By Aleksandra Bliszczyk
The Federal Labor Government hastily reversed the previous Morrison Government’s recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Tuesday, a move which it said was in support of Palestinian people in the Israeli-occupied territory.
The decision drew criticism from Israeli diplomats and Zionist groups and media organisations were quick to jump on these stories. But Palestinian voices barely featured in the narrative.
Palestinian groups have publicly supported the reversal but made it clear it doesn’t mean anything for Palestinians who have been displaced from or persecuted in their homeland since Israel invaded and declared independence in 1948.
So why and how was the decision made by the government, and how have Palestinians reacted? Let’s walk through it.
Why is Jerusalem contested?
Jerusalem, one of the holiest places in the world for Muslims, Christians and Jews, has been fought over for decades, but Palestinians are widely recognised as the Indigenous peoples to much of its land.
Following the Arab-Israeli War which began at the end of the British Mandate for Palestine on May 14 1948 the city was forcibly split in two. Israel took West Jerusalem and Jordan took East Jerusalem until 1967, when it too was captured by Israel. Israel’s parliament declared Jerusalem Israel’s complete and unified capital in 1980, but the UN called this “a violation of international law”.
The Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank were plunged into violence and thousands have been killed in the last 20 years. More than five times as many Palestinians have died than Israelites, most civilians.
The reversal of West Jerusalem’s recognition as Israel’s capital takes us back to square one
Most countries including Australia have their embassies to Israeli in Tel Aviv, which we’ve long recognised as the capital of Israel.
But in 2017 then-US president Donald Trump pulled a political stunt and ordered the relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv to West Jerusalem. Then-Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in 2018 he would follow his lead as a play to win votes in the seat of Wentworth by-election. But he didn’t go quite as far. He recognised West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but said the embassy wouldn’t move until a two-state peace agreement was met. Labor said at the time it would reverse the decision if it formed government.
“It’s not a breakthrough because it’s basically taking Australia back to its previous policies,” political analyst and activist with the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network Noura Mansour told.
“It’s not a step forward for the Australian government, it’s a step back to its initial and longstanding position of supporting the two-state solution … which wasn’t a good position to be in for Palestinians to be in anyway.
“It’s a futile proposal because what’s happening on the ground, there is no prospect for Palestinian statehood to exist.”
Mansour said Israel has prevented any type of political organisation in Palestine and that no Palestinian government can be independent while Israel occupies its land.
How have Palestinian groups reacted to the West Jerusalem Reversal?
Palestinian groups have welcomed the reversal but said that it did nothing to improve the lives of Palestinians.
Palestinian-Australian author and academic Dr Randa Abel Fattah said now’s the time to be discussing the issue more broadly.
“When it comes to the reversal, which of course we welcome, the broader implications of this in terms of the settler-colonial project that is being enacted by Israel in Jerusalem are completely missing from the conversation,” she told.
Mansour said the government was back to the beginning and had a long road to recognising Palestinian rights.
“We don’t want the Australian government to be blocking investigations into Israeli war crimes [and] we want it to recognise that Palestinian people have the right to self-determination.
“A step forward would be for the government to recognise the right of Palestinian people to return home … for Palestinian people to live safely and freely,” she said.
What has Labor said about the West Jerusalem reversal?
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese stood by his decision to reverse the Morrison policy on Wednesday, despite backlash from the opposition and Jewish members of his own party.
“Of course, some things can always be done better, but the truth is we have been very clear about what our position was,” he said.
The decision to reverse the policy came unintentionally and hastily after Guardian Australia journalists questioned the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade earlier this month about its position.
After receiving the questions, old language about recognising West Jerusalem on the DFAT website was quietly changed and Guardian Australia revealed the change in a story published at 4pm Monday.
That evening the office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong released a media statement that said no decision to reverse the Morrison policy had been made.
But the following morning she announced the reversal had just been signed off. The decision drew ire partly because, awkwardly, Tuesday was a Jewish holy day.
The media coverage of the reversal has ignored Palestinians
Most mainstream media outlets have covered local Jewish groups’ outrage at the decision, but few headlines have even named Palestine.
Seeing a lot of “reaction” pieces on Australia’s decision to reverse its decision on West Jerusalem, but few Palestinian voices among them.
Cover this properly. Of course pro-Israel groups are going to be ‘outraged’ … the story doesn’t start and end there.
— Antoun Issa (@antissa) October 18, 2022
“It’s been very disproportionate and unbalanced coverage,” Mansour said.
“You see more Zionist organisations and individuals covered in the media and the Palestinian narrative naturally takes no longer than a few lines.”
Abel Fattah said the privileging of Jewish responses was something often seen when Palestine is in the news.
“There are entire articles where Jewish groups have been consulted but the Palestinian voice has been completely erased or buried,” she said.
Abel Fattah also said the political and media focus had ignored the political stunt nature of the original decision by Morrison.
“If we demand critical media scrutiny of this announcement then we can actually start to hold Labor to account on the idea of this two-state solution [which] neither Israel nor Palestine wants.
“It’s again us having to constantly say, ‘can we talk about the bigger issues here?’”