Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week signalled a potential shift to a long-standing bipartisan policy, indicating that his government would consider following Donald Trump in recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The announcement comes ahead of a hotly-contested by-election in Malcolm Turnbull’s former seat of Wentworth, and Morrison credits the Liberal candidate for Wentworth, and former Ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, as instigating the policy change.
A little under two decades ago, Edward Said, reflecting on the predestined failure of a one-sided “peace process”, wrote: “Occupied East Jerusalem was placed out of bounds by a bellicose Israeli campaign to decree the intractably divided city off-limits to West Bank and Gaza Palestinians and to claim it as Israel’s ‘eternal, undivided capital.’”
The “peace process” has remained as lopsided as ever, and has still, after three decades, failed to deliver anything even remotely resembling peace.
Generally, when one approach doesn’t work the first time (or in this case, dozens of times) you change tact. Not so for Scott Morrison. Almost predictably so, he’s dusted off the same old script and tried to present it as radical new thinking. If you take Morrison at face value, however, he agrees with me.
“You don’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results,” he said.
But the Prime Minister is asking the Palestinian people to surrender any claim to Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state as a precondition to negotiation. This is true to form. Only one side of the conflict has ever had such extraordinary demands made of them.
Reports this week reveal that ministers were advised that such a policy shift could harm Australian interests. A secret ASIO bulletin advised that “any announcement on the possible relocation of the Australian embassy to Jerusalem or consideration of voting against Palestinians in the United Nations may provoke protest, unrest and possibly some violence in Gaza and the West Bank.”
Evidently, Cabinet was not swayed by this, nor were they swayed by advice from Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Frances Adamson that a similar move by the United States had made a ‘‘very, very difficult process even harder’’.
This was a transparent vote grab, pitched to an electorate with a large Jewish population. But conservatives aren’t motivated by any sincere care for the Jewish people. They suffer from a kind of paternalistic antisemitism, in which Jews are all agent less drones all committed to a single ideological line.
Palestinian advocates have no such delusions. That is why we aren’t surprised to hear that a Jewish audience was divided at a campaign forum organised by the Jewish Board of Deputies, held in Wentworth on Tuesday night. While the Liberal candidate, Dave Sharma, received applause for his party’s position, so did Kerryn Phelps, an independent, in questioning the move as “politically motivated”.
But it would have come as a shock to the Prime Minister, who seems to have thought that he could bribe Jewish voters in Wentworth with an ill-conceived policy change that has already damaged our standing in the international community and our relationship with Indonesia, our closest strategic neighbour. The consequences are almost certain to crystallise in the near future.
If there is one silver lining, it is that Scott Morrison has exposed his government for what it really is: desperate, cynical, and absolutely unable to govern.