In December 2018, former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison emulated the Trump administration and recognised West Jerusalem as Israel's capital, although it kept its embassy in Tel Aviv. Australia thus kept partly in line with international consensus, which is in any case inherently hypocritical, given that Palestinians are subjected to two-state diplomacy and now the Abraham Accords.
This week, Israel was furious to learn that Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has removed references to West Jerusalem from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) website, prompting outrage from Israeli government officials and diplomats. Albanese merely said that "some things can always be done better," while insisting that the Australian Labour Party had clarified its position four years ago.
Israel's Foreign Ministry summoned Australian Ambassador Paul Griffiths for a reprimand, after which Albanese's move was described in an official statement as "a wretched decision that ignores the deep and eternal connection between Israel and its historic capital [sic] and that goes against the good relations between Israel and Australia."
In an official statement, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong reiterated that the country "will always be a steadfast friend of Israel," while reminding us all that Australia was one of the first countries to recognise Israel when it was created in occupied Palestine in 1948. "We are equally unwavering supporters of the Palestinian people, providing humanitarian support every year since 1951 and advocating for resumed peace negotiations," continued Wong.
Of course, Australia's change in recognition caused diplomatic uproar, and it is indeed a dark day for Israel. However, just as almost the entire world supports the two-state "solution", Australia's decision does not alter the fact that it still views Palestinians as a humanitarian project, rather than a people with legitimate political rights and aspirations. Wong's statement is clear that reversing recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital was done only to retain diplomatic coherence with the two-state compromise.
The Australian Parliament website, which gives an overview of the country's diplomacy regarding Palestine and Israel, illustrates precedents upon which the current policies are based. Upon recognising Israel as a state in January 1949, for example, the then Foreign Minister Herbert Vere Evatt, who was influential in shaping Australian policy in this regard, stated that the decision "to give recognition to the Government of Israel was as inevitable as it was just," ignoring the fact that Israel depended on the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. Evatt also justified recognition of Israel in the same year by stating that, "Australia was among the first Nations to provide practical relief to Arab refugees when requested to do so last year."
So now that Australia is back in the fold of international consensus, what is next for its foreign policy? Reversing the decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital is a tiny step leading to a dead end. There is still no country in the world calling for decolonisation, and Australia is not a likely candidate to do so, given its own settler-colonial history. As such, while the Albanese government credits itself with the Jerusalem reversal, it is far better to ask how its diplomacy will help, if indeed it will, the political demands of the Palestinian people.
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