By Andrew Tucker
The recently-elected centre-left government in Australia announced this week that it will no longer recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, reversing a 2018 decision by the previous conservative government.
The government announced that Australia recognizes Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem, as Israel’s capital. It reaffirmed that Jerusalem’s status must be resolved in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said.
This decision defies both law and history.
Jerusalem was part of the Mandate for Palestine, which was intended for the establishment of a Jewish homeland. The city was divided in the 1948 war when Jordan illegally attacked Israel. The war ended in an Armistice Demarcation Line, that ran through the centre of Jerusalem, dividing the more modern, western part of the city from the Old City and environs. Jordan occupied the latter, which became known as “East Jerusalem”.
Israel established its government in “West Jerusalem” in the 1950s. All the main Israeli institutions of government are in Jerusalem – Knesset, ministries, Supreme Court, etc.
In 1967, Israel took back control of East Jerusalem, during the Six-Day War. This is entirely legal, because:(a) Israel was acting defensively, and (b) Israel had strong legal claims to East Jerusalem.
In 1980, Israel declared Jerusalem to be the undivided capital of Israel. The UN Security Council responded by declaring that decision to be illegal, demanding all foreign embassies to be moved to Tel Aviv.
In the 1990s, in the Oslo Accords, Israel and the PLO agreed that the question of “Jerusalem” is the subject of negotiation.
As a matter of international law, there can be no doubt that West Jerusalem is part of the State of Israel, and that Israel is perfectly entitled to treat it as its capital. Moreover, Israel is entitled to allow foreign embassies to be established in Israel.
The UN’s denial of this right to Israel is itself in breach of international law.
The decision of the previous Australian government to recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and to consider moving Australia’s embassy there, was legally justified.
Moreover, there is no reason why the placing of a foreign embassy in West Jerusalem prejudices the possibility of East Jerusalem becoming the capital of a Palestinian state in the future.
The decision this week by the Albanese government demonstrates a lack of understanding about Jerusalem’s true legal and historical status. It is a fundamental infringement of Israel’s sovereign right to treat Jerusalem as its capital.