Coming under intense pressure from Arab and Islamic countries for saying it will no longer refer to east Jerusalem as “occupied,” Australia reaffirmed Thursday that its position on the “legal status of the Palestinian territories, including east Jerusalem,” has not changed.
The clarification came in a meeting Australian Foreign Minister Julia Bishop had in Canberra with representatives of the Islamic and Arab countries accredited to the Australian capital.
In a press statement released after the meeting, Bishop termed the discussion “constructive,” and said Australia’s position is “consistent with relevant UN resolution adopted over many years, including UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.”
Canberra seems to have been taken by surprise by the extent of the Arab reaction to the Australian position on Jerusalem articulated earlier this month by Attorney-General George Brandis, and is clearly taking the threats of a boycott seriously.
In a letter to Moroccan Ambassador to Australia Mohamed Mael-Ainin, Bishop wrote that the Australian attorney-general’s comment in parliament earlier in the month that Australia will not refer to Jerusalem as occupied was “about nomenclature, and was not a comment on the legal status of the Palestinian territories.”
Australia, Bishop wrote, “continues to be a strong supporter of a just and lasting two-state solution, with Israel and a Palestinian state existing side by side in peace and security, within internationally recognized borders. To this end, we are urging both sides to resume direct negotiations. We do not consider it helpful to engage in debates over legal issues, nor to prejudge any final status issues that are the subject of these negotiations.”
Brandis, in a parliament discussion on June 5, read out a statement written following a conversation with Bishop saying “the description of east Jerusalem as ‘Occupied East Jerusalem’ is a term freighted with pejorative implications, which is neither appropriate nor useful. It should not and will not be the practice of the Australian government to describe areas of negotiations in such judgmental language,” he said.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott reaffirmed during a visit to the US that, “It is important, as far as you can, not to use loaded terms, not to use pejorative terms, not to use terms which suggest that matters have been prejudged, and that is a freighted term. The truth is they’re disputed territories.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has praised Australia for refuting the “lie” that east Jerusalem is “occupied territory,” calling its decision to change the nomenclature a “courageous” move that is “refreshing” in light of the typical chorus of “hypocrisy and ignorance” regarding the matter.