Australia‘s prime minister said Tuesday that he was open to shifting the Australian Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in line with President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize the contested holy city as Israel’s capital.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the idea was suggested to him by a former ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, who is a candidate for Morrison’s conservative Liberal Party in a crucial byelection Saturday in a Sydney electorate with a large Jewish population.
Morrison said Australia remained committed to finding a two-state solution to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians.
“When sensible suggestions are put forward that are consistent with your policy positioning and in this case pursuing a two-state solution, Australia should be open-minded to this and I am open-minded to this and our government is open-minded to this,” Morrison told reporters.
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had recently spoken to Morrison and welcomed the Australian policy shift.
Morrison “informed me that he is considering officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel & moving the Australian embassy to Jerusalem. I’m very thankful to him for this,” Netanyahu tweeted. “We will continue to strengthen ties” between Israel and Australia.
Morrison also announced that Australia would vote against a United Nations resolution this week to recognize the Palestinian Authority as the chair of the Group of 77 developing countries and would review the three-year-old Iran nuclear deal.
The opposition centre-left Labor Party said the announcement was a desperate attempt to win the byelection in the Wentworth electorate.
When the government forced former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull from office in August, he quit Parliament. If Sharma is not elected as the new lawmaker for Wentworth, the government will lose its single-seat majority in the House of Representatives.
“Foreign policy, and Australia’s national interest are far too important to be played with in this fashion,” Labor lawmaker Penny Wong said.
“The people of Wentworth, and all Australians, deserve a leader who puts the national interest ahead of his self-interest, and governs in the best long-term interest of the nation,” she added.
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The Trump administration turned its back on decades of U.S. policy by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv in May.
George Browning, president of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, accused the government of “aligning itself with the most erratic, reactionary and bullish U.S. foreign policy ever.”
“This is an irresponsible policy that compromises the future of millions of people in the Middle East for a handful of votes in Wentworth,” Browning said in a statement.
Morrison denied that the United States or the byelection had influenced his announcement.
“I have made this decision without any reference to the United States. It has not come up in any discussion I have had with the president or with officials,” Morrison said.
“There has been no request, and there has been no discussion with the United States. Australia makes its decisions about its foreign policy independently. We do so in our own national interests consistent with our own beliefs and our own values,” he added.