Australia has decided to formally recognize West Jerusalem as Israel's capital, but won't move its embassy until there is a peace settlement between Israel and Palestinians, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Saturday.
He said in a speech that Australia will recognize East Jerusalem as Palestine's capital only after a settlement has been reached on a two-state solution. The Australian Embassy won't be moved from Tel Aviv until such a time, he said.
Israel's Foreign Ministry congratulated Australia and called the move "a step in the right direction" in a statement.
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"Israel views the decision of the Australian government to open its security- economic office in Jerusalem as a step in the right direction. Israel congratulates the government of Australia for its stance regarding sanctions on Iran and also regarding its pro Israel position at the UN and against antisemitism," the statement read.
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A senior Israeli official, however, said Israel is "disappointed that the Australian government decided to only recognize West Jerusalem as Israel's capital and that Australia has not withdrawn from the nuclear deal with Iran."
While the embassy move is delayed, Morrison said his government will establish a defense and trade office in Jerusalem and will also start looking for an appropriate site for the embassy.
"The Australian government has decided that Australia now recognizes west Jerusalem, as the seat of the Knesset and many of the institutions of government, is the capital of Israel," Morrison said. He said the decision respects both a commitment to a two-state solution and longstanding respect for relevant UN Security Council resolutions.
Morrison had earlier floated the idea that Australia may follow the contentious U.S. move of relocating its embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, but it was seen by many Australians as a political stunt. Critics called it a cynical attempt to win votes in a by-election in October for a Sydney seat with a high Jewish population.
The consideration had sparked backlash from Muslim-majority Indonesia and Malaysia, threatening a free trade deal which has now been delayed.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten said Saturday that the decision to recognize west Jerusalem as Israel's capital but not move the embassy there was a "humiliating backdown" from the October by-election campaign.
"What I'm worried is that Mr. Morrison put his political interest ahead of our national interest," Shorten told reporters.
Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it in a move that is not internationally recognized. Israel considers east Jerusalem an indivisible part of its capital, while the Palestinians seek the area, home to the city's most sensitive holy sites, as the capital of a future state.
President Donald Trump's decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May delighted Israel, infuriated Palestinians and upset the wider Arab world and Western allies.
Reuters contributed to this report