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16 Oct, 2018 03:14

Australia 'open-minded' to moving Israeli embassy to Jerusalem – PM

Australia 'open-minded' to moving Israeli embassy to Jerusalem – PM

Australia might soon follow in controversial US footsteps and relocate its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the country's new prime minister hinted after discussing the issue with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

Arguing that a two-state solution has failed to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that his government is contemplating moving the Australian embassy to the Holy City, to somehow rejuvenate the negotiation process.

"We're committed to a two-state solution, but frankly, it hasn't been going that well, not a lot of progress has been made, and you don't keep doing the same thing and expect different results," Morrison said Tuesday morning, speaking from Parliament House.

Crediting the former Australian ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, of bringing up the relocation issue to a public debate, Morrison noted that he remains "open-minded" about the "sensible" and "persuasive" possibility of following US President Donald Trump's controversial move. Establishing a permanent diplomatic presence in Jerusalem, the PM argued, will not impede the potential creation of independent state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel.

"You can achieve both" the two-state solution and Jerusalem being Israel's capital, he claimed. "Indeed by pursuing both you are actually aiding the cause for a two-state solution."

Stressing that "no decision" has yet been made, Morrison promised to consult his cabinet as well as world leaders before making the bold move. While the possibility of relocating the Australian embassy to Jerusalem was welcomed by Netanyahu, Morrison's critics blamed the PM of catering to the Jewish electorate of Wentworth, where former Ambassador Sharma is trailing behind in the opinion polls ahead of the crucial parliamentary by-election scheduled this week. If the Liberal party candidate loses the crucial vote, Morrison's party will lose the one-seat majority in parliament.

"Scott Morrison is now so desperate to hang on to his job, he is prepared to say anything if he thinks it will win him a few more votes - even at the cost of Australia's national interest," said the opposition Labour party foreign policy spokeswoman Penny Wong.

The former government headed by PM Malcolm Turnbull rejected relocating the country's embassy to Jerusalem. But on Monday, Sharma told an election forum he was "open" to moving the embassy.

The two-state solution envisages an independent Palestine alongside Israel. While the Palestinians insist on drawing the demarcation lines along the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem serving as the capital of the future Palestinian state, Israel claims historic rights to the entire city.

‘Completely contrary to reality’: Trump’s Israel embassy move irreversible, US ambassador says

There have been many diplomatic efforts to realize a two-state solution, but the last US-led Palestinian-Israeli peace talks came to a halt in April 2014, under the Obama administration. While both Russia and France offered to host delegations from Israel and Palestine for renewed peace talks, on December 6, 2017 Trump announced that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The decision sparked international outrage as well as violent demonstrations in the Palestinian territories. Though the UN General Assembly voted 128-9 to condemn the US decision, Washington still opened its embassy in Jerusalem in May this year.

Trump's Jerusalem move marked the first time since the UN-brokered partition of Palestine in 1947 that a president of the US – a member of the Middle East Quartet, which is charged with mediating the peace process between Palestine and Israel – has departed from the established policy that the issue of Jerusalem as Israel's capital should be kept off the table.

If Australia does indeed relocate its embassy to Jerusalem, it will become the third country to recognize the city as the capital of Israel. Currently, only the US and Guatemala have their diplomatic headquarters there. Just last month, Paraguay reversed its decision to move its embassy, returning it to Tel Aviv.

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