Australia hesitates as Jerusalem embassy move draws fire

PM Scott Morrison said he was open to recognizing Jerusalem and moving Australian embassy there. (File/AFP)
Updated 16 October 2018
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Australia hesitates as Jerusalem embassy move draws fire

  • 13 Arab ambassadors met in Canberra over Australian PM's announcement to potentially recognize Jerusalem
  • Egypt's ambassador said Australia's decision "might damage the peace process"

SYDNEY: Facing a domestic backlash and the threat of foreign trade retaliation, Australia’s Prime Minister on Tuesday appeared to slow-peddle a controversial decision to move the country’s embassy to Jerusalem, saying he would first consult with allies.
As Scott Morrison stood accused of ditching 70 years of Australian foreign policy and reports emerged that Indonesia may suspend a planned bilateral trade deal, the prime minister told parliament no firm decision had been taken.
Hours after first floating the idea, Morrison said he would “canvass views” from regional leaders about the decision to follow US President Donald Trump’s lead and move the embassy from Tel Aviv “before the government forms a particular view on this issue.”
Jerusalem is claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians. Most foreign nations have avoided locating embassies there for fear of prejudging peace talks on the city’s final status — until Trump unilaterally moved the US embassy there earlier this year.
Officials said the decision to move the Australian embassy has been under consideration for months. But Morrison’s announcement was timed to coincide with a make-or-break moment for his fledgling premiership.
On Saturday voters in a key Sydney electorate will go to the polls, with Morrison’s Liberal party candidate, a former ambassador to Israel, trailing in the final stretch.
Defeat for Morrison’s candidate — in a constituency with a sizeable Jewish population — would spell the end of his government’s parliamentary majority and a bleak future for his months-old stint at the top of Australia’s rough-and-tumble political heap.
Although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Morrison’s initiative, the response from neighboring Indonesia — the world’s largest Muslim nation — was less welcoming.
Australia would be “violating international law” and UN security council resolutions if it proceeded with the embassy move, said Palestinian foreign minister Riyad Al-Maliki, who was in Jakarta on an official visit Tuesday.
“Australia is risking (its) trade and business relationship with the rest of the world and particularly the Muslim world,” he added.
“I hope that Australia would reconsider that decision before it takes such action for election purposes.”
Australian state-backed broadcaster ABC reported a senior official in Jakarta saying a landmark trade deal between the two countries may now be put on ice.
Officials from Indonesia’s foreign and trade ministries told AFP they were unaware of any plans to suspend talks on the agreement, but Morrison indicated he had discussed the issue with President Joko Widodo in a series of calls.
“We will continue to work closely and cooperatively with our allies and our partners all around the world on these issue,” Morrison told parliament.
Morrison earlier said he was “open-minded” to “sensible” proposals to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move his nation’s embassy to the holy city, a sharp break with the policy of successive Australian governments.
“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.
“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 opposition Labor party foreign policy spokeswoman Penny Wong.
Morrison came to power in August after a revolt by hard-line conservatives in the Liberal party ousted his more moderate predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull.
Turnbull’s government had explicitly distanced itself from the decision by Trump to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, branding it “unhelpful” to the peace process.


Israeli tank, aircraft hit Gaza after cross-border shots: army

Updated 19 April 2019
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Israeli tank, aircraft hit Gaza after cross-border shots: army

JERUSALEM: Israel on Friday struck Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip with tank and aircraft fire after shots were fired at troops on the Israeli side of the border, the army said.
“No injuries to soldiers were reported,” it said in a statement.
Palestinian security sources in Hamas-ruled Gaza told AFP that the Israeli fire hit Hamas military observation posts at three locations along the frontier.
They said there were no reports of Palestinian casualties.
Palestinians in Gaza have for more than a year gathered at least weekly along the border for often-violent protests, calling on Israel to end its blockade of the enclave.
The Israeli statement did not say if there were mass protests taking place at the time of Friday’s incident.
At least 264 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed by Israeli forces since the protests began.
The majority were killed during clashes, with others hit by tank fire or air strikes.
Two Israeli soldiers have been killed over the same period.