Australia

Red Cross chief questions 'logic' of moving Australian embassy to Jerusalem

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EXCLUSIVE: The visiting chief of the Red Cross says it is not his place to come up with ‘political solutions’, but tells SBS News he ‘cannot see the rationale’ for shifting the embassy from Tel Aviv.

The visiting head of one of the world’s largest humanitarian groups, the Red Cross, has questioned the “logic” and “rationale” of the Morrison government’s plan to potentially move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Peter Maurer, president of the international ICRC, told SBS News the government should instead pursue “quiet diplomacy” in the Israel-Palestine space.

While Mr Maurer said it was not his place to comment on political solutions, he said he had not been convinced of the rationale for matching the United States’ decision  to move its diplomatic outpost to Jerusalem, and formally recognising it as Israel’s capital.

“I fail to understand, at the present moment, what the logic is,” he told SBS News on Tuesday.

Peter Maurer, president of the international Red Cross, speaks with SBS News about the PM's announcement.
Peter Maurer, president of the international Red Cross, speaks with SBS News about the PM's announcement.
SBS

He said he did not see how it was “conducive” to a two-state solution, where the Palestinian territories were formally recognised as a nation, alongside Israel.

Mr Maurer said he could not rule out a broader strategy that he did not yet understand, which might eventually work.

“That doesn’t mean that I exclude that it is part of a bigger political push, which at the end of the day, will be conductive to a political solution,” he said.

“But at the present moment, we see the opposite of it in the field. We see Palestinians moving away from the idea of a peace process, and I think all of this is of concern to us as humanitarians.”

He said the US decision to move its embassy increased tensions.

Scott Morrison and Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne address the media about moving our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Scott Morrison and Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne address the media about moving our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
AAP

“I cannot see yet the rationale which would allow me to understand why the transfer of an embassy, or the recognition of this or that demand of one side or the other … can be conducive to a political solution.”

“Given the decade-long suffering of people in that context and the sort of lack of perspective, we would certainly encourage everybody to engage in quiet diplomacy.”

The announcement that the Morrison government was considering the idea was warmly welcomed by the Israeli ambassador in Canberra.

“We welcome any debate on the issue because it's always been our standpoint, it always will be our standpoint and always has been, that Israel is, was and always will be the capital of the state of Israel,” the ambassador, Mark Sofer, told reporters at Parliament House.

Mr Sofer said the Jerusalem question had “absolutely no relationship” to the push for a two-state solution.

He would not be drawn on allegations from some of the Morrison government’s political rivals that the announcement was designed to appeal to Jewish voters in the Wentworth by-election this weekend.

“I have no point of view, absolutely zero point of view, on Australian politics, period.”

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority’s representative in Canberra, Izzat Abdulhadi, said such a move would be “against the interests of Australia”.

Palestinian Authority’s representative in Canberra, Izzat Abdulhadi.
Palestinian Authority’s representative in Canberra, Izzat Abdulhadi.
AAP

“It was a surprise,” he said.  

“We know the circumstances. I think one of the factors, of course, is the by-election in Wentworth.”

“It will not help the peace process, it will not help resuming the negotiations between us and Israel, it will not help the implementation of the two-state solution.”

The Morrison government is yet to make a final decision on whether the embassy should be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

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