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Arab countries discuss 'Australia situation' after recognition of West Jerusalem

Australia’s recognition of West Jerusalem as capital of Israel put on agenda of meeting at request of Palestinians.
Prime minister Scott Morrison announced on Saturday that Australia officially recognised West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Photograph: Sean Davey/AAP

Representatives of Arab countries will meet in Cairo tomorrow to discuss the decision of the Australian government to recognise West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Izzat Salah Abdulhadi, the head of the Palestinian delegation to Australia, said that “the Australia situation” had been added to the agenda of the meeting at the request of the Palestinians.

“We will wait to see the discussion,” said Abdulhadi, but added “for sure it will be condemnation.”

Last week Palestinian leaders lobbied Arab and other Muslim states to drop Australian exports and withdraw their ambassadors from Canberra in the event of an embassy move to Jerusalem.

The government has delayed the more controversial embassy relocation, an idea that was first raised in October during the Wentworth byelection, in a move that was seen as an attempt to win over Jewish voters. Instead it will establish a defence and trade office in Jerusalem and start looking for an embassy site.

Morrison said in his speech on Saturday: “The Australian government has decided that Australia now recognises West Jerusalem – as the seat of the Knesset [Israel’s parliament] and many of the institutions of government – is the capital of Israel. And we look forward to moving our embassy to West Jerusalem when practical, in support of, and after, final-status determination.”

Abdulhadi also said the Palestinian delegations in Canberra and Ramallah had not been consulted by the Morrison government about the decision to recognise West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and was told on Friday night by the prime minister’s office that Morrison would be making the announcement in a speech the next day.

“It was very quick, the decision has been taken,” he said. “I realised that I can’t have a discussion with them, because it’s too late.”

“We were very disappointed, our contribution should be important to the final outcome of the consultative process, we are the owner of this issue and we were not consulted.”

Abdulhadi said Australia’s decision to back away from moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was due to pressure from Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country and one of Australia’s most significant trade partners.

On Saturday, after the announcement was made, the Indonesian foreign ministry released a statement saying it “noted” Australia’s decision, reminding Australia that Jerusalem was one of the key issues to be settled in the Israel-Palestine peace negotiations. The issue made the front page of the Jakarta Post, one of Indonesia’s most significant newspapers, on Monday.

Malaysia, another of Australia’s Muslim neighbours, has come out strongly against the decision, with its foreign ministry releasing a statement calling it “premature” and a “humiliation to the Palestinians”.

“This is bad for Australia,” Abdulhadi said. “Australia is a multicultural country, a fair-go country that respects human rights … and in addition it has more than $18bn of trade with the Arab world, more than $70bn of trade with the Islamic countries, the OIC [Organisation of Islamic Cooperation] countries. I don’t understand why they put themselves in this situation, which doesn’t have any benefits.”

The decision was not even warmly received in Israel. Israel’s foreign ministry responded with a tepid statement that called the Australian move “a step in the right direction”. Netanyahu said on Sunday said he had nothing to add to the statement.

Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel’s minister for regional cooperation and a Netanyahu confidant, called the move “a mistake”.

“There is no division between the east of the city and west of the city. Jerusalem is one whole, united,” he said. “Israel’s control over it is eternal. Our sovereignty will not be partitioned nor undermined. And we hope Australia will soon find the way to fix the mistake it made.”

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