Moving the Australian Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem Will Advance the Peace Process


IDF Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser was interviewed by Australia’s ABC News on October 31, 2018:

Interviewer Girish Sawlani: The federal government is still considering a plan to move Australia’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem despite Indonesia raising serious concerns. Prime Minister Scott Morrison floated the idea before the Wentworth by-election. The United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem in May 2018, angering Palestinian leaders, who warned the decision would hamper efforts to restart stalled peace talks. Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser is the director of the project on regional Middle East development at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and he joins me now, live in the studio. Welcome to the program, good to have you.

Kuperwasser: Good evening.

Interviewer: Now, you are in support of Australia moving its embassy to Jerusalem. What difference would it make if it moves it from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?

Kuperwasser: I think that the major difference it’s going to make is that it’s going to help convince the Palestinians that instead of sticking to all kinds of assumptions that they want to impose on the peace process that actually stall it and make it impossible to move forward (and between us, the peace process did not move forward in the last 10 years just because the Palestinians insisted on sticking to those assumptions), this is going to tell the Palestinians that they have to realize that the world is moving forward and they have to adjust their position. And the world is moving forward because the United States has moved its embassy to Jerusalem, the world is moving forward because Brazil is now planning to move its embassy to Jerusalem, the world is moving forward because Russia has admitted that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The world is moving forward because the Arab world, pragmatic elements inside the Arab world, are telling the Palestinians, “Listen, stop putting obstacles in the way toward cooperation with Israel.” And so this week, Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to Amman and his visit is getting publicity that is unprecedented. So the Palestinians have to realize that they have to change their position based on a position of realities, like the fact that Israel has a capital in Jerusalem, and move back to the negotiation table, which they refuse to do. And you know, the Palestinians just held a big conference two days ago at which they again insisted that they will never change their positions. In this way, we shall never have peace. We Israelis want to move forward toward peace, and because of that, we think that the message from Australia, as a very important member of the liberal democracies, telling the Palestinians, “Listen, we are going to base our policy on the real situation, which is that Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for ages and has been the capital of Israel in the last 70 years, is a basic fact that we admit.”

Interviewer: But this has been counterproductive for Australia, as you heard before. I was saying that Indonesia has riled against this move, so why should Australia make this move?

Kuperwasser: Well, first, I don’t think that Australia makes its foreign policy decisions based on the positions of Indonesia. Secondly, the United States made a much more important move in this respect, being the superpower.

Interviewer: But it is a really important trade partner.

Kuperwasser: Yeah, but it has many important trade partners in the Arab world. Many Muslim countries are trade partners of the United States, and nobody did anything or said anything. The move went without any reactions. Even the Palestinians in the West Bank did nothing. So they realize that this is the reality. They know that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Nobody is ignorant about that. So I think, yes, maybe some of the members of the leadership of Indonesia are not happy with it, but basically Indonesia has, in my mind, an interest in having good relations with Australia and it’s not going to tell the Australians what foreign policy they have to adopt.

Interviewer: Of course, there were a lot of protests when Donald Trump said he was going to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and there were a lot of protests in the Middle East. Has the U.S. perhaps lost its role as a possible mediator for peace talks in the future?

Kuperwasser: On the contrary. First of all, there were no protests in the Middle East. Maybe in some capitals around the West, there were some protests. But in the Middle East there were no protests, with the exception of the people of Gaza that were protesting anyhow, so they added this excuse for their protest. But in my mind, most of the Arabs are ready to accept it. They realize it. Egypt has a peace agreement with us. They know that Jerusalem is our capital. Jordan has a peace agreement with us. They know that we have Jerusalem as our capital. It is not something that is an obstacle on the way to peace. On the contrary. Once people send this message to the Palestinians, that they have to accept it, this is going to move away this impediment and obstacle on the way to peace, and the Australian message is going to be accepted, in my mind, extremely well in many places that want to see peace moving forward. The Arabs, even though maybe publicly they will criticize, among themselves they know that this is necessary in order to enable movement forward on the peace process.

Interviewer: Now it seems to me that Benjamin Netanyahu is not too keen on a two-state solution. Where do you sit with east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital?

Kuperwasser: Listen, we say that this issue of Jerusalem is one of the issues that should be decided upon and agreed upon once we sit at the table to negotiate permanent status issues, and it’s one of the issues. The fact that all kinds of countries in the world will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move their embassies to Jerusalem does not mean that we cannot discuss this matter with the Palestinians. We should discuss it with the Palestinians, and hopefully we shall reach an agreement. It’s not easy, but we can discuss it. But these discussions should be based on reality. Jerusalem, right now, is the capital of Israel. Even the Palestinians recognize that this is the fact, at least about the western part of the city. So there’s no disagreement about this fact. If we reach an agreement about two states for two peoples, this is the problem, and people don’t understand it. The problem between us and the Palestinians is that the Palestinians refuse to accept Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people with democratic and equal rights for all its citizens whether they are Jewish or not. That’s what Israel is, though. Palestinians refuse to accept it because they’re committed to a set of beliefs that says that eventually, all of Palestine should be Palestinian. As they chant from time to time, “From the river to the sea.”

Interviewer: So should Israel, perhaps, also then look on its part to give up some ground to the Palestinians?

Kuperwasser: We are ready to give a lot of ground! Not only some ground. We are ready to give a lot of ground in the context of a peace agreement that will bring about mutual recognition between a Palestinian entity – probably a state – and the state of the Jewish people with equal rights to all its citizens and will guarantee the security of Israel. These are the two things that we are trying to get out of this peace agreement once we sit at the table. But first we have to sit at the table, and the Palestinians refuse to come to the table. So we cannot make any progress until they decide they want to do it, and I sincerely think that if Australia takes this move, it will help the Palestinians in their ongoing reconsideration of their position to understand that it’s in their interest as well to move forward and detach themselves from these assumptions, these beliefs that are blocking their chances to have a better life.

Interviewer: Ok, Yossi Kuperwasser, it was a pleasure speaking with you. Thanks very much.

About Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser

Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser is Director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center. He was formerly Director General of the Israel Ministry of Strategic Affairs and head of the Research Division of IDF Military Intelligence.