30 Oct Liberal MPs call for embassy to be shifted to Jerusalem
Liberal MPs have revived calls for the Australian embassy to be relocated to Jerusalem ahead of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s truncated trip to Israel.
Mr Turnbull was forced to delay his departure after the High Court banished Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce and his deputy Fiona Nash from Parliament due to their dual citizenship and he is now expected to arrive in Israel on Monday, two days later than planned.
Mr Turnbull will still meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and be joined by their spouses Lucy and Sara for a private dinner at Mr Netanyahu’s residence.
With Mr Turnbull’s visit focusing on security, the two leaders will announce the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on defence industry co-operation between both countries.
The MoU will provide a framework for defence exports and help broker relationships between Australian and Israeli defence companies.
The duo will also establish an annual strategic defence dialogue, featuring senior military commanders, to discuss priorities and glean Israel’s insights on developments in the turbulent Middle East.
“This visit will deepen and strengthen Australia’s ties with Israel, and build on the bilateral relationship that our two nations share,” Mr Turnbull said.
However, it remains unclear whether other meetings with President Reuven Rivlin and Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog will go ahead.
Also in grave doubt is Mr Turnbull’s visit to the West Bank to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, only the second time an Australian PM has met the head of the PA.
Amid strong signs from US President Donald Trump he wants to kick-start the peace process, one of the thorniest issues is the location of embassies.
Israel has long advocated for countries to have their embassies in Jerusalem which is the official national capital, but countries are reluctant to do so because of the risk of angering Arab sentiment over the historical city’s disputed status.
Australia, like other countries, has its embassy in Tel Aviv, but Mr Trump has promised to move the US’ mission to Jerusalem.
A review into Australia’s diplomatic representation, including the possibility of sharing consular services with allies in Jerusalem, has been completed but Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said late last week there was no intention to move the embassy.
But several Liberal backbenchers told The Australian Financial Review they believe the Turnbull government should move the embassy.
Victorian senator James Paterson said Jerusalem was Israel’s centre of government.
“As a matter of principle every nation should have the right to dictate its own capital and the only country that the international community says can’t is Israel,” he said.
Senator Paterson added the caveat the embassy should be in West Jerusalem, which under partition plans over the decades remained in Israel, instead of being located in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as their future capital.
WA MP Andrew Hastie said Israel had very good historical and cultural reasons to have Jerusalem as its capital.
“It was the heart of the nation in ancient times and remains so today. I see no reason why we shouldn’t formally recognise Israel’s bond with the ancient city,” he said. Tasmanian senator Eric Abetz said he had written to Ms Bishop about the issue but not Mr Turnbull, but “nevertheless it would be a positive move if the matter could be raised” when the PMs met.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott wrote in January that relocating the embassy would be a show of Australia’s “unswerving support” for Israel.
While Mr Turnbull’s trip has been delayed, he is expected to arrive in time to attend the commemorations for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba, which is the major focus of the PM’s visit and expected to attract thousands of Australian tourists.
Frontbencher Dan Tehan, who is already in Israel, insisted the delay would not be see as a snub.
“As a former diplomat I can tell you this is not uncommon,” Mr Tehan said.
“As a matter of fact the Israelis have done the same to us on quite a few occasions over the last decade.
“It’s not embarrassing, these things happen all the time
“They understand that domestic politics sometimes influence travel arrangements.”
This article originally appeared in the Australian Financial Review.