The Australian government might join the US and Guatemala in moving its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said. Rivals accused him of a "desperate" ploy to sway Jewish voters.
In a surprise announcement on Tuesday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his country might move its embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in a move seen as showing support to the Israeli side in the Palestinian conflict.
"We're committed to a two-state solution, but frankly it hasn't been going that well, not a lot of progress has been made, and you don't keep doing the same thing and expect different results," Morrison told reporters after calling an unexpected press conference.
Morrison also said no decision has been made on the issue, but added that "Australia should be open-minded to this and I am open-minded to this and our government is open-minded to this."
Canberra will also vote against recognizing the Palestinian Authority as the chair of the G77 group of developing nations at the UN, and would review its support for the Iran nuclear deal.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Twitter that he was "very thankful" for the possible policy shift.
If the embassy move is realized, Australia would become the third country in the world to have its envoys based in the disputed city. Late last year, the US President Donald Trump ordered the US embassy to be moved to Jerusalem and the relocation was completed by April 2018. This move was followed by Paraguay and Guatemala, but Paraguay soon went back on the decision and moved its representatives back to Tel Aviv.
Addressing reporters on Tuesday, Morrison said his statement was made without discussing it with the US administration. Instead, he said the move was proposed by Dave Sharma, a former Australian ambassador to Israel who is competing in an upcoming by-election seeking a seat in parliament for Morrison's conservative Liberal Party.
Morrison's job on the line
The prime minister needs Sharma to win in the key by-election in a wealthy Sydney district of Wentworth, where there is a large Jewish population. If Sharma were to lose to an independent rival, Morrison's government would lose its single-seat majority.
Morrison took office in August after a rebellion within the ranks of the Liberal Party ousted his predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull.
Responding to Morrison's statements on Tuesday, the opposition Labor Party said the prime minister should put Australia's national interest ahead of his own.
"Scott Morrison is now so desperate to hang on to his job, he is prepared to say anything if he thinks it will win him a few more votes —even at the cost of Australia's national interest," said Labor's foreign policy spokeswoman Penny Wong.
"Foreign policy, and Australia's national interest are far too important to be played with in this fashion," she added.
The Wentworth vote is scheduled for Saturday.
dj/msh (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)