In the history of Australia it is hard to think of a more shambolic piece of foreign policy-making than Labor’s position on Israel’s capital. In the space of 24 hours they had three separate positions on it. Labor took a major foreign policy decision with no consultation, a decision that caused deep offence to a longstanding and significant friend and ally in the State of Israel. It was a decision that sends a bad message to all other countries with whom we have longstanding friendships and alliances. And, while it was rightly condemned by the only democracy in the Middle East, it was welcomed by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, two organisations that we in Australia have listed as proscribed terrorist organisations. You know you’re making bad public policy when the endorsement comes from listed criminal terrorist organisations.
Reversing the decision of the coalition government in 2018 to recognise West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was no small decision. It was a decision to ignore and disrespect the decision of a sovereign nation to choose its own capital. Labor’s decision would be like another nation saying that they didn’t recognise Canberra as our capital—that it should be Dubbo. Let’s be clear: West Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. Its parliament is there, its Supreme Court is there, the President lives there—it looks like the capital city of any other country. Yet Labor is lending credence to the fiction that it’s not. This decision undermines Israel’s status in a volatile region and it signals to those who oppose Israel that Australia’s friendship actually depends on who’s in government here, not on any deep-seated support for the shared values of democracy and the rule of law.
Israel is a country whose intelligence helped us to foil major terrorist attacks on our own soil, and yet this bad decision gets the support of terrorists. When we have the Prime Minister of Israel condemning the decision and the Israeli foreign minister registering deep disappointment after not even having been consulted on this matter, we should all be concerned. Labor, in making this decision, has chosen to pander to the Left of its party and in the process has done lasting damage to a significant international relationship for Australia.
What’s perhaps most distressing in all of this is the way Labor has done all of this while speaking with a forked tongue. They’ve tried to convince Australians that there’s no difference in foreign policy between Labor and the coalition when it comes to Israel, but that just isn’t true. In March this year, in the lead-up to the election, the Attorney-General and the member for Macnamara were busy trying to reassure the Jewish community that Labor stands with Israel and there’s no difference between its position and the coalition’s position. Let me quote the Attorney-General. He said:
Australia has for generations spoken with one voice in support of Israel. Labor’s own history of steadfast support for Israel extends back to well before the founding of the modern state in 1948.
The truth is that you do not have to look far to see the reality, and value, of bipartisanship when it comes to Israel.
It took less than a year for Labor to demonstrate that this was untrue. I note that the Attorney-General has been remarkably silent on this matter over the past week, as compared to the member for Macnamara in his brave comments.
Labor’s only expression of regret has been about how the politics of this issue have gone down. There’s no serious willingness to listen to stakeholders and consider their views. There’s no appetite for meaningful consultation, only a pseudoapology that this decision coincided with the Jewish festival of Simhath Torah, the ‘joy of the law’. The timing was atrocious, but there’s no good time to declare to an ally that you do not support their decision as a sovereign state. Labor haven’t recognised the serious damage they’ve done to Australia’s international reputation. And the way that the Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs suggested that on budget day we should somehow ignore this particular issue, I think, underscores the fact that Labor are not taking this issue seriously.
I want to make a few matters plain regarding West Jerusalem, as the claims made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs are misleading and deserve a response. West Jerusalem is not the subject to final status negotiations. West Jerusalem is territory that has not been disputed and is not disputed. It has been part of Israel’s sovereign territory since the state was established in 1948 and is not part of the territory which Israel captured during the 1967 war. It’s outside the scope of UN resolutions since 1967, which are expressly limited to territory occupied by Israel since that time. While there’s debate about Jerusalem, the status of West Jerusalem—which the coalition government made clear was the territory being recognised as the capital of Israel—is not under the same dispute.
Israel is a sovereign nation with a right to determine where its capital lies. If this government is going to mishandle major foreign policy matters and key international relationships, then Australians have good reason to be deeply concerned. We cannot afford to let the Labor Party play reckless games on foreign policy matters as significant as our relationship with one of our key allies.