Knesset speaker: Australian recognition of only West Jerusalem is a setback

Yuli Edelstein says Canberra should have declared all of the city as Israel’s capital, and by not doing so is indirectly encouraging Palestinian violence and unrealistic dreams

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein attends a committee meeting at the Knesset, July 2, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein attends a committee meeting at the Knesset, July 2, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein on Sunday said Australia’s recognition of only West Jerusalem as the Israeli capital was more of a setback than a boon, and could indirectly serve to stoke further Palestinian violence.

“We expected more from a friendly country like Australia,” Edelstein told Army Radio.

His comments came a day after Australia said it was recognizing West Jerusalem — meaning the areas of the city held by Israel before June 1967 — as the capital while maintaining its support for Palestinian claims in East Jerusalem.

“I think that not only are the things not useful for any stability in the region but rather it could be said they indirectly encourage Palestinian violence and other [unrealistic] dreams they have,” Edelstein said.

“There is nothing new in it,” he continued and noted that even the UN’s cultural body UNESCO, which passed a series of resolutions which ignored the Jewish connection to the Old City of Jerusalem, had made statements “that West Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.”

“In some ways it sets us back by years,” Edelstein said of Australia’s announcement. “For years the world tried to hand the keys to a future solution to irresponsible players such as the Palestinian Authority and the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization], and nothing came of it.”

“I am hopeful that our cool response will perhaps make it clear to the Australians that this is not we were wishing for,” he added.

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

Edelstein was also asked about the Palestinian response to Australia, which has been to slam the move with top Palestinian official Saeb Erekat calling it “irresponsible.”

“If I was in the Palestinians’ position I would not be too angry and make too much of a fuss,” Edelstein said. “The copycat attacks we have seen recently are the full responsibility of the Palestinian Authority and in their place I would sit quietly at the moment.”

Since last Sunday there has been a spate of shooting, stabbing and stoning attacks in the West Bank and Jerusalem, mostly focused on the area around Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority. Two Israeli soldiers have been killed and several soldiers and civilians have been injured, some of them seriously. Among the wounded was a pregnant woman whose baby died after being delivered prematurely due to wounds sustained in the attack.

Australia officially recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Saturday, 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.

Israel’s response to Australia was ambivalent, 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.

However, 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.

Saeb Erekat speaks to journalists after a meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, at the Royal Palace, in Amman, Jordan, on January 29, 2018. (Khalil Mazraawi, Pool Photo via AP)

After the Australian announcement, Edelstein said the decision was “difficult to understand…all of Jerusalem is our eternal capital, not just a part of it.”

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.

There has been an increase in the number of attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers in the West Bank in recent weeks, after months of relative calm in the area, raising concerns of a potential renewed outbreak of regular, serious violence in the region.

Raphael Ahren and agencies contributed to this report.

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