According to recent media reports, the Liberal candidate in the Wentworth (Sydney) by-election, former diplomat David Sharma said he “was open” to the idea that Australia’s embassy in Israel could be shifted from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In a separate tweet he went further and said Australia “should consider recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The ostensible reason is that it would be following the lead of the United States.
In separate reports, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is said to be making an announcement in Canberra on 16 October also suggesting that Australia should follow the US lead.
Sharma did qualify his suggestion that Australia’s embassy shift to Jerusalem “should be looked at in the context of a two-state solution (to Israel-Palestine).
It is possible that both Sharma and Morrison have timed their statements to coincide with the by-election by making a pitch for the Jewish vote in that electorate. According to census data, Wentworth has 12.5 percent of its population professing the Jewish faith, a significant figure in electoral terms. That is the kindest interpretation that can be placed on their remarks.
More likely, it is yet another example of Australia blindly following the United States in adopting a policy that is clearly in breach of international law. The Guardian and other mainstream media outlets have noted that the American policy has thus far only been followed by Guatemala. No mainstream media outlet has raised the issue of such a policy being in breach of international law. The special status of Jerusalem has been completely ignored.
Jerusalem is an international city under United Nations protection, and has been so since Resolution 181 of 1947, which declared Jerusalem a “separate entity.”
In June 1980, UN Security Council Resolution 476 was unanimously passed (i.e. including the US), declaring that “all actions by Israel, the occupying power, which purports to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation of international law.”
UNSC Resolution 478, also passed unanimously, called upon all “States to refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions in the Holy City of Jerusalem.” UNSC resolutions are binding on all States. There is no room for ambiguity here, and even if Sharma and Morrison (and the Australian media) choose to ignore this issue, that is not an excuse. It has to be presumed that the legal advisors to the government in the Department of Foreign Affairs are cognisant of the legal implications of the government’s proposed shift in policy.
Sharma’s qualification that such a move would be in the context of a two state solution is absolutely meaningless. The Israeli government is totally uninterested in such a development, as its actions since 1948 make abundantly clear. Its ongoing theft of Palestinian land, the blockade of Gaza, the daily shootings of Palestinian men, women and children and its complete ignoring of multiple General Assembly resolutions over decades are all symptomatic of a violent, apartheid regime for whom international law is just an impediment to fulfilment of the Yinon Plan for a Greater Israel.
That Australia should even contemplate moving its embassy to Jerusalem beggars belief. UNSC resolutions are binding on member states. The fact that the United States chooses to ignore international law comes as no great surprise, even when, as with the Jerusalem resolutions they were a party to their formulation and voted for them.
The latest suggestions about Australia moving its embassy to Jerusalem puts them in the same dubious company as the US and Israel, both serial violates of international law. Does Australia really want to be in that company? Its voting record in the UN on Israel-Palestine issues tends to answer that question in the affirmative. This latest disregard for international law is consistent with Australia’s disregard for its international obligations toward the treatment of refugees on Manus and Nauru. It therefore marks a continuing downward slide from its earlier proud role as a supporter of a principled approach to foreign policy issues, and especially issues of international law.
This degradation of policy has not been matched with a reduction in the rhetoric of Australia’s professed belief in the “rules based international order.” The manifest hypocrisy of that position is now exemplified even more by the proposed shifting of the Australian embassy to Jerusalem. Australia’s policies are no more than a hollow sham.
*Barrister at Law and geopolitical analyst. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org