One of the rites of passage for incoming members of the Australian Federal parliament is to make a maiden speech. As these speeches are largely personal, and they usually don’t rate much attention beyond the member’s family and friends. They are rarely the focus of any press attention. However Liberal Senator James Paterson’s maiden speech, delivered last week, was covered not only by the Australian media but even in the Times of Israel.
One of the reasons this speech gained so much press attention is that Senator Patterson used it to call for Australia to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
If this was such a good idea, one wonders why no one has actually done it. No country in the world has an embassy to Israel in Jerusalem.
There are of course good reasons. While Israel asserts that Jerusalem is its capital, the world does not recognise this claim, and instead identifies East Jerusalem as Occupied Territory. This is why the Australian Ambassador to Israel caused such a stir in 2014 for meeting in an Israeli Government minister in East Jerusalem. The international community is absolutely clear that it does not accept Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem in 1980 as legitimate.
The UN partition plan of 1947 stipulated that Jerusalem would become an international city – a plan that Australia supported. Since this time, for Australia, the consistent policy, upheld by Governments of all persuasions, is that the future of Jerusalem should be settled under international auspices and with the full agreement of the parties to the Israel-Palestine dispute.
To move the embassy now would signal that Australia sees no need to wait for the outcome of a process of settling the issues relating to the future of the divided city within the framework of international law.
To break ranks now would momentarily gratify the Israeli right wing but at the cost of a collapse of the relations with the Arab and Muslim world with significant social and economic fallout.
It may be no coincidence that Sen. Paterson visited Israel in 2009 as part of a delegation of student leaders funded and programmed by the Australia-Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, a pro-Israel lobby group. We hope that the tour was not promoting this outrageous idea of moving our Embassy.
Senator Paterson’s speech may give many within and outside Australia the impression that he has been encouraged to float a ‘trial balloon’.