Scott Morrison’s revelation last October that he was thinking about relocating Australia’s Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem should go down as one of 2018’s crassest comments. For the PM was not “thinking” at all. Casting the possible relocation as shock therapy for the non-existent Israeli-Palestinian peace process is a fraud.
On 15 November, The Sydney Morning Herald reported the Morrison government as telling Indonesian ministers there was “less than 5 per cent” chance that Australia would pursue the idea of relocating the Australian Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Yet the article also noted the PM was “prepared to move the embassy if it is in Australia’s interest”.
A month earlier, a joint statement by Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the Government would carefully examine the merits of moving the embassy. Any decision would be subject “to a rigorous assessment of the potential impact of such a move on our broader national interests”.
It hardly requires a rigorous assessment to conclude that the negatives of any move easily outweigh the positives. It is impossible to see how Australia’s trade, political or security interests could be helped meaningfully by relocating the embassy. The disadvantages are so obvious that even an ideologically-blind government should be able to see them. The “by the end of 2018” timeframe for a decision merely adds a pretence of measured consideration.
True, three countries would be very happy: Israel, the United States and, wait for it, Guatemala. The latter followed the US in relocating its embassy to Jerusalem earlier this year. So too did Paraguay which then had a change of President and heart and moved back to Tel Aviv, so infuriating Israel it shut its embassy in Asunción.
Bhutan officially measures Gross National Happiness but the idea has hardly permeated the policy-making processes of other states. Countries cooperate and support each other mostly because of “rational” self-interest. It’s delusional to imagine that Australia’s trade or security links with either Israel or the US, let alone Guatemala, need the stimulant of neighbourly togetherness in Jerusalem.
So what does the argument for relocation boil down to? Amazingly, it’s the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process”.
The Morrison-Payne joint statement noted the arguments put forward by a former Australian Ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, that Australia “consider recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel … while acknowledging East Jerusalem as the expected capital of future Palestinian state”.
Proponents of embassy relocation cast it as Trumpian-style shock-therapy for the peace process. Declaring Australia’s continued commitment to a two-state solution, Morrison declared “Frankly, it hasn’t been going that well. Not a lot of progress has been made, and you don’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results.”
Pro-Israeli supporters outside the government echoed the argument that moving the Australian embassy could help unlock the stalled peace process. They asserted it would not pre-empt a “future Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem” with its very own Australian embassy.
This line of argument is a fraud. It suggests that Israel might be amenable to sharing Jerusalem as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians. Yet it is Israel that controls Jerusalem. It is Israel which annexed the eastern half of the city in 1980. It is Israel which has long spun the mantra of Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided capital”, repeated yet again by Prime Minister Netanyahu at the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem last May.
If the idea of embassy relocation as a “spark” for the peace process had any merit, it would include a strategy for persuading Israel to relinquish East Jerusalem. That it doesn’t is a measure of the cant and hypocrisy afoot. Can we really look to Trump or to Morrison or to President Jimmy Morales of Guatemala to take the lead in persuading Israel that it has to let go of East Jerusalem?
The Australian Government, quite rightly, expresses concern about the lack of progress towards a two-state solution and the continuing level of violence on the ground. But there is a dog whistle in some of this concern, hinting that embassy relocation would somehow revive the peace progress and reduce the level of violence. It’s fatuous. On the very day the American Embassy opened in Jerusalem last May, Israeli security forces killed 58 Palestinians and wounded 1200 others protesting the action.
Scott Morrison dropped the idea of embassy relocation into the Wentworth be-election for domestic political advantage. He got a well-deserved comeuppance. With his fondness for slogans it’s now high-time for him to Stop the Stupidity.
Peter Rodgers is a former Australian ambassador to Israel and author of two books on the Middle East: Herzl’s Nightmare – one land, two peoples; Arabian Plights – the future Middle East (both published by Scribe)