Australia may recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on Saturday — report
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Australia may recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on Saturday — report

Officials say announcement will be made on Shabbat, as Canberra warns citizens to take care while traveling in neighboring Muslim-majority Indonesia

Newly elected leader of the Liberal Party, Scott Morrison addresses media at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Aug. 24, 2018 (Lukas Coch/AAP Image via AP)
Newly elected leader of the Liberal Party, Scott Morrison addresses media at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Aug. 24, 2018 (Lukas Coch/AAP Image via AP)

Officials in Canberra have said they expect Australia to announce an anticipated but contentious move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, AFP reported Friday.

However the officials cautioned that events could yet alter those plans.

Australia on Friday warned citizens to take care while travelling in neighboring Muslim-majority Indonesia ahead of the expected announcement by Prime Minister Scott Morrison that his government will follow US President Donald Trump’s lead and recognize the contested city as Israel’s capital.

While Australia’s then-foreign minister Julie Bishop said in June that “the Australian government will not be moving our embassy to Jerusalem,” Morrison said in October that he was “open-minded” regarding following the American example.

Scores of Australians preparing to jet off to Bali and other tropical island destinations for upcoming summer holidays should “exercise a high degree of caution,” the Department of Foreign Affairs warned.

Protesters wave Palestinian flags during a rally against the US plan to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, at Monas, the national monument, in Jakarta, Indonesia, May 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

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 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.

Morrison’s mid-October announcement that he was “open-minded” to following the United States in recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, drew criticism at home. Australia’s spy agency warned the move could provoke further violent unrest in Israel, while opposition lawmakers accused the prime minister of cynically pandering to Jewish voters ahead of a crucial by-election.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat has also harshly criticized the reported move, and called on Arab and Muslim countries to sever all diplomatic ties with Australia if it changed its policy on Jerusalem. In a tweet Tuesday morning, Erekat said that various Arab and Muslim summits have adopted resolutions committing to ending diplomatic ties with any country that recognizes Jerusalem as belonging to Israel.

Morrison is expected to stop short of actually shifting Australia’s diplomatic corps to the Holy City, amid fears about the cost and security implications.

But recognizing Jerusalem would help the embattled Australian PM — who faces the prospect of an election drubbing next year — with Jewish and conservative Christian voters and win him friends in the White House.

His supporters argue Israel has the right to choose its own capital and peace talks are dead in the water, so there is no peace to prejudge.

But the move still risks heightening unrest, not least in Australia’s immediate neighbor and the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Jakarta protests

Indonesia’s government, facing domestic pressure at home, had reacted angrily earlier this year, when Morrison floated the idea of both recognizing Jerusalem and moving the Australian embassy there.

The issue has put the conclusion of a bilateral trade agreement on hold.

Protesters shout slogans “God is Great” during a rally against the US plan to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, at Monas, the national monument, in Jakarta, Indonesia, May 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

In the meantime, Australia’s foreign ministry has moved to prepare the ground.

“Demonstrations have been held in recent weeks around the Australian Embassy in Jakarta and the Australian Consulate-General in Surabaya,” it warned in a public notice Friday.

“Protests may continue at the Embassy in Jakarta or at any of Australia’s Consulates-General in Surabaya, Bali and Makassar,” the Department of Foreign Affairs said. “Exercise a high degree of caution.”

JTA contributed to this report.

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