Australia has raised the prospect of following the United States by relocating its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in a policy shift that critics described Tuesday as a desperate grab for domestic political gain to win a crucial by-election.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the idea was suggested to him by a former ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, who is a candidate for the ruling conservative Liberal Party in a by-election Saturday in a Sydney electorate with a large Jewish population.
At stake is the government’s single-seat majority in the House of Representatives and Morrison’s ability to retain power without doing deals with independent lawmakers.
Morrison said Australia remained committed to finding a two-state solution to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians.
I spoke today with Australian PM @ScottMorrisonMP. He informed me that he is considering officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel & moving the Australian embassy to Jerusalem. I’m very thankful to him for this. We will continue to strengthen ties between 🇮🇱 & 🇦🇺!
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) October 15, 2018
Mr Morrison’s predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, had ruled out following the US in moving Australia’s embassy to Jerusalem.
On Tuesday, Mr Morrison said his thinking had been guided by Australia’s former ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma.
Mr Sharma is the government’s candidate in a by-election, to be held on Saturday, for the seat vacated by Mr Turnbull after he was ousted as prime minister.
If Mr Morrison fails to retain the Sydney electorate, Wentworth, he will be forced into minority government. He denied that his comments on Tuesday were aimed at Wentworth’s large Jewish community.
But the Labor opposition’s Senate leader, Penny Wong, said Mr Morrison was playing “dangerous and deceitful word games with Australian foreign policy”.
“[Scott Morrison] 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,” she said.