In a major policy shift, Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Saturday said Australia formally recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but would not immediately move its embassy from Tel Aviv.
In a speech at the Sydney Institute, a privately funded think tank, Morrison also committed to recognizing a future Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital once an enduring two-state solution has been reached, ending the 70-year conflict.
Instead of an embassy, Australia is to initially open a defence and trade office in West Jerusalem in a symbolic gesture of the change in Australia’s policy, the prime minister added.
Morrison said he hoped the move would advance the stalled Middle East peace process.
“We look forward to moving our embassy to West Jerusalem when practical, in support of, and after, final-status determination,” he said.
The Australia Palestine Advocacy Network said it was dismayed at the move, which it charged will only “slam closed the door to peace.”
“As Israel claims exclusive sovereignty over all of Jerusalem and refuses to abide by United Nations resolutions calling it to withdraw from occupied East Jerusalem, we cannot give them a free kick,” said APAN president Bishop George Browning.
In October, Morrison had suggested recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and noted he was “open” to moving the Australian embassy to Jerusalem while still supporting the two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians.
At the time, the Labor opposition said Morrison’s shift on Israel was a cynical attempt to attract the Jewish vote in a key by-election.
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