The fiasco over the Jerusalem embassy now looms as a diabolical dilemma for Scott Morrison risking a lose-lose outcome. This is a deepening embarrassment for Australia, a threat to the Prime Minister’s standing, an unnecessary problem for the new trade partnership with Indonesia and a failure in terms of foreign policy priorities.
This issue should never have arisen. There is no national interest for Australia in the prospect of moving the embassy in Israel. The blame lies entirely with Australian ineptitude. There is wide recognition in the government that raising this as a review during the Wentworth by-election has been a monumental blunder.
Morrison should have sorted the issue before the present summit season in Asia. The stakes have escalated alarmingly because he has no good options left. The essence of the dilemma Morrison faces is a conflict between his authority as Prime Minister and Australia’s national interest.
Here is the truth — if Morrison retreats he looks weak and humiliated. He admits Bill Shorten’s critique that he has been “stupid”. The airwaves are now full of dangerous claims that any retreat means Australia is being “dictated” to by Indonesia. Morrison, in criticising the Opposition Leader, said Australia could not have its foreign policy determined by other nations and that this was about “treating yourself with respect”. If he retreats, Morrison is condemned out of his own mouth. How can he act in the national interest but keep his own respect? This issue has spun out of control. There are plenty of mixed signals coming from Indonesia but its ministers have publicly tied the $16 billion trade deal to Morrison’s embassy position, thereby creating a diplomatic nightmare for Australia.
The embassy question has become entangled with Liberal Party internal politics. The conservative media lobby is beating its drum and converting this into a test of Morrison’s strength and principles. There is, moreover, strong partyroom support for the principle of shifting the embassy.