As Palestinians and the Arab League on Saturday condemned Australia’s recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the move was somewhat surprisingly defended by one Arab nation — Bahrain.
The Arab League in a statement said it “strongly condemns” Australia’s move which it called “irresponsible and biased” and “contrary to international law.” It warned that the decision would only “encourage the occupation to continue its aggression, arrogance, settlement and defiance of international resolutions” and added that the move could have serious ramifications for Arab-Australian relations.
But Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa took issue with the statement, saying in a tweet: “These are irresponsible statements. Australia’s position does not hamper the legitimate demands of the Palestinians and first and foremost East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. It also does not contradict the Arab Peace Initiative.”
Israel and Bahrain do not have diplomatic relations, but are said to have solid clandestine ties. Both countries see in Iran a strategic threat.
Australia on Saturday officially recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, but a contentious embassy shift from Tel Aviv will not occur until a peace settlement is achieved.
“The Australian government has decided that Australia now recognizes West Jerusalem, as the seat of the Knesset and many of the institutions of government, is the capital of Israel,” he said.
He said the decision respects both a commitment to a two-state solution and longstanding respect for relevant UN Security Council resolutions.
Morrison 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.
“All of Jerusalem remains a final status issue for negotiations, while East Jerusalem, under international law, is an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territory,” he said.
While the embassy move is delayed, Morrison said his government will establish a defense and trade office in Jerusalem and will also start looking for an appropriate site for the embassy.
Top Palestinian official Saeb Erekat issued a withering response, calling on Arab nations to sever their ties with Canberra and saying the decision was “one wherein petty domestic politics steer irresponsible policies that contradict world peace and security.”
Erekat, who serves as a top aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and is head of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, also dismissed Australian claims that the move would help advance a two-state solution, saying Canberra refuses to recognize Palestine as a state, votes against the Palestinian right to self-determination, and continues to trade with Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Jordan also condemned Canberra, saying its move was “biased towards Israel” and only served to “perpetuate the occupation.”
Morrison’s move was seen by many Australians as a political stunt. Recognizing Jerusalem is expected to 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.
Australia’s opposition Labor party slammed Morrison for putting “self-interest ahead of the national interest.”
“Recognizing West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while continuing to locate Australia’s embassy in Tel Aviv, is nothing more than a face-saving exercise,” shadow minister for foreign affairs Penny Wong said in a statement.
“This is a decision which is all risk and no gain,” she said, 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.
Agencies contributed to this report.