The Australian government has reversed a decision by its predecessor to recognize West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, prompting a rebuke from the Israeli government.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong reaffirmed Canberra’s “previous and long-standing position” on Israel in a briefing on Tuesday, emphasizing the new Labor government’s unwavering support both for Israel and the Palestinian people.
“Australia is committed to a two-state solution in which Israel and a future Palestinian state coexist, in peace and security, within internationally recognized borders,” Wong said. “We will not support an approach that undermines this prospect.”
The previous government, led by former Coalition Prime Minister Scott Morrison, recognized West Jerusalem as the Israeli capital in 2018, following an announcement made by former US President Donald Trump.
in 2017, Trump upended seven decades of US foreign policy by declaring the United States considered Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel. The following year, the US relocated its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Australia’s decision to revert to its previous position on Tuesday was a “hasty response to an incorrect report in the media.”
“In light of the way in which this decision was made in Australia, as a hasty response to an incorrect report in the media, we can only hope that the Australian government manages other matters more seriously and professionally,” Lapid said in a statement, without elaborating on the “incorrect report.”
Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also summoned Australia’s ambassador to Israel.
Before Trump’s announcement, successive US leaders had resisted making any proclamation on the issue before the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was resolved. Trump’s decision drew condemnation from world leaders and sent shock waves through the Muslim world. Both Israelis and Palestinians claim the holy city as their capital.
Morrison’s decision to follow Trump’s lead also prompted outrage, and on Tuesday Wong apologized for any distress caused.
“I regret that Mr. Morrison’s decision to play politics resulted in Australia’s shifting position, and the distress these shifts have caused to many people in the Australian community who care deeply about this issue,” Wong said.
The division of Jerusalem into East and West dates from the 1949 armistice agreement that brought fighting between Israel and Arab powers to an end, and left the city divided.
West Jerusalem was in the hands of Israel and East Jerusalem controlled by Jordan. A 1947 United Nations plan to divide Palestine in two, creating a Jewish state and an Arab state, had envisaged Jerusalem as an internationally run “corpus separatum,” apart from the two states.
In 1967 Israel captured East Jerusalem in the Six Day War. It expanded the municipal boundaries of the city and declared all of it to be the unified capital of Israel.
Until Trump’s announcement, the international community was largely united in not formally recognizing Israel’s position, stating instead that only a negotiated agreement between the two sides could determine the city’s final status.
The city is home to deeply holy sites for Jews, Muslims and Christians. The issue has been so thorny that negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians had left the question of Jerusalem to the final stages of any peace deal.