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Australia Needs to Correct its Record in the Middle East

18 Dec 2018
By Ali Kazak
Scott Morrison at the Sydney Institute. Source: Twitter.

The recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital makes Australia a mockery in the eyes of the international community. The decision makes Australia an accomplice to Israel’s policies.

In his announcement of Australia’s policy shift recognising West Jerusalem as “the capital of Israel”, Prime Minister Scott Morrison claimed his decision was a “balanced” and “measured” position.

While Mr Morrison’s position is completely unbalanced it is certainly measured to give legitimacy to Israel’s illegal occupation of Jerusalem.

Although Mr Morrison recognised West Jerusalem as “Israel’s capital” with the establishment of a trade and military office, he did not equally recognise East Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital but said the Australian Government has “resolved to acknowledge the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a future state with its capital in East Jerusalem”, a phrase which has no meaning or value.

The main issue is not moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as this is a procedural matter. It is Australia’s recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel without officially recognising East Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital.

In recognising West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Mr Morrison has not only relinquished Australia’s obligations under international law, but has also broken the promise he gave to Indonesian President Joko Widodo and presumably Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad at the ASEAN Conference in Singapore that he will respect UN Security Council resolutions on Jerusalem.

Mr Morrison is making a mockery of Australia in the eyes of the international community, demonstrating that Australia is untrustworthy and that its words and promises are not worth the paper they are written on.

For example, Australia voted in favour of UN General Assembly Resolution No. 49/87 Aon 16 December 1994 endorsing UN Security Council Resolution No. 478 of 20 August 1980 determining that “… all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which had altered or purported to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, in particular the so-called ’Basic Law’ on Jerusalem and the proclamation of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, were null and void and must be rescinded forthwith.” This resolution called upon those states with diplomatic missions in Jerusalem to withdraw such missions from the Holy City and deplored the transfer by some states of their diplomatic missions to Jerusalem.

So here we have Mr Morrison and his government perpetrating what Australia has condemned.

Australia’s involvement in the Arab world has been disastrous from the Sudan Campaign in 1885 – the first participation by Australia in an imperial war – to the Palestine campaign in the First and Second World Wars, Iraq Wars in 1991 and 2003 and the current “war on terror”.

Australia is an accomplice in the creation of the Palestine Question and the Palestinian people’s dispossession, pain and suffering for the last 70 years.

An Australian foreign minister, Dr Herbert Evatt, played a crucial and active role in the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) report that recommended the partition of Palestine into two states to facilitate the creation of a Jewish state on Palestinian land (UNGA Resolution 181). This resolution also declared Jerusalem a corpus separatum under a special international regime administered by the Trusteeship Council on behalf of the UN. At the time, Palestinians were two-thirds of the population and owned more than 94 percent of the land; the other third were mostly recent Jewish immigrants, most of whom were illegal. Later, as president of the UN General Assembly, Evatt was instrumental in having Israel accepted as a member of the UN.

In his statement to the UN General Assembly on 11 May 1949, Evatt said “The legal basis of Israel was unassailable. It rests on the decision of the General Assembly in 1947 … Moreover, the territorial boundaries of Israel were fixed by the decisions of 1947, and these boundaries must remain until they are altered either by the General Assembly or by the agreement of Israel with the other states and peoples directly concerned”.

Nevertheless, Israel did alter its boundaries and did so neither by the General Assembly nor by the agreement with other states and peoples directly concerned.

Yet, in spite of Israel’s violation of the resolution, its occupation of approximately 50 percent of the land allocated to the state of Palestine, and the massacres and the ethnic cleansing of over 70 percent of the Palestinian people from their homeland, referred to by Palestinians as “the catastrophe” (al Naqba), Australia has never shouldered its historic, legal and moral obligations by demanding either the repatriation of the Palestinian refugees or Israel’s withdraw to the territorial boundaries which were “fixed by the decisions of 1947”.

One would think that Australia would learn and adopt an independent policy to achieve peace in the Middle East based on international law and UN resolutions. To the contrary, Australia’s actions continue to reward and encourage Israel’s violations, aggression, racial discrimination and colonial drive in creating a “greater Israel” in all of historic Palestine. There is also the danger that  recognising West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel will encourage Jewish extremists who aim to destroy Islamic holy sites in the city, such as al-Aqsa Mosque. Desecration of this holiest of sites would result in extreme anger throughout the Islamic world, and may lead to religious wars and global destabilisation.

There is nothing to justify Australian politicians’ biased policy towards Israel, which encourages Israeli extremism, isolates Australia in international forums, damages its reputation and inflames the already explosive situation in the Middle East.

Mr Morrison and his government should be aware that their recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is playing with fire. It has made Australia an accomplice to Israel’s present and future violations, aggressions and crimes in both Jerusalem and the broader region.

Australia needs to correct its record in the Middle East and work for a just solution to the Palestine Question by recognising the state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Ali Kazak is a former Palestinian ambassador. He is an expert in Australian-Arab relations and affairs, and author of “Australia and the Arabs”.

This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence and may be republished with attribution.