Ousted prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has issued a warning to his successor that moving the Australian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem could prompt a “very negative reaction” from Indonesia.
Speaking after a meeting in Bali with Indonesian president Joko Widodo, Mr Turnbull said the government should be cautious with any plan to move its diplomatic outpost in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, given the reaction it would stir from Australia’s northern neighbour.
“The president expressed to me, as he has done to Prime Minister Morrison, the very serious concern held in Indonesia about the prospect of the Australian embassy in Israel being moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” Mr Turnbull said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison floated the idea of shifting the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in the last week of the Wentworth by-election campaign. He insisted the timing of the announcement was not designed to appeal to Jewish voters in the seat, who make up around 12 per cent of the area’s population.
Wentworth ultimately fell to the independent challenger Kerryn Phelps, in a historic loss for the Liberals.
Mr Turnbull said Australia must consider how its closest neighbours would react to such a dramatic shift in foreign policy.
“There is no question, were that move to occur, it would be met with a very negative reaction in Indonesia. This is after all the largest Muslim-majority country in the world,” he said.
“We have to be very clear-eyed about that, and we have to take into account Australia’s national interests, and our interests in the region, when we consider a decision like this.”
He said the Indonesian President had expressed “serious concern” over the plan.
Mr Turnbull met with President Joko Widodo on Monday in Bali as part of an Australian delegation attending a global conference.
The Indonesia summit comes at a crucial time for the two countries, with a free-trade deal set to be signed by the end of the year.
Following Mr Morrison’s embassy announcement, there were reports Indonesia was considering pulling out of the key deal.
Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham later said the agreement was “on track for finalisation this year”.
Mr Morrison travelled to Jakarta in August, less than a week after taking the top job from Mr Turnbull, to announce the deal.