Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad insists countries have no right to recognise Jerusalem as Israeli capital
- Prime Minister slammed Australia for following the US, after Washington moved its embassy from Tel Aviv in May
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Sunday criticised Australia’s move to recognise West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying countries had “no rights” to do so. At the same time, Israel complained that Canberra’s move was “a mistake”, insisting the whole of the city belongs to the Jewish state.
Australia’s move follows US President Donald Trump’s decision to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv in May, which infuriated Palestinians and the wider Islamic world and upset Western allies.
“Jerusalem should remain as it is now and not the capital of Israel,” Mahathir said on the sidelines of an event in Bangkok. “Jerusalem has always been under Palestine, so why are they taking the initiative to divide Jerusalem ... They have no rights.”
Malaysia is a majority-Muslim country and has long supported a two-state solution in the Palestine-Israel conflict.
The status of Jerusalem, home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths, is one of the biggest obstacles to a peace agreement between Israel and Palestinians who want East Jerusalem recognised as the capital of a Palestinian state.
Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital, including the eastern sector that it annexed in a move not recognised internationally, after the 1967 Middle East war.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison reversed decades of Middle East policy by the country but said there are no immediate plans to move the Australian embassy from Tel Aviv.
However, Israel’s Foreign Ministry responded tepidly on Sunday, calling the Australian move “a step in the right direction”.
Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel’s minister for regional cooperation and a Netanyahu confidant in the right-wing Likud party, was openly critical of Australia.
“To our regret, within this positive news they made a mistake,” Hanegbi told reporters outside the cabinet room. “There is no division between the east of the city and west of the city. Jerusalem is one whole, united. Israel’s control over it is eternal. Our sovereignty will not be partitioned nor undermined. And we hope Australia will soon find the way to fix the mistake it made.”
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said Saturday’s move was born of Australian “petty domestic politics”.
“All of Jerusalem remains a final-status issue for negotiations, while East Jerusalem, under international law, is an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territory,” he said.