(JTA) — Australia’s new left-leaning government is reversing the decision made nearly four years ago under a conservative administration to move the country’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced in December 2018 that Australia would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The move put him in line with then-U.S. President Donald Trump, who had made a similar announcement a year earlier, pleasing his base, and had already opened an embassy in Jerusalem. But it made Morrison an outlier among the vast majority of world leaders, who have long held that whether Jerusalem is Israel’s capital should be negotiated as part of an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.
Australia’s embassy never moved from Tel Aviv. And now, Morrison’s successor is returning the country’s official position to the one it maintained until 2018.
“Australia is committed to a two-state solution in which Israel and a future Palestinian state coexist, in peace and security, within internationally recognised borders,” Penny Wong, Australia’s minister for foreign affairs, said in a statement Tuesday. “We will not support an approach that undermines this prospect.”
The move quickly drew criticism from Israeli leaders, who reportedly fear that it could augur recognition of Palestine as a state by the government of Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, formed in May after elections that ended a decade of conservative governments.
“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,” Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement, referring to the fact that Wong’s announcement followed reports that Australian government websites had been updated to reverse Morrison’s commitment. Lapid added, “Jerusalem is the eternal and united capital of Israel and nothing will ever change that.”
Australia’s move could influence British Prime Minister Liz Truss, who is facing growing pressure to reverse her campaign-trail promise to reconsider the location of England’s embassy in Israel, currently in Tel Aviv. Some British Jewish leaders want Truss, a conservative, to make the move, but an array of influential figures, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, say a move before a peace agreement would be premature.
In the United States, President Joe Biden has reversed or altered many of Trump’s decisions, but not about the location of the U.S. embassy in Israel. In February 2021, just after Biden was inaugurated, the Senate voted overwhelming to invest in the Jerusalem embassy, signaling that the placement would be long-term.
Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital is a consensus issue among Israeli Jews who otherwise disagree vehemently about how Israel should approach its conflict with the Palestinians. The city and its holy sites, including the Western Wall and Temple Mount, carry immense symbolism for most Israeli Jews. A Brookings Institution poll about the U.S. embassy move in 2018 found that 93% of Israeli Jews supported it.