SYDNEY, Australia — Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday raised the possibility of moving the Australian Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, an idea that drew criticism as a bald political gambit meant only to win a crucial local election.
Moving the embassy to Jerusalem would represent a break in Australia’s longstanding position on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and could have global consequences by encouraging others to follow suit.
Mr. Morrison made the announcement on Tuesday, saying he was “open-minded” about moving the embassy while insisting that he remains committed to a two-state solution.
“But frankly, it hasn’t been going that well,” Mr. Morrison said of efforts toward a two-state solution. “Not a lot of progress has been made. And you don’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results.”
President Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December last year despite warnings that the move would inflame Palestinians and their supporters around the Middle East.
Mr. Morrison credited a Liberal Party candidate, Dave Sharma, with persuading him to consider the proposal. Mr. Sharma, a former ambassador to Israel, is running in a local election for a seat long held by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull that is now up for grabs.
A Liberal Party loss in the election would mean the conservative coalition government, comprising the Liberal and National parties, would lose its single-seat majority in Parliament. That means it would have to negotiate individual votes from other members to pass legislation or the federal budget.
Mr. Turnbull had held the seat in Wentworth for the Liberal Party for 14 years. But he vacated it after being ousted as party leader and prime minister in August.
Rather than remain in Parliament to maintain the coalition’s slim majority, he quit and decamped to his apartment on Manhattan’s West Side. He recently appeared at a forum on Indonesia and Australia hosted by a Washington think tank.
The Liberals’ treatment of Mr. Turnbull has turned the election for the seat into an actual contest, with party observers fearing it would go to one of Mr. Sharma’s opponents.
Some constituents expressed wariness of Mr. Morrison’s gambit.
At the Shop and Wine Bar in Sydney, Michael Mobbs, an environmental consultant, criticized Mr. Morrison’s announcement as “opportunistic politics.”
Wentworth is home to a sizable number of Jewish voters, and Mr. Mobbs said many he had spoken to were “outraged this has been made a political issue.” He added that he would be voting for the Labor candidate.
“This is not a time to talk about an embassy in a foreign country faraway,” he said. “That’s degrading, ethnic politics.”
But at a kosher bakery in Rose Bay, Sarah Lavan, a kindergarten teacher, welcomed the announcement.
“We’re happy and proud of him,” she said of the prime minister. “I think it’s a brave step. My husband was so happy this morning — all his life he’s voted Liberal.”
She dismissed criticism that it was a political move to ensure a victory in Wentworth.
“I don’t think the step is to win more Jewish votes,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what the reason is, the action is what counts.”
Penny Wong, the opposition’s shadow foreign minister, said the announcement demonstrated “just how desperate Scott Morrison is to hold onto the seat of Wentworth.”
“Does anyone actually believe he’ll carry this through?” she said. “He’s just posturing ahead of a by-election that he is desperate to win in order to hold onto a slim majority.”
Ms. Wong said Mr. Morrison’s position went counter to that of past Liberal Party leaders, and even of Mr. Morrison himself. Mr. Morrison said in June that there was little indication the party would support such a move.
The proposal has already met with approval in Israel, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu taking to Twitter to share the news.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke today with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison who said that he is considering officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the Australian Embassy to Jerusalem. PM Netanyahu thanked him for his remarks.
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) October 15, 2018
The push to relocate the embassy is not new, said Lydia Khalil, a research fellow at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. The embassy move, as well as opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, are part of “a persistent position that has been advocated by Australian Jewish voices,” she said.
Moving the embassy to Jerusalem would benefit Australia’s alliance with the United States, help to forge a deeper relationship with the Trump administration, and “insulate it from some of the more erratic positions against allies,” Ms. Khalil said.
“It would also promote the viewpoint that Australia drives its foreign and national security policies through the lens of that alliance,” she said.
But moving the embassy to Jerusalem would “make already stalled and difficult negotiations very difficult to revive,” she said. “It gives more ammunition to people who want to derail the peace process even further and it doesn’t help the already entrenched positions that have solidified over the years and don’t seem to be going anywhere.”
Other countries have followed Mr. Trump’s lead, including Paraguay, Honduras and Guatemala. Yet the opening of the United States Embassy in Jerusalem in May was met with protests across Palestinian territory and beyond, with more than 10,000 demonstrators in Morocco taking to the streets of Casablanca to condemn the move.