181215 Scott Morrison
Scott Morrison Image Credit: Reuters

Sydney: Australia has decided to formally recognise occupied west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but won’t move its embassy until there’s a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Saturday.

Morrison said in a speech that Australia would recognise east Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital only after a settlement has been reached on a two-state solution. The Australian Embassy won’t be moved from Tel Aviv until such a time, he said.

While the embassy move is delayed, Morrison said his government would establish a defence and trade office in occupied Jerusalem and would also start looking for an appropriate site for the embassy.

“The Australian government has decided that Australia now recognises west Jerusalem, as the seat of the Knesset and many of the institutions of government, is the capital of Israel,” Morrison said.

He said the decision respects both a commitment to a two-state solution and long-standing respect for relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

Australia becomes the third country to recognise occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, following the US and Guatemala.

Unlike its predecessors, however, Australia recognised only the western part of the city. The move, therefore, is unlikely to please either side entirely.

For the Palestinians, it offers a partial resolution to an issue that they believe should be resolved through negotiations. That decision is softened, though, by recognising their claim to east Jerusalem.

The Israelis welcome recognition of occupied Jerusalem as their capital, but the Australian decision falls far short of their claim to all of the city. Refusing to include east Jerusalem, home to the city’s most important religious sites, is likely to upset Israeli nationalists who dominate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition.

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli regime on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.

Morrison had earlier floated the idea that Australia may follow the contentious US move of relocating its embassy to occupied Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, but it was seen by many Australians as a political stunt. Critics called it a cynical attempt to win votes in a by-election in October for a Sydney seat with a high Jewish population.

The consideration had sparked backlash from Muslim-majority Indonesia and Malaysia, threatening a free trade deal that has now been delayed.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said the decision to recognise occupied west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but not move the embassy there was a “humiliating backdown” from the October by-election campaign.

“What I’m worried is that Morrison put his political interest ahead of our national interest,” Shorten told reporters.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it in a move that is not internationally recognised. Israel considers east Jerusalem an indivisible part of its capital, while the Palestinians seek the area, home to the city’s most sensitive holy sites, as the capital of a future state.