This article was first published in our 2018 print edition.
“Trump is a Friend of Zion” and “Trump Make Israel Great”. This is what the banners lining streets all over Jerusalem read. Workers were seen planting new flowers in red and white, cleaning streets and excitedly preparing the city, all because Donald Trump was coming to town. Rarely has such affection been displayed for a world leader. But the decision by Trump to move the embassy to Jerusalem, the disputed capital of Israel, has deepened the long-standing relationship between the U.S. and, arguably, the US’s strongest and often only ally in the Middle East. And it is a move which Australia should follow.
In 1918, at the end of the First World War, the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire began. By its conclusion, many of the former Ottoman territories had been divvied up into independent states or territories of either Britain or France (through the Sykes-Picot Agreement). One of these was called the British Mandate of Palestine4 (or Mandatory Palestine). This included the territories now called Israel, Jordan and the lands claimed by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. In 1946, just two years before David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s Independence, Jordan (then known as Transjordania6) had its own independence established. Today, Jordan has an area of almost 90 000 square kilometres, with Israel at just over 20 000km5. For visualisation, Israel from north to south is the same length as Geraldton to Perth (roughly 400 km) and at its widest from west to east is about 100 km (Perth to York).
On the 29th of November 1947, Australia led the way for an independent Israel (against British pressure) by chairing the UN General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine, as well as having the UN pass a motion (Resolution 1811) stating “Independent Arab and Jewish States and the Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem… shall come into existence in Palestine two months after the evacuation of the armed forces of the mandatory Power [Britain] has been completed.” This was not an unprecedented move, in 1922 all 51 members of the League of Nations voted unanimously in agreement that “Recognition has been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.” A number of other countries were also established by similar Mandates including Syria, Lebanon and Iran.
However, immediately after the British Mandate expired and Israel’s Independence was established (the 5th of May, 1948), the first Arab-Israeli war broke out as forces from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq invaded the former British Mandate. By the end of the war, Jordan had taken East Jerusalem and the West Bank (of the Jordan River), Egypt had taken the Gaza Strip and Israel had taken the remainder of the former Mandate. In 1949, Israel and the Arab states came to a series of armistices, which ended the war and established territorial borders which would stand for nearly 20 years. During the war, approximately 70 000 Arab Palestinians fled from Israel to the neighbouring Arab countries, primarily Jordan. The reason for this was panic. According to Israel, this was purposely incited by their own leaders to ‘clear the field’ for the war. According to the Arab League, this panic was due to fear of the Israeli forces.
As a counterpoint to this mass migration of Palestinian Arabs, nearly all of the Middle East and North Africa’s Jews had left and migrated either to Israel or the West. Over time, in total this has led to the migration of 850,000 Jews. This left just 26,000 Jews left in Arab countries (plus Iran), while Israeli census data records in excess of 1.5 million Arab Israelis. With only a few tensions and conflicts, this remained the status quo until the 5th of June 1967, when Israel launched pre-emptive strikes against its Egypt (who were preparing for war). This resulted in the complete destruction of the Egyptian Air Force, and the conquering of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. General Nasser of Egypt then convinced Syria and Jordan to attack Israel in retaliation. Israeli counterattacks successfully repulsed the offensive and conquered the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The defeat was astounding, Israel lost less than 1,000 troops, while killing more than 20,000 of the aggressors’ troops in just 6 days.
Concluding on the 10th of June, the war left the Arab League Leaders embarrassed and humiliated, until 1973. In 1973, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat allied with Syria to strike Israel on Yom Kippur (the holiest day in Judaism). While finding early successes on both the Egyptian and Syrian fronts went a long way to restoring the league’s dignity following 1967’s Six Day War, Israel ultimately won. No changes were made on the Syrian Border beyond the addition of a UN buffer zone, but Israel agreed to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula in exchange for peace with Egypt. Unfortunately, this caused anger against Sadat within the Arab world, leading to his assassination as well as Egypt’s suspension from the Arab League. Since then, a tenuous ceasefire has existed between Israel and Syria and a peace treaty has been signed with Jordan. This has led to the Arab-Israeli Wars shifting towards conflict not with neighbouring countries but with the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), Fatah and Hamas.
In 1988, King Hussein of Jordan told the world that Jordan was relinquishing its claim on the West Bank and Eastern Jerusalem (which it lost in the 1973 war). They severed all administrative and legal connections, making the choice to claim the land as belonging to the PLO. In 2000, Ehud Barak, the Israeli Prime Minister, met with Yasser Arafat, the leader of the PLO. In this meeting, he offered Arafat a peace deal, granting all of Gaza, 94% of the West Bank and East Jerusalem as a capital for the PLO for the formation of a Palestinian state. Arafat Refused. In 2008, the new Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, offered the same deal plus even more land to the Palestinian Leader, Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas Refused.
The Gaza Strip is now entirely controlled by Hamas, and the West Bank is divided into lands ranging from total Israeli control to shared control to total Palestinian Authority Control. East Jerusalem has been entirely incorporated into Israel.
That is an extremely brief overview of the history of the modern state of Israel. Now as the title makes obvious, this article concerns the Australian embassy to Jerusalem. So, after a brief history of the embassy, I will analyse the Trump Administration’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
Israel has faced challenges being recognised as a state, let alone getting Jerusalem recognised as its capital. However, at its founding, amongst the countries who recognised Israel were Turkey, followed closely by Iran (until Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution in 1979). Israel has also maintained full diplomatic ties with Egypt and Jordan since the signing of treaties after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. This recognition of Israel allowed for the U.S. congress to reach a decision in 1995, which stated “Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel.” This has been a common talking point in U.S. domestic politics since 1992. Then President Bill Clinton promised to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, move the U.S. embassy there and criticised George H.W. Bush for a perceived lack of U.S. involvement in keeping Jerusalem undivided. Later, George W. Bush would criticise Bill Clinton for failing in his promise to move the embassy. The most recent president before Trump, Barack Obama, also stated whilst campaigning, “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” He too never went through with an official recognition.
Then on December 6 of last year, President Donald J. Trump finally refused to waive the 1995 U.S. Jerusalem Embassy Act, recognising Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel. The embassy then opened on the 14th of May this year, with Trump’s daughter and son in law Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner (an orthodox Jewish couple) attending the dedication ceremony. Immediately following this decision, the UN Security Council voted 14-1 in favour of condemning the U.S. move. However, the resolution was vetoed by the U.S. and passed to the General Assembly. Here it passed at 128 votes in favour to just 9 against, with 35 states abstaining and 21 absent8. Amongst the abstaining states was unfortunately Australia. This is a disappointing move from Australia as at the time Australia was the only nation to criticise the resolution besides Israel and the U.S. Israel and Australia have had historical links dating back to the First World War. These include liberating the region from the Ottomans by capturing Beersheba (the famous Charge of the Light Horse Brigade) and by achieving the first step in the British-Egyptian taking of Jerusalem7. Israel and Australia are also linked economically, according to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade2, trading goods and services to a value of $1.3 billion from 2015-2016.
Australia beat out one of Israel’s strongest allies, if not its strongest (the U.S.), in refusing to call East Jerusalem an occupied territory of Israel in mid-20143. The U.S. isn’t the only superpower Australia and Israel share as an ally. Israel was the first Middle-Eastern country to recognise the People’s Republic of China as the government of China, and since diplomatic ties were established between the two in 1992, they have become extremely close both economically and militarily. So why shouldn’t Australia continue to strengthen its ties with Israel, the only functioning democracy in the Middle-East? They share military history and early ties to the British, as well as strong modern ties to the two most powerful countries in the world today. They share economic and cultural ties, as well as a Judeo-Christian heritage.
The best way for Australia to support Israel today, considering all the adversity the Middle-Eastern country faces, is for us to recognise the right of Israel to exercise its National Sovereignty and determine its own capital within its own borders.
11947, ‘Resolution 181 (II). Future government of Palestine’, United Nations General Assembly, 29 November
2Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, ‘Israel country brief’, <https://dfat.gov.au/geo/israel/Pages/israel-country-brief.aspx>
3Donnison 2014, ‘Israel and Australia: New best mates?’, British Broadcasting Corporation, 9 June
4Hertz 2011, ‘“Mandate for Palestine” The Legal Aspects of Jewish Rights’, Myths and Facts, 23 September
5Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2013, ‘The British Mandate’, <http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/aboutisrael/maps/pages/the%20league%20of%20nations%20mandate%20for%20palestine%20-%201920.aspx>
6Office of King Hussein 2001, ‘The Making of Transjordan’, <http://www.kinghussein.gov.jo/his_transjordan.html>
7Rubenstein 2010, ‘Australia and Israel: a unique friendship’, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 29 September
8Special Broadcasting Service 2017, ‘128 countries reject Trump’s Jerusalem move as Australia abstains from UN vote’, 22 December
Cover photo by Dennis Jarvis (Flickr)