Australia drops recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia has rescinded a previous government’s recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the foreign minister said Tuesday, sparking dismay in Israel.

The centre-left Labor Party government has agreed that the Australian embassy will remain in Tel Aviv, as it always has been. The Cabinet also reaffirmed that the status of Jerusalem must be resolved in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said.

Australia remains committed to a two-party solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and “we will not support an approach that undermines that prospect,” Wong said.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid expressed disappointment with Australia’s change in stance.

“Jerusalem is the eternal and undivided capital of Israel and nothing will change that,” Lapid said in a statement.

Wong said his department erred in updating its website to Australia’s revised policy on Israel’s capital before Cabinet confirmed the change.

This led to conflicting media reports over Australia’s stance ahead of Wong’s announcement.

Lapid appeared to blame this media confusion for Australia changing its policy.

“In light of the way the decision was made in Australia, in hasty response to a misleading media report, one can only hope that the Australian government behaves more seriously and more professionally on other issues.” , Lapid said.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it would summon the Australian ambassador to express its “profound disappointment” at a decision “based on short-sighted political considerations”.

Senior Palestinian official Hussein Al-Sheikh said he welcomed Australia’s decision “and its assertion that the future of sovereignty over Jerusalem depends on the permanent solution based on international legitimacy”.

Former Conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison officially recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2018, although the Australian embassy remained in Tel Aviv.

The move follows then-US President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. President Joe Biden has retained the embassy in Jerusalem as the United States withdraws from its once intense mediation between the Israelis and the Palestinians, who have not held substantive peace talks in more than a decade.

Wong described Morrison’s move as internationally offbeat and a “cynical play” to win a by-election in a Sydney locality with a large Jewish population.

Morrison’s Liberal Party fielded Jewish candidate Dave Sharma who was defeated in the by-election but won the seat in the next general election.

The Morrison government was removed from office in May after nine years in power.

Nasser Mashni, vice-president of human rights group Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, thanked the government for “differentiating itself from the dangerous political posturing of the previous government”.

“This reversal brings Australia back into the international consensus – Australia must not prejudge the final status of Jerusalem,” Mashni said in a statement.

“Israel claims that the entire city belongs exclusively to them, denying the Palestinian connection to their ancient spiritual, cultural and economic capital,” Mashni added.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry, which represents Australia’s Jewish community, called the reversal a “gratuitous insult to a key economic and strategic ally”.

“This decision flatters the more extreme elements of the Labor Party and will also discourage the Palestinians from resuming negotiations,” the council said in a statement.

Morrison, who remains an opposition MP, said the government’s decision was disappointing.

The decision “represents a further decrease in Australian support for the State of Israel by the Labor government from the high level set by the Morrison government,” his office said in a statement.

But Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has left the door open for the Tories to abandon Morrison’s policies.

“We will make an announcement on our policy closer to the next election,” Dutton told reporters. The next election is scheduled for 2025.

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham described the change as a “totally unnecessary decision” which followed a “chaotic process”.

In the 1967 Middle East war, Israel seized East Jerusalem, home to holy sites of three religions, as well as the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. The status of Jerusalem remains one of the thorniest issues in the decades-long conflict that has precipitated numerous rounds of violence.

Only a few countries, including Kosovo and Guatemala, have joined the United States in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

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Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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This story has been updated to remove an incorrect reference to the Australian government once again recognizing Tel Aviv as its capital. Wong said the embassy would remain in Tel Aviv but did not mention recognizing the city as the capital.

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