Simon Birmingham says Indonesian trade deal critical amid Israel embassy spat

Trade minister says Australia will not be ‘bullied’ by any other nation, but added the Morrison government should maintain a cool head

Photo : skillsone.com.au

 

The trade minister, Simon Birmingham, says the Morrison government will carefully consider both the security and economic implications before taking any final decision to shift Australia’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Birmingham also pointed out it was critical to land a free trade deal with Indonesia to buttress economic growth in our near neighbour, and also strengthen the Asean grouping “and the balance that exists strategically within our region” – which is a diplomatic way of saying strengthening the region against China’s hegemonic ambitions.

Jakarta is withholding support for the free trade deal until Australia clarifies its position on moving the embassy in Israel – a stance which has led government conservatives supportive of shifting the embassy to Jerusalem to declare Australia must assert sovereignty over its own foreign policy.

Attempting to calm the internal clamour, the trade minister told the ABC on Sunday Australia would not be “bullied” into a decision by any other nation, but he added the Morrison government should maintain a cool head, and not be “reactive” to the comments of any other nations in the decision we make.

The assistant treasurer, Zed Seselja, added his voice to calls from fellow conservatives Eric Abetz, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Andrew Hastie and James Paterson, to shift the embassy on Sunday, telling Sky News the decision “goes to our values”.

“We want to see a two-state solution. This in no way undermines the two-state solution,” he said. “When you’ve got a stalled peace process you do need to look at how to do things differently.”

Birmingham said the rolling Israel controversy – which has overshadowed Scott Morrison’s first summit season – would be resolved by the government having “a proper cabinet decision fully informed by all of the factors”.

He said the government’s decision would hinge on whether any policy shift made a positive contribution to achieving the two-state solution, whether it conformed with resolutions of the United Nations, as well as “the overall economic, security and other implications”.

“It’s in our national interest to see the two-state solution progress. We all know that for decades now, there’s basically been little progress towards achieving the two-state solution between Israel and Palestine,” Birmingham said.

He said if an embassy relocation “can help advance that, then that’s great. We have to consider that against the UN Security Council resolutions and making sure that we work within the framework of those.”

The trade minister said the prime minister was engaging with other world leaders to hear their views, and would assess contributions from experts.

The defence minister, Christopher Pyne, says the government is considering two embassies as a method of contributing to the two-state solution – an Australian embassy in West Jerusalem to service Israel, and another in East Jerusalem assuming Palestinian statehood.

Morrison has not articulated that position publicly, but Pyne has said on more than one occasion that is the government’s position.

The controversy has put Morrison – who first flagged Australia adopting Donald Trump’s controversial policy on the Middle East in the week before the Wentworth byelection – in a very difficult position.

If he drops the idea entirely, government conservatives will claim Jakarta is dictating Australia’s foreign policy, and it will be seen as a snub to Israel, which has welcomed Morrison’s signal on the embassy.

If Morrison proceeds, Indonesia will respond negatively, which hurts Australia’s interests on a range of fronts.

Some colleagues think Morrison is most likely to adopt the position Pyne has been articulating, suggesting a staged diplomatic recognition of both Jerusalem and Palestine in accordance with detailed conditions.

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