The ‘plan’ to move the Australian Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was a thought bubble Prime Minister Scott Morrison came up with during the Wentworth by-election in a failed attempt keep Turnbull’s former seat on the government side of the House of Representatives by attracting some Jewish votes1. This was announced without due consideration of its impact on foreign relations or on the Australian economy. In fact, when asked in June 2018, four months before the Wentworth by-election, whether the government would move its embassy to Jerusalem, he replied: “no, no; it is not the government’s policy; it has never been under review and we are not doing it.”2Then somebody must have told him there were Jewish voters in Wentworth.
Indonesia responded to this ham-fisted announcement by putting off signing a free trade deal1, potentially costing the Australian economy billions in the medium term3,4. This trade agreement would be Indonesia’s first major agreement of its type, as President Joko Widodo is attempting to open up its previously closed economy. Morrison, in an vain attempt to not make himself look like a fool, subsequently stated that there was no urgency about signing the trade deal, but that it would be signed before the end of 20185. Given that the end of the year is only a fortnight away, this deal looks unlikely to be signed by then6.
Morrison’s dilemma was that, given the strong reaction to his thought bubble by Indonesia, he could not back down for fear that the RWNJs in his own party and in One Notion would think he had caved in to Muslims, who they all know are terrorists. Yet if he did not back down it would cost the Australian economy billions, and may well make travel to Muslim countries like Indonesia and Malaysia more dangerous for Australian citizens. So what did the Morrison brains-trust come up with? A backdown that doesn’t look like a backdown, at least to the RWNJs in his party and the crazies in One Notion. The government has stated it will formally recognise West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but the embassy will not be moved from Tel Aviv until Jerusalem’s status is finalised under a peace settlement7.
Israel annexed eastern Jerusalem in 1967 and has refused to let it go ever since. Indeed, now Israel does not even recognise the division of Jerusalem into east and west8, so Morrison’s backdown is a bit of a slap in the face for Netanyahu’s Israel, and could be seen as a sop to Indonesia and its support of Palestinians. This marks a departure from Morrison’s usual Trumpesque rhetoric in dealing with the outside world. In addition, despite all the attempts over the last few decades to develop some sort of accommodation if not peace between Israel and Palestine, nothing has happened. There is no reason to even remotely suspect that ‘Jerusalem’s status will be resolved’ in my children’s lifetime given that little has happened in the 51 years since eastern Jerusalem was annexed.
Because of Morrison’s self-inflicted injury, there have been demonstrations around the Australian Embassy in Jakarta and the Australian Consulate-General in Surabaya, and smartraveller has recommended that a high degree of caution be exercised9.
This fiasco could have been avoided entirely, if Morrison has simply followed the bipartisan approach to the Israel-Palestine problem that had been in operation for decades. This sort of ad-hoc stupidity of the Morrison government must stop.