Israel irked at Australia’s ‘mistaken’ W. Jerusalem recognition

Palestinians pass by a controversial Israeli barrier in Bethlehem in occupied West Bank, on their way to attend Friday prayer at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque. (Reuters)
Updated 16 December 2018
0

Israel irked at Australia’s ‘mistaken’ W. Jerusalem recognition

  • Australia’s government announced the decision on Saturday
  • The status of Jerusalem, home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths, is one of the biggest obstacles to a peace agreement between Israel and Palestinians

JERUSALEM, DUBAI: Israel signaled displeasure on Sunday with Australia’s recognition of West Jerusalem as its capital, with a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying it was a mistake to gainsay Israeli control over the whole city. The premier stayed silent on Canberra’s move at a weekly Israeli Cabinet meeting.

US ally Bahrain has meanwhile defended Australia’s formal recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying the move would not affect a future Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Australia’s government announced the decision on Saturday, reversing decades of Middle East policy, but said it would not immediately move its embassy there.

The US in May opened its embassy in Jerusalem.

The Arab League had issued a statement criticizing the Australian decision as “blatantly biased toward the positions and policies of the Israeli occupation.”

But Bahraini minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa described the statement as “mere rhetoric and irresponsible.”

“Australia’s stance does not impact the legitimate Palestinian demands, first among them being East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, and it does not contradict the Arab Peace Initiative,” he tweeted on Saturday.

The status of Jerusalem, home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths, is one of the biggest obstacles to a peace agreement between Israel and Palestinians who want East Jerusalem recognized as the capital of a Palestinian state.

Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital, including the eastern sector that it annexed in a move not recognized internationally, after the 1967 war. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as capital of the state they hope to found in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The UN says the status of Jerusalem can be resolved only by negotiations.

Israel has diplomatic relations with only two Arab states, Egypt and Jordan. Netanyahu has on several occasions hinted at warmer relations with Gulf Arab states and made a surprise visit to Oman in October to meet with its ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said.

A year ago, US President Donald Trump outraged Palestinians by recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, a designation that did not acknowledge their claim on the east of the city though it left open the question of its final borders.

On Saturday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Canberra formally recognizes West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but reaffirmed his country’s support for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem under a two-state peace deal.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry responded tepidly, calling the Australian move “a step in the right direction.” At the Cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu declined to elaborate.

“We issued a statement at the Foreign Ministry. I have nothing to add to it,” he told reporters at the outset of the meeting.

Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel’s minister for regional cooperation and a Netanyahu confidant in the right-wing Likud party, was more openly critical of Australia, though he deemed it a “deep and intimate friend of many years’ standing.”

“To our regret, within this positive news they made a mistake,” Hanegbi told reporters outside the Cabinet room.

Morrison’s move first surfaced in October, when it was viewed cynically in Australia because it came days before a crucial by-election in an electorate with a strong Jewish representation. His party lost that poll.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said Saturday’s move was born of Australian “petty domestic politics.”

“All of Jerusalem remains a final-status issue for negotiations, while East Jerusalem, under international law, is an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territory,” he said.


Iraq-Iran football match prompts awkward silence from Tehran-backed politicians in Baghdad

Updated 10 min 21 sec ago
0

Iraq-Iran football match prompts awkward silence from Tehran-backed politicians in Baghdad

  • Iraqi official says failure of some politicians to get behind Iraqi team “embarrassing”
  • Many criticized Iran-backed political leaders in the build-up to the match for remaining silent

BAGHDAD: A much-anticipated football match between Iran and Iraq on Wednesday ended in an anticlimactic 0-0 draw. But in Baghdad, the Asian Cup clash proved fertile ground for Iraqi fans to poke fun at the crisis-ridden new government and express their rejection of Iranian influence in their country.

Many criticized Iran-backed political leaders in the build-up to the match for remaining silent and not encouraging the Iraqi national team against Iran.

Some even accused forces sponsored by Tehran of supporting the Iranian team instead of their own national players.

The game in Dubai was played against the backdrop of a tense political stand off in Iraq between pro and anti-Iran parties.

Iran has sought to deepen its influence in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. It supports armed factions and political parties, and increased its military involvement during the Daesh occupation of large parts of the country.

Iran-backed parliamentary blocs have been at loggerheads with rival groups for control of key government positions since an election in May.

Government figures and many MPs remained silent about the match, despite racing to encourage and congratulate the national team during previous games.

One senior Iraqi official told Arab News that the failure of some politicians to get behind the Iraqi team was “embarrassing”.

“Most of our political leaders have been silent as they are all busy praying that the Iraqi team will not win,” the official said. “How can they congratulate Iraqis on a victory against Iran?” he added sarcastically.

Fans were similarly bemused, posting scathing comments on social media.

“Today is the match between our team and the team of our lords,” Jaafar Al-Kinani, wrote on his Facebook page. “We ask God to help us determine which team we have to support.”

“I will support the referee. I cannot encourage any of the teams for fear of angering the other team,” Mustafa Nassir, wrote on his page.

Other fans posted more sincere calls for Iraqis to get behind their team despite the politics.

“All Iraqis will encourage the Iraqi team, even those close to Iran,” Ziyad Al-Dulaimaim, an activist from the Sunni-dominated western province of Anbar, wrote. “In 2007, our regions were under Al-Qaeda militants’ control and when the Iraqi team won the championship, everyone took to the street to celebrate, including the gunmen.”

Both Iraq and Iran had already qualified for the next round when they played on Wednesday. But a win against a strong team like Iran would have revived Iraqi hopes that they could reach the final.

In the build up to the match, many of the giant screens in Baghdad replayed previous Iraqi victories over Iran.

The last was in 2015 in the semifinal of the same tournament, when Iraq won in a penalty shootout. 

Cafes and clubs prepared for the match by offering free entry for families and decorating their facades with Iraqi flags. Thousands of Iraqis watched the match outside on the streets.

Both Iraq and Iran have won the Asian Cup in recent years. Iraq famously won in 2007 just four years after the fall of Saddam Hussein in a victory that came as the country was wracked by violence.