Australian PM mulls recognizing Jerusalem as capital, moving embassy

Scott Morrison says potential shift would not negate support for 2-state solution; move comes as former envoy to Israel Dave Sharma runs for critical seat in heavily Jewish area

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Australia's Treasurer Scott Morrison attends a press conference in Parliament House, in Canberra, on August 22, 2018.  (AFP/MARK GRAHAM)
Australia's Treasurer Scott Morrison attends a press conference in Parliament House, in Canberra, on August 22, 2018. (AFP/MARK GRAHAM)

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Israel’s prime minister that he is considering following in the footsteps of the Trump administration by formally recognizing Jerusalem as the country’s capital Monday.

The potentially major shift in Australia’s foreign policy would align Morrison’s conservative government closer to the US and Israel, but likely draw widespread condemnation from the Arab Muslim world. It comes as Canberra’s former envoy to Israel, who also said he favors such a move, is running for a crucial parliamentary seat in a heavily Jewish area of Sydney.

Morrison is scheduled to make a foreign policy statement on Tuesday in which he is expected to announce he is considering recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The statement is also set to include the announcement of a review of Australia’s support for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Morrison is also set to declare that Australia will vote at the UN against a resolution formally confirming the “State of Palestine” as the chair of the Group of 77.

Morrison discussed the Jerusalem move with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a Monday phone call, according to Netanyahu’s office. A statement said Morrison confirmed to Netanyahu that he was considering recognizing Jerusalem and moving the embassy.

The Israeli premier thanked his Australian counterpart for considering the move, and the two discussed ways to strengthen bilateral relations, according to the statement.

Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma (Courtesy)

According to news site The Australian, recognition of Jerusalem would lead to deepened defense ties with Israel, including an agreement to appoint military attaches in each other’s embassies for the first time.

Morrison told the news site that the possible policy shift would not change Canberra’s longstanding support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The prime minister said that former ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, convinced him to consider the shift in policy, calling his proposal on Jerusalem a “practical and insightful way forward which I’ve found quite persuasive.”

“When sensible suggestions are put forward that are consistent with your policy positioning and in this case pursuing a two-state solution, Australia should be open-minded to this and I am open-minded to this and our government is open-minded to this,” Morrison told reporters.

Sharma is running as the Liberal candidate for parliament in the Wentworth district, in New South Wales.

The seat representing the heavily Jewish area was left vacant after outgoing Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull resigned last month. Winning the seat is crucial for Morrison, whose Liberal government holds a one-seat majority in parliament.

US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and US President Donald Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump unveil the inauguration plaque during the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/ Menahem Kahana)

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Morrison denied that the announcement was related to the Wentworth election later this week, and said his foreign policy announcement was prompted by the need to explain Australia’s “no” vote at the UN this week.

Morrison told The Australian that transferring the embassy to West Jerusalem would not abandon Canberra’s support for East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

He said the recognition of Jerusalem was previously discussed by top cabinet members, including former foreign minister Julie Bishop, after Trump announced the US recognition of the Israeli capital last December.

Morrison said the issue of Iran has been raised numerous times since he was elected prime minister last month, and that he “will be reviewing” Australia’s position on the 2015 nuclear deal.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (R) walking with Australia’s incumbent Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, after a party meeting in Canberra, on August 24, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAEED KHAN)

Though Australia is not a signatory of the Obama-era deal, Morrison said that withdrawing Australian support for the accord in line with the US would be a symbolic gesture.

“I’ve indicated that I share concerns about Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the Middle East,” he said.

Earlier on Monday, Sharma argued in favor of recognizing Jerusalem during a election event in Bondi.

He told The Australian that “everyone” accepts that West Jerusalem would remain under Israeli sovereignty under any two-state deal, but said the matter must be considered in the “context of our support for a two-state solution, and whether such a move would help further a sovereign two-state solution.”

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