The announcement by Prime Minister Scott Morrison that Australia now recognises that Israel's capital is located in Jerusalem and not Tel Aviv was balanced, moderate and affirmed Australia's long-standing support for a negotiated end to the conflict on the basis of two states for two peoples.
In his remarks, the Prime Minister distinguished between the western parts of the city of Jerusalem, which fall within Israel's sovereign and uncontested borders, and the eastern parts, which include the Old City and a mix of predominantly Arab and Jewish neighbourhoods lying within the city limits but beyond the 1949 Israeli-Jordanian Armistice Line ― known as the "Green Line."
The western part of the city, where Israel's government ministries, parliament and supreme court are all located, has since 1949 functioned as Israel's seat of government, a fact now acknowledged by Australia. At no point in the history of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians has the status of the western parts of the city ever been raised, precisely because its status is not in dispute.
Meanwhile, the territory lying beyond the Green Line is contested ― deeply so ― and the status of this area has since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 always been defined by Israel and the Palestinians as a "final status" issue to be resolved through direct negotiations between the parties.
The Prime Minister rightly did not seek to trespass on the future of east Jerusalem or prejudge the competing claims to it. Responding to a question from the floor following his announcement at the Sydney Institute, the Prime Minister placed the matter of defining what constitutes east Jerusalem, let alone what to do with it, outside the scope of the government's policy. "Where East is," the Prime Minister said, "is a matter for final status."
Even though the announcement dealt only with the uncontested parts of the city, and expressly acknowledged the aspiration of the Palestinians to establish their capital within the eastern parts of Jerusalem, the reaction by the Palestinians produced a standard mix of boilerplate condemnations and Mafioso-style allusions to impending economic and physical harm. Far more interesting was the reaction elsewhere in the Arab world, which reflected the growing frustration with the Palestinian cause and an increasing independence of thought and policy on the question of engagement with Israel.
When the Arab League released a statement calling the announcement "blatantly biased towards the positions and policies of the Israeli occupation," the Bahraini Foreign Minister shot back, criticising the Arab League statement as "mere rhetoric and irresponsible." "Australia's stance," the Foreign Minister rightly noted, "does not impact the legitimate Palestinian demands."
If the Bahraini Foreign Minister could coolly appraise the substance of the announcement and identify that it in fact affirmed Palestinian demands rather than traducing them, why then the "irresponsible" reaction of the Palestinians and their backers?
The answer is to be found not in the substance of the announcement, but in the preamble to it.
In his introductory remarks, the Prime Minister denounced the "antisemitic agenda masquerading as defence of human rights"; he observed that the "ritual denunciations [of Israel]" stemming from this agenda "are getting in the way of progress [to end the conflict]"; and he declared that "Australia's national interests are well served by our productive and increasingly diverse relationship with Israel."
The Prime Minister directly confronted the "ratcheting up of rhetoric and action aimed at isolating Israel" and the "bias and unfair targeting of Israel in the UN General Assembly."
In a conflict so polarised, so ideologically magnetic, it is the clear affirmation of support for Israel, and the unmasking of those who seek the demise of the Jewish State, that was perhaps the most telling statement of all. The Prime Minister's remarks dealt a clear blow to the strategy pursued by the Palestinians since the 1970s, articulated by Abu Iyad, the Palestine Liberation Organisation's former head of security, in the following terms:
"If one could succeed in changing public opinion in the Western world, then the overthrow of Zionism would be just a matter of time."
Prime Minister Morrison bluntly delivered the message that this strategy will not succeed.
The strategy was borne of a realisation that, following the failed invasions of Israel in 1948, 1967 and 1973, the Jewish state had largely grown impervious to conventional military attack. Its downfall therefore could only be achieved through the long-game of chipping away at its legitimacy and undermining its ability to engage with the world around it: the resolution passed by the UN General Assembly in 1975, which determined Zionism ― the foundational movement of the State of Israel and the national liberation movement of the Jewish people ― to be "a form of racism"; the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign; and the seemingly permanent presence of anti-Israel resolutions on the agendas of some church synods in the West, trade union assemblies and party conventions, are all outgrowths of this strategy.
The aim is to keep Israel in focus, to associate it with the most heinous concepts imaginable ― from child-killing and organ harvesting to apartheid and ethnic cleansing ― and to gradually convince new generations of opinion leaders that this State is so far outside the bounds of decency and morality that it has to be dismantled. BDS activist and executive director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, Lara Kiswani, made the appeal directly: "Bringing down Israel will really benefit everyone in the world and everyone in society."
The Bahraini Foreign Minister was able to look past the hysteria and comment on the merit of Prime Minister Morrison's announcement because he serves a government that has slowly come to terms with Israel's permanence and has grown weary of a destructive agenda that holds international forums captive, and that privileges the Palestinian cause above all others. His nation has come to see Israel as a key ally in the battle against Iranian regional malignancy, and a treasured source of innovation and technology that can help transform the economies of the Middle-East.
In this way, the responses to the Morrison announcement revealed far more about the agenda of the respondents than the actual policy being announced. It showed us who seeks an end to the impasse and a resumption of negotiations to finally end this conflict, and who merely favours a perpetuation of war by other means.