Australian PM Takes Flak on Possible Embassy Move

australian embassy
The building housing the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv. (Reuters/Amir Cohen)

While Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement that he is considering moving his country’s embassy to Yerushalayim won a note of thanks from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the reaction was not one of gratitude at home and in neighboring Indonesia.

“Indonesia asks Australia and other countries to support peace talks … and not take steps that would threaten that peace process and stability of world security,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, speaking at a joint news conference with Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki in Jakarta on Tuesday.

She added that her government questions the wisdom of such a move and has conveyed its “strong concern” to Canberra.

Maliki said, “They are risking Australia’s trade and business relationship with the rest of the world, in particular (the) Arab and Muslim world,” an allusion to a trade deal in the works between Australia and Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country.

Ambassadors from 13 Arab countries met in Canberra on Tuesday and agreed to send a letter to Australia’s foreign minister expressing their concern, Egyptian ambassador to Australia Mohamed Khairat was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Morrison told parliament on Tuesday he had been in touch with Indonesian President Joko Widodo to explain his position.

“I’ve been pleased to be able to explain very clearly the nature of the announcements that I’ve made today and I’ve been very pleased with the response that I’ve received from President Joko Widodo,” Morrison said. He did not elaborate on what Widodo said to him.

In any event, Morrison sought to make clear that no decision has been made yet on the embassy, that he had merely said he intended to explore the possibility despite the “taboo” on such discussion in Australia.

In addition, a joint statement issued by Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne on Tuesday gave equal time to Palestinian claims.

Canberra “will carefully examine the arguments…that we should consider recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, without prejudice to its final boundaries, while acknowledging East Jerusalem as the expected capital of a future Palestinian state,” the joint statement reads.

“Specifically, the Government will examine the merits of moving Australia’s embassy to West Jerusalem, in the context of our support for a two-state solution. Any decision will be subject to a rigorous assessment of the potential impact of such a move on our broader national interests.”

In Australia, Morrison’s party faces a crucial by-election in four days, and critics have denounced his remarks about the embassy as a vote-getting ploy aimed at Jewish voters.

The Sydney Morning Herald condemned Morrison for being “unprincipled and craven.”

University of Sydney political analyst Rod Tiffen told Reuters the shift in position was being driven by domestic politics.

“It’s a big change, it is out of step with everyone, except America,” said Tiffen.

“But three days out from the Wentworth by-election, it’s pretty blatant … to the extent that there is a Jewish vote there, it probably helps.”

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