete with Jews who build the third tem­ple on the site of the pre­vi­ous two and con­vert to Chris­tian­ity.

The like­lier sce­nario is that Mor­ri­son was im­pressed by Trump’s de­ci­sive­ness. More­over, Is­rael has many sup­port­ers in the Coali­tion and the ALP, and it seems that some Lib­er­als and Na­tion­als led the drive to move the em­bassy. They are sup­ported by some Jewish and Chris­tian or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Mor­ri­son’s an­nounce­ment led to ob­jec­tions from some lead­ing politi­cians in the Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity na­tions of In­done­sia and Malaysia. There was less no­tice­able op­po­si­tion from the Mid­dle East and North Africa.

This pos­si­bly re­flects the fact Is­rael’s re­la­tion­ship with its Sunni Mus­lim neigh­bours has im­proved as they fo­cus on the threat posed by Iran’s Shia lead­ers.

The gov­ern­ments of In­done­sia and Malaysia are con­cerned about this is­sue, but their shrill re­sponse may have been counter-pro­duc­tive. No Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment is likely to de­ter­mine for­eign pol­icy ac­cord­ing to the wishes of its neigh­bours.

The Mor­ri­son gov­ern­ment has sev­eral pol­icy op­tions. It can move the em­bassy to Jerusalem — in line with the de­ci­sion of the US and, as seems likely, the Czech Repub­lic. Ap­pear­ing on ABC’s Q&A on Novem­ber 19, La­bor front­bencher Mark Drey­fus said he did not an­tic­i­pate such an even­tu­al­ity. How­ever, Drey­fus ac­knowl­edged it was “a pos­si­bil­ity” that a fu­ture La­bor gov­ern­ment would not move an Aus­tralian em­bassy al­ready in Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv.

It’s also pos­si­ble that Aus­tralia will adopt the first step taken by the US in the re­lo­ca­tion process by es­tab­lish­ing a con­sulate in West Jerusalem. It should be re­mem­bered that Aus­tralia has an of­fice in Ra­mal­lah in the West Bank that deals with the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity — de­spite the fact Aus­tralia does not recog­nise a state called Pales­tine.

Al­ter­na­tively, Aus­tralia could ac­knowl­edge West Jerusalem as Is­rael’s cap­i­tal but con­tinue to base the Aus­tralian em­bassy in Tel Aviv for cost con­sid­er­a­tions. In any event, it seems un­likely Aus­tralia will go back to the po­si­tion held be­fore the Prime Min­is­ter made his com­ment in Septem­ber.

It is un­clear when, or whether, the Mid­dle East process will reignite, or when or if there will be a two-state so­lu­tion lead­ing to the state of Is­rael ex­ist­ing next to a state of Pales­tine.

In the mean­time Mor­ri­son, like Trump, has in­jected a de­gree of re­al­ity into the on­go­ing dis­cus­sion. Is­rael’s cap­i­tal is based in Jerusalem. That’s why diplo­mats in Tel Aviv travel con­stantly to West Jerusalem for meet­ings with the gov­ern­ment of Is­rael.

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