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Australia says no change to 2018 recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

Foreign minister denies reversal of decision, made by previous government, after foreign affairs website removes description of policy

Labor Party senator Penny Wong smiles as she introduces party leader Anthony Albanese at an event in Sydney, Australia, Sunday, May 22, 2022, after Prime Minister Scott Morrison conceding defeat to Albanese in a federal election. (AP/Rick Rycroft)
Labor Party senator Penny Wong smiles as she introduces party leader Anthony Albanese at an event in Sydney, Australia, Sunday, May 22, 2022, after Prime Minister Scott Morrison conceding defeat to Albanese in a federal election. (AP/Rick Rycroft)

Australia has denied that it has reversed a decision, made under its previous government, to recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and said there has been no change in policy.

The denial, by Foreign Minister Penny Wong, came hours after the UK’s The Guardian reported that Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs had quietly walked back the decision, pointing to the removal of two sentences addressing Jerusalem from its website.

On Monday, a spokesperson for Wong told Australia’s ABC News that the government “continues to consider the final status of Jerusalem as a matter to be resolved as part of any peace negotiations.” But “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,” Wong said via the spokesperson.

The Labor Party had vowed to reverse Canberra’s move in 2018 under then-prime minister Scott Morrison of the Liberal Party to recognize the western part of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, if elected. Morrison had sought to win the Liberal Party another term in office in the May 2022 national elections but was defeated by the opposing Labor Party, led by Anthony Albanese, the country’s prime minister since late May.

Wong, as an opposition senator in 2018, had said that the center-left Labor Party “does not support unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and in government would reverse this decision.”

“Australia remains a longstanding friend and strong supporter of Israel,” Wong said in the statement on Monday.

A spokesperson for Morrison said a decision to reverse the recognition would be “disappointing,” ABC News reported.

Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese, center back, celebrates with his partner Jodie Haydon, right, and Labor senate leader partner Penny Wong at a Labor Party event in Sydney, Australia, Sunday, May 22, 2022, after Prime Minister Scott Morrison conceding defeat to Albanese in a federal election. (AP/Rick Rycroft)

Labor lawmaker Jason Clare, the country’s education minister, said no decision on a potential reversal had been made because the cabinet had not yet considered the issue, ABC News reported.

Earlier Monday, The Guardian reported that the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs deleted text from its website describing “West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel” and noting 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 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)

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

Morrison’s decision in 2018 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 previous 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.

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