Australian Labor party says it will recognize Palestinian state if in power

Foreign affairs senator Penny Wong tells national conference that she is a friend of both Israel and the Palestinians, calls West Jerusalem recognition ‘all risk and no gain’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meets with the then-Australian federal opposition leader Bill Shorten, center, and senator Penny Wong in Sydney, February 24, 2017.  (William West/Pool Photo via AP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meets with the then-Australian federal opposition leader Bill Shorten, center, and senator Penny Wong in Sydney, February 24, 2017. (William West/Pool Photo via AP)

The Australian Labor Party said Tuesday it would recognize a Palestinian state if it takes power in Canberra, days after the country’s prime minister gave recognition to West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The party passed the motion at its annual national conference in Adelaide.

It calls on “the next Labor government to recognize Palestine as a state” as an “important priority.”

A final decision on the matter would be made by a future cabinet. Australia is scheduled to hold federal elections on May 18, 2019, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been forced to rule with only a minority government after his Liberal party failed to secure a by-election in Sydney in October.

On Saturday, Morrison announced his government was recognizing West Jerusalem — meaning the areas of the city held by Israel before June 1967 — as the capital but that a contentious embassy shift from Tel Aviv will not occur until a peace settlement is achieved.

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

Israel reacted coolly to the announcement, 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.

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.

Palestinian officials expressed public anger over the announcement.

Speaking to the conference Tuesday, Labor Senator Penny Wong, who would become foreign minister in a Labor government, stressed that recognizing a Palestinian state would be part of a process for the benefit of both peoples.

“Labor is a friend of the Israelis,” Wong said according to a report from the website. “I’m a friend of the Israelis. Labor is a friend of the Palestinians. I’m a friend of the Palestinians”

“All who come to this debate do so in the hope of contributing to peace and to a just and lasting resolution,” she added. “We recognize that a just two-state solution will require recognizing the right of both the Palestinian and Israeli people to live peacefully.”

In 2017 Australia’s New South Wales Labor Party voted for the recognition of a Palestinian state, following similar resolutions in the states of Western Australia and South Australia, totaling half of the country’s six federated regions. It put pressure on Labor’s federal party leader Bill Shorten to confirm his position on the matter.

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

He 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.

Morrison initially said Australia would mull recognizing Jerusalem days ahead of the Wentworth by-election, in what was seen as an unsuccessful bid to court the area’s large Jewish population in favor of Liberal candidate Dave Sharma, a former ambassador to Israel who has reportedly pushed for the move.

However, critics warned that recognition would put key trade relationships with Indonesia and Malaysia at risk.

Wong said the Jerusalem decision was “all risk and no gain,” adding it puts Australia “out of step” with the international community.

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. In a controversial break with decades of US policy, the Washington moved its embassy to Jerusalem in May, prompting the Palestinian Authority to boycott ties with the Trump administration.

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