Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated on Wednesday that a billion-dollar trade agreement with Indonesia will be signed this year, in spite of the Indonesian concern over an Australian proposal to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
Morrison said that he was open to Australia moving its mission from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as the United States did in May to the delight of Israel but to the anger to Palestinians.
Morrison’s willingness to reverse decades of foreign policy and follow the US lead alienated many of Australia’s Asian neighbor that have tight alliances with Palestinians.
It also drew condemnation from 13 Arab ambassadors in Australia who called the suggestion “regrettable” and asked Morrison to reconsider, or risk damaging Australian relationships in the region.
Morrison, who is currently facing a critical by-election on Saturday that will determine whether his government can keep its one-seat majority, said that his government had been guaranteed Indonesia would honor its commitment to the deal worth more than A$16 billion, or $11.4 billion.
“There’s been direct communication between myself and the president as well as between our foreign ministers and with the trade ministers,” said Morrison to reporters in Canberra, pertaining to Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo.
“The Indonesian trade minister has made it very clear on the public record that is an issue of concern to them,” he added.
Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, where the Palestinian question is a sensitive topic and tens of thousands of protesters protested against the US’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.
Indonesian Prime Minister Retno Marsudi, who is speaking at a news conference with Palestinian Foreign Minsiter Riyad al-Maliki in Jakarta on Tuesday, called on Australia to avoid any move that would threaten efforts to forge peace in the Middle East.
The trade agreement has been in the works for almost a decade, and it offers Australia an opportunity to boost rural exports, which dominates two-way trade.
Indonesia is a major importer of wheat and beef. It had bought more than A$3 billion of Australian agricultural commodities in 2017, according to government data.
Fiona Simson, who is the president of Australia’s National Farmers Federation, which represent the rural sector, warned Morrison against any decision that could threaten exports.
The Council of Arab Ambassadors said on a statement that was issued on its behalf by Egypt’s envoy to Australia, said that it was very worrying that Morrison would entertain the idea of shifting Australia’s embassy.
“Any decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or to relocate the Australian embassy would legitimize the status quo and affirm Israel’s claims to the entire city,” it stated.
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