Don't be so quick to applaud Australia's Jerusalem embassy reversal
On 14 May 2018, American and Israeli politicians and dignitaries attended a ceremony officially recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. As politicians and dignitaries, including Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, partied to celebrate the US moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, over in Gaza Israeli military forces killed 60 Palestinians and wounded more than 2,700.
A year later, Australia’s former Morrison government, equally contemptuous of United Nations resolutions, international law and global consensus, followed America’s lead and declared West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Australia’s Albanese government has now reversed that recognition. This is not, to put it bluntly, a big deal. Australia has simply re-joined the international community in maintaining a status quo that still suspends justice and liberation for Palestinians and allows Israel to continue its apartheid, settler-colonial project in Jerusalem, official recognition be damned.
"It stands to reason then that meeting obligations under international law should not require community consultation or permission. So why, then, is Israel treated as an exception to this fundamental principle?"
And yet there has been a frenzy of outrage by Australia’s Zionist lobby at not being consulted; at the ‘insensitive’ and ‘inappropriate’ timing of the foreign policy shift on a Jewish religious holy day, a fortnight before the Israeli elections. Indeed, there has been so much outrage that Foreign Minister Penny Wong published an obsequious article in the Australian Jewish News.
The extent to which governments feel compelled to ingratiate themselves to Israel and the Zionist lobby in Australia is astonishing. There is a dangerous exceptionalism here.
In reversing the former Morrison government’s policy on West Jerusalem, the Albanese government called out Morrison for “playing political games” by attempting to court the Jewish vote in a December 2018 by-election in the Sydney seat of Wentworth (which has a high Jewish population). The principle underlying this critique is clear: international law should remain above politics.
It stands to reason then that meeting obligations under international law should not require community consultation or permission. So why, then, is Israel treated as an exception to this fundamental principle?
Was Australia’s Russian community consulted before sanctions and travel bans were imposed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? No lobby or community has the right to prevent Australia meeting its international law obligations.
Indeed, given that the Albanese government was elected with a clear policy of reversing Australia's recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel's capital, Zionist pressure to recant on this election promise demonstrates a clear contempt for democracy.
The juxtaposition of open slaughter in Gaza in May 2018 with the pomp and festivities that marked America’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital should not be forgotten now. It provides the perfect metaphor for how the violence, brutality and oppression of Palestinians is always left in the background whilst the interests and voices of the Israeli regime and its supporters are privileged.
Even as Penny Wong announced the reversal, her media release reiterated the government’s unwavering support of Israel and the Jewish community in Australia.
"While the media has been focussed on Israel’s reaction and the Jewish community’s 'feelings', there has been scant critical interrogation as to the material impact of the Albanese government’s policy on Palestinians"
This brings us to a significant yet neglected aspect of the conversation. While the media has been focussed on Israel’s reaction and the Jewish community’s “feelings”, there has been scant critical interrogation as to the material impact of the Albanese government’s policy on Palestinians.
The government’s reversal should not be about policy announcement protocols or appeasing the feelings and agendas of those who see fit to defend the brutality of the Israeli regime. There is a larger picture here: 74-years of apartheid and settler colonialism; 55 years of illegal occupation.
If we want to discuss timing, then let’s focus attention on the fact that the reversal on West Jerusalem comes within a month in which coordinated and armed settler attacks, under Israeli army protection, on Palestinians have escalated. It comes at a time Jewish settlers are rampaging through Palestinian towns, and dozens of Palestinians have been killed, hundreds of Palestinians severely wounded. It comes at a time when Palestinians have called two general strikes to protest Israel’s brutal and long siege of the Shuafat refugee camp, an act of collective punishment and a violation of international law.
This is the context that matters, not when a line was dropped from DFAT’s website, or the fact that the policy dared to be announced when the Israeli embassy in Canberra was closed.
If the perspective of the occupied and not the occupier is rightly centred, then we can start a different, more constructive and urgent conversation. For example, in her media release on Tuesday, Penny Wong made it clear that Jerusalem’s status will be subject to negotiations between the Palestinian and Israeli state. However, Palestinians should not be forced to negotiate with a colonising power for their land and their inalienable rights.
Placing Palestinians at a negotiating table with clear power imbalances, forcing them to beg for some rights and some land is cruel and dehumanising. In fact, only one day after Penny Wong’s announcement, the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine declared that “breach of international law should not be subjected to negotiations, as this would legitimise what is illegal… the obligation of cessation of the occupation cannot in any way be conditioned on negotiations.”
This explains why the Australian government cannot reconcile its rhetoric on peace and negotiations with its objection at the ICC and refusal to push for any investigations into Israel for crimes against humanity, including apartheid. It explains why it cannot reconcile its swift and rightful response to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine with its promise to continue to “call out the unfair and disproportionate targeting of Israel in international forums”.
A return to the status quo is a return to enabling Israel to continue to act with impunity and for Palestinians to have no meaningful justice in sight. The fact that this is considered a win for Palestinians and caused rage and fury in Israel and local Jewish communities tells us something about what Palestinians are up against and just how hard we have to fight to have our voices heard.
Randa Abdel-Fattah is a DECRA Research Fellow in the Department of Sociology at Macquarie University researching the generational impact of the war on terror on post 9/11 youth and the award winning author of over 11 novels. Follow her on Twitter: @RandaAFattah
Amal Naser is a Palestinian organiser and third-generation refugee. She lives on unceded Bidjigal land. Follow her on Twitter: @amalfalastini
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.