JOHN MCCARTHY. The Jerusalem Embassy,Iran and our national interest

Prime Minister Morrison’s announcements of a potential move of our embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and less newsworthy  but nonetheless significant, of a review of our support for the Iran Nuclear Deal, threaten seriously to prejudice  the Australian national interest.

The status of Jerusalem has been central to the Arab Israeli dispute for a century and more. Israel has been denied international recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state particularly as this would presuppose the outcome of a negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians of a comprehensive two state solution to the dispute.

Successive American administrations had supported this policy on a bipartisan basis .-as have all our friends in NATO, with whom we have been associated both in Iraq and Afghanistan .

President Trump’s decision was a radical shift in the United States’ historical position on Jerusalem. The decision predictably drew strong criticism from Islamic states and the nonaligned world. More tellingly, it prompted adverse reactions from European states historically well versed in the intricacies of the Arab Israeli dispute.

Following the American announcement, former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop did not deviate from existing Australian policy, noting that matters relating to Jerusalem were “ subject to final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority “ and that Australia would continue its diplomatic representation to Israel from Tel Aviv and its representation to the Palestinian Authority from Ramallah in the West Bank.

So why change now? The stated rationale was that we were going to vote “No”, presumably along with President Trump, Guatemala and a Micronesian state or two, on a UN vote which would support the Palestinian Authority as the Chair of the developing countries’ caucus group, the Group of 77. This is arrant nonsense. We have voted “No” on a plethora of Middle Eastern questions before without shifting our embassy to Jerusalem.

As all our newpapers have made clear , the real answer is that the announcement was a telling example of the aphorism of the late Speaker of the US House of Representatives , Tip O’Neill that “all politics is local”.

But at what cost ?

First , the Arab Israeli question is not central to our foreign policy focus and international opinion is firmly against the position we envisage .It is bound to bring us into global disrespect. To some that may not matter, but one would hope that to those in government our international reputation would count.

It will prompt a more specific reaction from the Arab world . It is too soon to know what form that reaction will take, but there will be a reaction.

In our own region, both Pakistan and Bangladesh are Islamic states and will feel forced to take positions.

But most important for us will the reaction in Malaysia and Indonesia both because our bilateral dealings will be affected and because their views impact on regional attitudes towards us. Following the Trump decision there were widespread and lengthy demonstrations in both these countries and it would be surprising if our decision did not resonate as badly.

The timing is a particularly unfortunate in relation to Indonesia. .

Just for a start, the Foreign Minister of the Palestinian Authority is currently on five day visit to Jakarta.

Israel has denied both the current Indonesian Foreign Minister, Retno Marsudi and her predecessor, Marty Natalagawa, entry to Ramallah unless they also visited Jerusalem. They did not do this.

Perhaps most significant Indonesia is gearing up for next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections. Islamic issues already loom large in electoral rhetoric.  It would be matter of extreme regret if the success of Prime Minister Morrison’s early visit to Jakarta were to be upended by our position on Jerusalem.

President Widodo is a friend of Australia and has pushed a free trade deal with us , which could now be jeopardized .We cooperate on counter terrorism and have a serious dialogue in regional security which assumes added importance with the rise of China.

Since the blasphemy conviction of the former Governor of Jakarta, Ahok, Widodo has been vulnerable to charges that he is insufficiently sensitive to Islamic aspirations. He may be forced into taking positions regarding Australia he would prefer to avoid

The Iran issue will receive less attention but that decision too was a serious mistake. We are buying into it to please President Trump and the Israelis. While imperfect, the Nuclear deal was regarded by President Obama, our main NATO allies and Japan as holding the best hope for a non nuclear Iran .While not party to the deal, we supported it. We have always take nuclear nonproliferation seriously. It is a pity that we seem no longer to do so.

Mr Morrison still has time to wind back on policies which, put simply, are bad for Australia. Let us hope he takes the national interest seriously enough to do so.

John McCarthy has served as Australian Ambassador to Vietnam, Mexico, Thailand, USA, Indonesia, Japan and High Commissioner to India.


John McCarthy has served as Australian ambassador to seven countries, including the US, Indonesia, Japan and India.

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7 Responses to JOHN MCCARTHY. The Jerusalem Embassy,Iran and our national interest

  1. Avatar J Deacon says:

    This government truly deserves its title of The Muppet Show. ABC Friends aVic has just put out a video with the theme music, very catchy. Catch it if you can.

  2. Avatar John Vincent says:

    A well reasoned article by a highly experienced former Australian foreign representative and public servant. As Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison should have been fully aware that any comments by Australia about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel would elicit strong international reactions (both negative and positive) by countries, including Australia’s important neighbours such as Indonesia. Dave Sharma, as a former Australian Ambassador to Israel (promoting Australia’s national interests), will have had first-hand experience of the situation on the ground in Israel regarding the large, deep and long-standing divisions that exist between the Israelis and Palestinians on the status of Jerusalem as a capital. Moreover, he will have been well versed on Australian policy supporting the internationally negotiated two-state solution aimed at ending the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He will also be fully aware of various United Nations Resolutions supported by Australia regarding the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine.

    For the Prime Minister and Mr Sharma to use the issue of the location of Australia’s Embassy in Israel for short term domestic political purposes relating to the Wentworth by-election must make Australians and the voters of Wentworth question the judgement of our current Prime Minister and Mr Sharma. They must also question, rightly so, whether the Prime Minister can effectively protect Australia’s national interests over specific domestic party political interests, and whether Mr Sharma can and will represent and promote the interests of all voters in Wentworth, if elected.

  3. Avatar Joy Mettam says:

    A masterly example by John McCarthy of policy development at its best while showing how far the Coalition has strayed from this standard. Thought bubbles such as those being uttered by our head salesman (aka Prime Minister) are poor substitutes for the thoughtful process which John has demonstrated so clearly here.

  4. As I recall Trump’s Jerusalem move came out of the blue. I don’t recall any request for such a move from Israel, not in public anyway. It is a major mistake by Scott Morrison. The wheels are falling off.

  5. Avatar tasi timor says:

    ‘President Widodo is a friend of Australia’

    Disagree. He developed good relations with some Australians who sought him out to help with business while he was Governor of Jakarta and his family gained from sending one of their kids to study here, but there was no appreciation shown when he executed our citizens. A real friend would have responded differently. Analysts have repeatedly made the mistake of underestimating Widodo. A deeper consideration of how he manipulated the executions to achieve both his domestic and international ambitions during a period when the FATF, with an Australian Chair, could have potentially derailed them, reveals a master of brinksmanship, striking brutality and a Nationalism that precludes ‘friends’ when interests diverge.

    Of course Marsudi was always going to make this an issue, she couldn’t do otherwise with the Palestinian delegation breathing down her neck. So why would Morrison make such a statement, knowing the Palestian delegation was visiting Jakarta, when his advisors will have briefed him on the likely response? He could easily have delayed the statement a couple of days and still got whatever votes he thinks he’ll get out of it on Saturday. He has form putting his personal career and party interests above the National, doesn’t he.

  6. Avatar Andrew Farran says:

    This is an important item. One must ask how a Cabinet briefed on all of the above could possibly have acted as they have believing they were doing so in the national interest. Indeed they are being derilect, more than just careless.
    The head of DFAT should in the circumstances be asked by Parliament to disclose how she briefed the Minister and Cabinet on this matter, just as Parliament might request the Solicitor General to privide an independent opinion from than of an Attorney General where there was an issue over the legality of committing to armed conflict abroad.
    The issues are comparable given that diplomacy is war by other means.

  7. Avatar Hal Duell says:

    The main point I have always appreciated about the emergence of Donald Trump as POTUS is that the globalist corporate elite are now exposed. And foremost among those now standing naked on the world stage is international Zionism.
    Masters of identity politics, they divide. They do not unite. The question in Australia is not whether we will travel down that road, but how far down that road we have already traveled.
    Poor Scomo – a lousy marriage day but an enviable honeymoon. Now comes the hard part. Something has spooked you. Was it Rupert standing in the shadows?

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