Australia’s foreign minister retracted the country’s recognition of “West Jerusalem” as the capital of the State of Israel on Tuesday, calling the 2018 recognition under former Prime Minister Scott Morrison “a cynical ploy” to win a by-election seat.
At the time, Israel saw Australia’s recognition of a portion of the Israeli capital as not far-reaching enough, as it did not recognize all of Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital.
Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong’s announcement on Tuesday that Australia will no longer recognize Israel’s capital at all prompted the Israel Foreign Ministry to summon Australia’s ambassador in Israel to explain the sudden policy change.
The Foreign Ministry also released a statement to express “its deep disappointment” over the decision, calling it the result of “shortsighted political considerations.”
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid issued a statement calling Wong’s decision “a hasty response to incorrect news in the media.”
Wong’s announcement was in response to media reports that the Australian government had changed its policy regarding Jerusalem and were choosing to recognize Tel Aviv, where the Australian embassy has remained, as the capital of Israel.
During a visit a few months ago, the head of the Australian Foreign Ministry’s Middle East Division reassured Israel on a visit that Australia’s policy of recognizing “West Jerusalem” would remain unchanged.
In light of Wong’s “hasty” announcement, “we can only hope that the Australian government manages other matters more seriously and professionally,” the Israeli prime minister said. “Jerusalem is the eternal capital of united Israel and nothing will ever change that.”
Mayor of Jerusalem Moshe Lion also expressed his disappointment with Australia’s new position, saying, “A united Jerusalem has been and will continue to be the capital of Israel forever.”
“Statements of this type do not further anything and do not contribute at all,” he stated.
Unsurprisingly, the Palestinian Authority praised the Australian announcement.
“We welcome Australia’s decision with regards to Jerusalem [and] its call for a two-state solution in accordance with international legitimacy,” P.A. Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh tweeted.
Before Australia’s Labor Party took over the government in May, as part of its electoral campaign, it promised to reverse the 2018 decision to recognize West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Wong, a Labor Party member, on Tuesday, first rejected any notion that there had been a policy change, and then issued a press release to make it clear that Jerusalem is a “final status issue” and that Australia’s embassy belongs in Tel Aviv.
Wong’s earlier message held that “the former government made the decision to recognize West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel” and “no decision to change that has been made by the government.” A spokesperson for Morrison said a decision to reverse the recognition would be “disappointing.”
The foreign minister’s amended position later in the day established that “the Government has reaffirmed Australia’s previous and longstanding position that Jerusalem is a final status issue that should be resolved as part of any peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian people.”
According to Wong’s statement, “This reverses the Morrison Government’s recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Australia’s embassy has always been, and remains, in Tel Aviv.”
“Australia is committed to a two-state solution in which Israel and a future Palestinian state coexist, in peace and security, within internationally recognised borders,” Wong wrote. “We will not support an approach that undermines this prospect.”
Wong noted that the policy change was not a sign that Australia was downgrading its relationship with Israel: “Australia will always be a steadfast friend of Israel. We were amongst the first countries to formally recognize Israel,” she said.
“We will not waver in our support of Israel and the Jewish community in Australia. We are equally unwavering in our support of the Palestinian people, including humanitarian support,” Wong said.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.