Prime Minister Yair Lapid slammed Australia’s announcement on Tuesday that it would no longer recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as the Foreign Ministry summoned Canberra’s envoy to clarify the matter.
“In light of the way in which the decision was made in Australia, as a hasty response to incorrect news in the media, we can only hope that the Australian government manages other matters more seriously and professionally,” Lapid said in a statement.
“Jerusalem is the eternal capital of united Israel and nothing will ever change that,” he said.
The Foreign Ministry, which Lapid also heads, said Israel “expresses its deep disappointment” over the decision, calling it the result of “shortsighted political considerations.”
At a faction event for his Yesh Atid party later on Tuesday, Lapid said that “what happened in Australia was a change of leadership.” He added that as a general rule, Israel did not define the capital cities of other nations, so other countries should not do so for Israel.
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion said he was sorry to hear of Australia’s decision.
“A united Jerusalem has been and will continue to be the capital of Israel forever. Statements of this type do not further anything and do not contribute at all,” he said in a statement.
However, the Palestinian Authority applauded the Australian decision.
“We welcome Australia’s decision with regards to Jerusalem & its call for a two-state solution in accordance with international legitimacy,” the Palestinian Authority’s civil affairs minister, Hussein al-Sheikh, said on Twitter.
Sheikh hailed Australia’s “affirmation that the future of sovereignty over Jerusalem depends on the permanent solution based on international legitimacy.”
The Walla news site reported that Israel was taken by surprise by the decision, which came just months after the head of the Middle East Division of the Australian Foreign Ministry visited Israel and made clear to his counterparts that there was no change expected in Australia’s policy on West Jerusalem.
However, the Australian Labor Party, which came to power in May 2022 with Anthony Albanese as prime minister, had made a campaign promise to reverse the Scott Morrison-led conservative government’s 2018 decision to recognize the western part of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong made the announcement Tuesday in response to a media report on the matter, asserting that the government had decided to revert to recognizing Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital.
She said Jerusalem’s status should be decided through peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, and not through unilateral decisions.
Australia remained committed to a two-state solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and “will not support an approach that undermines this prospect,” Wong said. “Australia’s embassy has always been, and remains, in Tel Aviv,” she added.
The foreign minister had denied earlier Tuesday that there was a policy change, saying via a spokesperson that “the former government made the decision to recognize West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel” and that “no decision to change that has been made by the government.”
But just hours later, Wong, a member of the ruling Labor Party, said the decision four years ago by a conservative government “caused conflict and distress in part of the Australian community, and today the government seeks to resolve that.”
Wong accused the Morrison government of having been motivated by a crucial by-election in a beach-side Sydney suburb with a sizable Jewish community. “You know what this was? This was a cynical play, unsuccessful, to win the seat of Wentworth and a by-election,” she said.
Wong insisted that the current decision did not signal any hostility to Israel.
“Australia will always be a steadfast friend of Israel. We were amongst the first countries to formally recognize Israel,” she said. “We will not waver in our support of Israel and the Jewish community in Australia. We are equally unwavering in our support of the Palestinian people, including humanitarian support.”
Both Israel and the Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital. Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community. For decades the international community maintained that the city’s status should be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians. Critics argue that declaring Jerusalem the capital of either inflames tensions and prejudges the outcome of final status peace talks.
Canberra’s decision came amid confusion after the British newspaper The Guardian reported on Monday that the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs had removed text surrounding the recognition of West Jerusalem from its website.
The deleted text described “West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel” and noted that Australia “looks forward to moving its embassy to West Jerusalem when practical, in support of, and after the final status determination of, a two-state solution.”
According to The Guardian, the site was updated after the British newspaper approached the Department of Foreign Affairs regarding the government’s view on the status of Jerusalem.
A spokesperson for Morrison said a decision to reverse the recognition would be “disappointing,” Australia’s ABC News reported.
Morrison’s decision in 2018 received a lukewarm reception in Israel at the time, with many politicians charging that the move did not go far enough, having not recognized the entirety of the city as the Jewish state’s capital, and keeping Australia’s embassy in Tel Aviv. The previous year, the United States under then-president Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and later moved the American embassy there.
Carrie Keller-Lynn contributed to this report.