Australia on Friday told citizens to take precautionary measures while travelling in neighbouring Muslim-majority Indonesia, ahead of an expected move to shift the Australian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expected to announce, as soon as Saturday, that his government will follow US President Donald Trump’s lead and recognise the contested holy city as Israel’s capital.
Scores of Australians preparing to jet off to Bali and other tropical island destinations for upcoming summer holidays should “exercise a high degree of caution”, the Department of Foreign Affairs warned.
Officials in Canberra told AFP news agency they expected the announcement to come on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, but cautioned that events could yet alter those plans.
The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest obstacles to a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israel regards all of the city – including the eastern sector it annexed after the 1967 Middle East war – as its capital while Palestinian leaders, with broad international backing, want occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state they hope to establish in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
US embassy move
The Trump administration turned its back on decades of US policy by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv on May 15.
In protests following the decision, at least 64 Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza were killed by Israeli forces along several points near the fence with Israel.
Morrison is expected to stop short of actually shifting Australia’s diplomatic corps to Jerusalem amid warnings from his own officials about the cost and security implications.
But recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would help the embattled Australian leader, who faces the prospect of an election drubbing next year, with Jewish and conservative Christian voters. It would also win him the support of the White House.
The Palestinian government would press for Arab and Muslim states to “withdraw their ambassadors” and take some “meat and wheat” style “economic boycott measures” if the move went ahead, Palestinian ambassador to Australia Izzat Abdulhadi, told AFP.
Indonesia’s government, facing domestic pressure at home, had reacted angrily earlier this year when Morrison floated the idea of both recognising Jerusalem and moving the Australian embassy there.
The issue has put the conclusion of a bilateral trade agreement on hold.
In the meantime, Australia’s foreign ministry has moved to prepare the ground.
“Demonstrations have been held in recent weeks around the Australian Embassy in Jakarta and the Australian Consulate-General in Surabaya,” it warned in a public notice on Friday.
“Protests may continue at the Embassy in Jakarta or at any of Australia’s Consulates-General in Surabaya, Bali and Makassar,” the Department of Foreign Affairs said.