Last week, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the possibility of transferring the Australian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This breaks a long-standing convention that Jerusalem should only be discussed in the final stages of a peace deal between Israel and Palestine. The proposal, made on Tuesday, follows on the heels of President Trump, who oversaw the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital by opening a new US embassy there. This resulted in widespread backlash in Palestine and across the globe. Morrison has faced similar criticism, with Muslim and Arab nations condemning the announcement and potentially damaging ties with Australia.
While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted his thanks, the head of the Palestinian diplomatic delegation to Australia, Izzat Salah Abdulhadi, called Morrison’s consideration ‘deeply disturbing’. This came in conjunction with a statement by 13 North African and Middle Eastern embassies in Australia, which implied that a breakdown of relations would follow this ‘fatal mistake’. In particular, Australia’s neighbour and the most populous Muslim country in world, Indonesia, suggested that the nations’ free trade deal could be at stake. Morrison, however, defended his decision. He told reporters that while Australia was still in favour of the two-state solution, ‘it hasn’t been going that well’. He continued, saying that: ‘Not a lot of progress has been made, and you don’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results.’
While Morrison seems to be disguising this decision as a positive initiative to break the deadlock of the Israel-Palestine problem, it appears that domestic politics lie at the heart of the matter. The announcement came just days before Morrison’s Liberal Party fought a crucial by-election in Sydney. Many political opponents have cited the large Jewish population in the Wentworth constituency as a motivation for Morrison’s policy shift on Jerusalem. If this is the case, it seems not to have worked; the Liberals lost to an independent candidate on Saturday, losing their majority in the House of Representatives.
Morrison has shown a concerning willingness to deal with finely balanced and explosive foreign affairs in pursuit of short-term domestic political gain. While he has argued that the decision was made ‘without any reference to the United States’, it would be short-sighted of him to ignore the consequences of President Trump’s policy. The opening of the new US embassy in May resulted in clashes between Palestinian protestors and Israeli soldiers. In Gaza, approximately 58 civilians were killed, with 1,200 injured. The Guardian has revealed that the Australian Security Intelligence Organization warned Morrison before his announcement that similar protests could take place should he go forward with his plan. Morrison’s disregard for these warnings would suggest that his desire to progress the peace process is shallow.
In the past, settlement attempts have taken months of delicate bilateral negotiations, not the sudden policy shift of an external power. Nonetheless, as the US situation has demonstrated and Australian authorities have foreseen, the decision to move an embassy will create further division. The parochialism that seems to have underpinned Morrison’s announcement highlights a concerning approach to the situation. Such actions undermine the hard work of diplomacy and measured processes that ensure peace and amicable relations among nations. While the current consensus does not solve the problem, it does attempt to avoid the violence that was seen this May. If leaders are becoming more inclined to meddle in these affairs brazenly, one has to question the morality that sees hundreds of lives at stake for the sake of political gain.