PERTH, Australia – Rumors swirl that Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s Labor government quietly reversed Australia’s position and no longer recognizes West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. While some newspapers are reporting the decision as fact, the Australian government is not speaking with one voice: Several officials say the government has made no such decision.
Perhaps some bureaucrats hoping to reverse Australian policy seek to force a decision. Let us hope that Albanese does not fall for it. Should the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) follow through with the decision, it will both set back peace and diplomacy and encourage more Palestinian rejectionism.
Australia Recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital
Four years ago, Prime Minister Scott Morrison ordered Australia to recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, though he did not move Australia’s embassy. His was a common-sense move. Israel’s president and prime minister reside in Jerusalem, and the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, is in the city. So too are most ministries with the exception of the Defense Ministry.
There was precedent to Morrison’s move. More than a dozen countries recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The United States had not only recognized Jerusalem as its capital months before, but it had also formally moved its embassy from Tel Aviv. While some diplomats and academics worried the decision would incite the Arab world and light it on fire, Arabs from Baghdad to Rabat met the news not with a bang but with a whimper. Even the Palestinian street was quiet. The 2011 Arab Spring protests demonstrated that the issues of greatest concern to Arabs were internal to their own countries; they no longer would allow their leaders to use Israel as a distraction. Indeed, this was a significant reason why the Abraham Accords succeeded even against the backdrop of cynicism within the State Department, Foreign Office, and DFAT.
Room for Rejectionism
The recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital also advances peace. The biggest challenge to peace between Israel and the Palestinians is Palestinian rejectionism. This manifests itself not only with Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ continued support for terrorism but also with his Holocaust denial and his effort to deny any Jewish ties to Jerusalem.
West Jerusalem is fully within Israel’s 1949 borders. To deny even West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is to encourage Palestinian radicals to believe they can erase Jews entirely from Jerusalem and end the Jewish state. In contrast, to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is to signal that the extremists’ insistence on Israel’s illegitimacy and their fantasy of Israel’s eradication are non-starters.
While those seeking to revert Canberra’s recognition of West Jerusalem encourage Abbas’ intransigence, the issue goes beyond Jerusalem, especially after Abbas broke with the West, traveled to Moscow, and offered a full-throated endorsement of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The West should stand firm against also revanchist dictators; it should not seek to normalize them.
Albanese and his Labor party must hold the line. Normalization and growing Arab-Israel peace mark a path to the future. Traditional formulas and past conventional wisdom do not. It is time to hold firm on Jerusalem, not only to calibrate policy to reality but also to signal that Palestinians must compromise and that Abbas’ rejectionism will never work. Most importantly, Australia’s voice for moral clarity and its contribution to international diplomacy is too important to squander.
Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).