Australia quietly walks back recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

New center-left government deletes text on foreign affairs website describing policy; decision in 2018 received lukewarm reception in Israel because it didn’t include entire city

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at UN headquarters, September 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at UN headquarters, September 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

Australia has quietly rolled back a decision made under its previous government to recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

In recent days, Canberra’s Department of Foreign Affairs deleted two sentences addressing Jerusalem from its website, which were added when prime minister Scott Morrison announced the move in 2018.

The now-deleted text described “West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel” and noted that Australia “looks forward to moving its embassy to West Jerusalem when practical, in support of, and after the final status determination of, a two-state solution,” The Guardian reported on Monday.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong of the Labor Party — which formed the government after winning federal elections in May — said as an opposition senator in 2018 that her center-left party “does not support unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and in government would reverse this decision.”

The foreign ministry website still includes the bipartisan position that Australia “is committed to a two-state solution in which Israel and a future Palestinian state coexist, in peace and security, within internationally recognized borders.”

According to The Guardian, the site was updated after the British newspaper approached the Department of Foreign Affairs regarding the government’s view on the status of Jerusalem.

An aerial view of the Chords Bridge at the entrance to the city of Jerusalem. July 10, 2017. (Gidi Avinary/FLASH90)

The ministry’s spokesperson said the current government “continues to consider the final status of Jerusalem as a matter to be resolved as part of any peace negotiations.”

Jerusalem has yet to respond to the change and there has been no comment from the Australian embassy in Israel.

Morrison’s decision received a lukewarm reception in Israel at the time, with many politicians charging that the move did not go far enough, having not recognized the entirety of the city as the Jewish state’s capital, while keeping Australia’s embassy in Tel Aviv. The prior year, the United States under then-president Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and later moved the American embassy there.

Both Israel and the Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital. Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.

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

Last month, British Prime Minister Liz Truss told Prime Minister Yair Lapid that she is reviewing a relocation of the country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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