As Australia heads to polls, Labor vows to reverse Jerusalem recognition
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As Australia heads to polls, Labor vows to reverse Jerusalem recognition

But party led by Bill Shorten, which is expected to win Saturday’s federal election, stops short of announcing plan to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten speaks at the launch of Labor's federal election campaign at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre in Brisbane, May 5, 2019. (Darren England/AAP Image via AP)
Opposition leader Bill Shorten speaks at the launch of Labor's federal election campaign at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre in Brisbane, May 5, 2019. (Darren England/AAP Image via AP)

Ahead of Saturday’s parliamentary elections, the Australian Labor party vowed to reverse the current government’s recent decision to recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

However, it stopped short of declaring that it plans to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state, despite a resolution to that effect at the party’s national conference five months ago.

“We support the widely held view of the international community that the future of Jerusalem needs to be decided by the parties to the Middle East conflict as part of a negotiated peace settlement,” the party told the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, which conducted a survey among Australia’s major parties.

“That is why Labor does not support unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and in Government would reverse this decision.”

Polls predict a close race, but Labor is widely expected to win Saturday’s federal election, with party leader Bill Shorten likely to become prime minister.

On December 15, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison formally recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, acknowledging also “the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a future state with its capital in East Jerusalem.”

His move was received with disappointment and even bitterness by the Israeli government, which considers the entire city its capital, and had hoped Canberra would follow the American example. US President Donald Trump on December 6, 2017, recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, without making a geographical distinction or taking a position on the city’s borders. On May 14, 2018, the US relocated its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Morrison, who initially said he was “open-minded” to moving his country’s embassy as well, in December announced the establishment of a “Defense and Trade Office” in Jerusalem instead. It opened quietly in March, without senior officials from either country in attendance.

An Australian diplomat speaks with an Israeli colleague at Australia’s new Defense and Trade Office in Jerusalem (Twitter)

Israel’s Foreign Ministry refused to comment on Labor’s promise to reverse the current government’s decision on Jerusalem, with a spokesperson telling The Times of Israel, “We’re not going to react to hypotheticals or speculations.”

Labor’s response to the Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s question on the status of Jerusalem does not address the prime minister’s distinction between East and West Jerusalem.

Rather, it slammed Morrison’s move as “a desperate political tactic” to woo Jewish voters. His decision was made without consulting the cabinet and against the better advice of Australian foreign policy professionals and the country’s allies, the party charged.

“Astonishingly, it was a decision made without consulting either the Israelis or the Palestinians themselves, whose agreement must be the foundation of any lasting peace,” the party said.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks at a business breakfast in Darwin, April 24, 2019. (Mick Tsikas/AAP Image via AP)

“The result of the chaos and confusion has been clear. Mr Morrison caused offense to some of our nearest neighbors, harmed Australia’s international reputation, and our nation’s interests. The final decision by the Liberals [the prime minister’s center-right party], to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while continuing to locate Australia’s embassy in Tel Aviv, was a humiliating rebuff to Mr Morrison.”

Labor has been a “strong supporter” of Israel since before its founding, the statement asserted. “That support will never change. We want to see the Israeli people live in peace, behind secure and recognized borders and Labor remains steadfast in our support for Israel in advancing the cause of peace.”

In December 2018, Labor’s National Conference called on “the next Labor government to recognize Palestine as a state,” saying such a step was an “important priority.”

The resolution “made clear the desire of the Conference to recognize Palestine as a State while acknowledging this will ultimately be a matter for a future Labor Government,” the party told the Jewish umbrella group this week, possibly signaling that Shorten would support the status quo rather than recognize a Palestinian state in the absence of a peace agreement with Israel.

By contrast, the British Labour party, led by perennial Israel critic Jeremy Corbyn, has repeatedly declared it will recognize Palestinian statehood immediately after coming to power.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meets with the Australian Federal opposition leader Bill Shorten in Sydney, February 24, 2017. (William West/Pool Photo via AP)

“A Shorten Labor Government would ensure that any decision taken contributes to a peaceful resolution of the conflict and to progress towards a two-state solution,” Australian Labor told the Jewish group.

On the question of Palestinian statehood, Morrison’s Liberal Party said Australia has long believed that such aspirations “can only be realized through direct negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel.”

His next government would continue to “encourage both Israel and the Palestinians to take the steps needed to reinvigorate the peace process and recommence negotiations on the final status issues, including the status of Jerusalem, the right of return of refugees, the status of Israeli settlements, the provision of security, and the future borders of a Palestinian state.”

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