Arab League chief: Australia must approve East Jerusalem as Palestinian capital

Ahmed Aboul Gheit says Canberra showed ‘glaring bias’ in favor of Israel by recognizing West Jerusalem as capital of Jewish state

Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit attends the Arab Foreign Minister's meeting in Cairo on July 27, 2017. (AFP Photo/Khaled Desouki)
Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit attends the Arab Foreign Minister's meeting in Cairo on July 27, 2017. (AFP Photo/Khaled Desouki)

The head of the powerful Arab League on Sunday condemned what he called Australia’s favoritism toward Israel in recognizing some areas of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state, and said that Canberra should balance the measure by recognizing the rest of the city as the capital of a Palestinian state.

His comments came a day after Australia said it was recognizing West Jerusalem — meaning the areas of the city held by Israel before June 1967 — as the capital while maintaining support of Palestinian claims in East Jerusalem.

“The Australian position is incomplete,” Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said, according to the German dpa news agency. “Therefore, it stirs our dismay.”

“Recognizing West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital while ignoring recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Palestine shows glaring bias toward Israel,” Aboul Gheit said at a forum in the United Arab Emirates.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison declares West Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, Sydney, December 15, 2018. (Screen grab via ABC News)

“I call on the Australian government to correct its position and recognize the State of Palestine and its capital as East Jerusalem without delay,” he continued. “Thus, we will consider its position balanced.”

Aboul Gheit’s remarks followed an official statement Saturday from the Arab League that said it “strongly condemns” Australia’s move, which it called “irresponsible and biased” and “contrary to international law.” It warned that the decision would only “encourage the occupation to continue its aggression, arrogance, settlement and defiance of international resolutions” and added that the move could have “serious ramifications for Arab-Australian relations.”

One Arab nation, Bahrain, rejected the Arab League position and backed Australia, saying recognition of West Jerusalem as the Israeli capital was in line with the vision of the Arab Peace Initiative to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Australia officially recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Saturday, but a contentious embassy shift from Tel Aviv will not occur until a peace settlement is achieved.

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

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

Morrison also committed to recognizing the aspirations for a future state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital when the city’s status is determined in a peace deal.

Israel’s response to Australia was ambivalent, with the Foreign Ministry saying in a statement that Canberra’s decision to open a defense and trade office in Jerusalem was “a step in the right direction” while not commenting on the recognition itself.

However, a senior Israeli official told Hebrew media anonymously that Israel was disappointed by Australia’s decision to stress that its recognition only pertained to West Jerusalem.

Both Israel and the Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital. Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community. It sees the entire city as its sovereign capital.

For decades the international community maintained that the city’s status should be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians. Critics say declaring Jerusalem the capital of either inflames tensions and prejudges the outcome of final status peace talks.

Raphael Ahren and agencies contributed to this report.

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