We have to hand it to Scott Morrison. He has been at the heart of two major shifts in Australian political life. One made him Prime Minister, the other overturned a sensible long-standing approach on Jerusalem. Yet the new PM struggles to offer a coherent explanation how either development benefits Australia. His approach on Jerusalem exhibits a rare talent to combine the stupid with the pointless.
Once he’d dropped Jerusalem into the Wentworth by-election last year, Scott Morrison needed a face-saving formula. Two models were available, one from Putin’s Russia, the other from Trump’s America.
The Russian model came in the form of a 2017 Foreign Ministry statement. This reaffirmed Russia’s commitment “to the UN-approved principles for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement, which include the status of East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state.” It went to announce that Russia now viewed “West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
The Russian move no doubt reflected a range of regional and international considerations, including a desire to put down a marker on Jerusalem ahead of Donald Trump. In a foretaste of things to come for Australia, the Russian action puzzled rather than pleased the Israelis. The Jerusalem Post noted that as Israel had annexed all of Jerusalem in 1980 and deemed “the entire city – not just the western half – its capital” it would be wary of Russia’s “surprise announcement”.
Never one to worry about complexity or nuance, in December 2017 President Trump declared it was “time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel”. America was “not taking a position on any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem”. There were no geographic qualifiers in the Trump announcement and Israel responded enthusiastically.