Erekat slams Australian recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital
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Erekat slams Australian recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

Palestinian official says move is ‘irresponsible’; PM Scott Morrison announces embassy to remain in Tel Aviv until peace is achieved, but defense, trade office to open in capital

Saeb Erekat, speaks at the Haaretz and New Israel Fund conference at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York on December 13, 2015. (Amir Levy/Flash90)
Saeb Erekat, speaks at the Haaretz and New Israel Fund conference at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York on December 13, 2015. (Amir Levy/Flash90)

Top Palestinian official Saeb Erekat responded Saturday to Australia’s recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, calling the move “irresponsible.”

Erekat, who serves as a top aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and is head of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, said the decision was “one wherein petty domestic politics steer irresponsible policies that contradict world peace and security.”

The Palestinian negotiator 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.

“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 added in the statement.

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

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.

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.

“We look forward to moving our embassy to West Jerusalem when practical, in support of and after final status of determination,” he said, adding that work on a new site for the embassy was under way.

The prime minister said it was in Australia’s interests to support “liberal democracy” in the Middle East and took aim at the United Nations he said was a place where Israel is “bullied.”

The 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.

The General Delegation of Palestine to Australia and New Zealand on Saturday released a statement linking Morrison’s decision to domestic politics.

“Many strong arguments have been advanced between Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s floating the idea during the Wentworth by-election campaign and now and most of them have exposed the faulty thinking and flimsy pretexts that underpin the case of the proponents of this move,” the statement said.

Australia had on Friday warned citizens to take care while traveling in neighboring Muslim-majority Indonesia ahead of the expected announcement by Morrison.

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)

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.

But Morrison’s statement was seen by many Australians as a political stunt. Critics called it a cynical attempt to win votes in a by-election in October for a Sydney seat with a high Jewish population.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said Saturday that the decision to recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but not move the embassy there was a “humiliating backdown” from the October by-election campaign.

“What I’m worried is that Mr. Morrison put his political interest ahead of our national interest,” Shorten told reporters.

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.

Tourists look at the view of the Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount from the lookout of the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old city of Jerusalem, on November 28, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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.

The US Embassy in Jerusalem sits on a traffic circle recently named for US President Donald Trump. The compound is in the middle of Arnona, a quiet residential neighborhood in the city’s south. (Ben Sales/JTA)

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.

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.

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.

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