Paul Fletcher MP – condemned the Labor government for its “disastrous process” in reversing Australia’s recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

photo of Paul Fletcher MP
October 25, 2022

This was a disgraceful decision, disgracefully executed. Australia’s Jewish community and many other right-thinking Australians have every reason to feel deeply disappointed and indeed abandoned by what this government has done.

Full speech

Mr FLETCHER (BradfieldManager of Opposition Business) (15:53): In December 2018, the then Prime Minister announced that the Australian government would recognise West Jerusalem, the seat of the Knesset and many of the institutions of government, as the capital of Israel. The decision respected both a commitment to a two-state solution and longstanding respect for relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions. The government committed to moving the Australian embassy to West Jerusalem when practical, and in support of, and after the final status determination of, a two-state solution. In making this decision, Australia acknowledged the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a future state with its capital in East Jerusalem. The announcement followed a review by the secretaries of the departments of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Defence, and Home Affairs which included consultation with community representatives, former heads of relevant agencies and Australia’s international allies and partners.

The United States recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017, and its embassy was located in that city from May 2018. I confirm that the coalition maintains the principle of our position of recognising West Jerusalem and if elected would follow proper processes, including consultation with stakeholders, allies and partners. Our position has not changed. We remain a strong supporter of a two-state solution in which Israel and a future Palestinian state coexist in peace and security within internationally recognised borders. Our recognition of West Jerusalem did not in any way pre-empt peace negotiations or undermine prospects of a peaceful settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Since 2020, five Arab nations have normalised relations with Israel, disproving arguments made in 2018 that the government’s decision would make the conflict worse.

Our relationship with Israel is enormously important. Australia is a great friend of Israel. Israel is our closest and most reliable partner in the Middle East, a region home to many threats, including threats to Australia. Other than the United States, Israel has no greater friend than Australia anywhere in the world, and the coalition will always be consistent about maintaining that friendship. Our friendship is as old as the State of Israel. We were the first country to vote in favour of the 1947 United Nations partition resolution adopted by the General Assembly, which led to Israel’s establishment in 1948. Our contribution was noted by Israeli representative Abba Eban, who said:

The manner in which you steered to a vote the second historic Resolution … the warmth and eloquence with which you welcomed Israel into the family of nations, have earned for you the undying gratitude of our people.

There are proud people-to-people links between Australia and Israel. Israel is a vigorous multiparty democracy, a beacon of freedom around the world. Our two nations have close economic, business and people-to-people connections. Our nations are united by shared values—a commitment to democracy, freedom and the rule of law. I particularly want to acknowledge the Jewish Australian community, over 100,000 strong, and the very significant contribution which has been made by that community to the prosperity and success of Australia. Of course, that community, along with others, has been heavily involved in the work of progressing technology partnerships with Israel and companies based in Israel, including on matters such as energy, water and finance technologies. It is a multidimensional relationship and a relationship that we on this side of the House are deeply committed to.

I turn from the position taken—and taken consistently—by this side of the House to the disastrous process followed by the Albanese Labor government. The process was executed with shocking timing. On 17 October, media reported that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website had removed references to the recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and had removed references to the commitment to move the Australian embassy. A spokesperson for foreign minister Senator Wong was asked for clarification. That spokesperson said:

The former Government made the decision to recognise West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. No decision to change that has been made by the current government.

The very next day, the foreign minister announced at a press conference that Australia would reverse the recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Amazingly, this announcement occurred on the Jewish holiday of Simhath Torah and just two weeks before the Israeli election. Senator Wong was unable to point to how this abrupt reversal was in the national interest.

Indeed, it clearly was not. It was contemptuous of many important stakeholders. The Israeli ambassador and the Israeli government were not informed of the decision before it was announced by the Albanese Labor government. This is what Israel’s Prime Minister Lapid had to say:

In light of the way this decision was made … as a hasty response to an incorrect report in the media, we can only hope that the Australian government manages other matters more seriously and professionally

The Israeli government took the extraordinary step of summoning our ambassador to Israel to explain the Australian government’s change in policy. The Albanese Labor government largely ignored speaking with Australians who care about a two-state solution that provides peace and security for Israel and a future Palestinian state, and instead informed them of the government’s decision only after it was made.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry said the decision was made in ‘a shoddy manner’, it was ‘poor policy’ and it was ‘no way to treat an ally’. One member of this place said he was:

… disappointed by the decision … Capital cities are sovereign matters for sovereign states.

Who was that? That was the Labor member for Macnamara. He was disappointed by the decision. The former Labor member from this place Michael Danby described the government’s decision as ‘chaotic’ and ‘unprofessional’. And this House should not avoid noting that this decision was welcomed by two listed terrorist organisations in Australia: Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

This would be bad enough if this government had taken this policy to the last election. But the truth is that this decision was never mentioned during the recent election campaign. Indeed, on the contrary, senior Labor members of parliament prior to the election assured concerned stakeholders, including readers of the Australian Jewish News, that on the question of Israel it didn’t matter which way they voted. How wrong that proved to be.

The Attorney-General wrote in the Australian Jewish News on 4 March this year attacking the member for Cook, the former Prime Minister, for suggesting that there was any difference in the policies of the two parties. What an appalling suggestion, apparently, except we had to wait only a few short months before this government confirmed there was, in fact, a stark difference in the policies of, on the one hand, the Liberal and National parties and, on the other hand, the Labor Party. The Attorney-General claimed that across domestic politics Australia ‘spoke with one voice’. The member for Macnamara did likewise in the Australian Jewish News on 18 March, saying that Australia’s Jewish community should feel proud that its interests would be safeguarded ‘irrespective of whoever forms government’. I suggest that the Attorney-General and the member for Macnamara have a lot of explaining to do.

I note the wise words of Australia’s former Ambassador to Israel and former member for Wentworth, who observed:

… Labor’s policy provides a tailwind to extremists, and states such as Iran, who would like to see Israel wiped off the map and who insist that Israel has no rightful place in the region. Hezbollah will be cheering this Labor announcement.

This was a disgraceful decision, disgracefully executed. Australia’s Jewish community and many other right-thinking Australians have every reason to feel deeply disappointed and indeed abandoned by what this government has done.

Link to parliamentary Hansard