Australia will no longer describe east Jerusalem as “occupied” territory, the country’s attorney-general told the Senate on Thursday, signaling a significant policy shift welcomed in Israel.
“The description of east Jerusalem as ‘Occupied East Jerusalem’ is a term freighted with pejorative implications, which is neither appropriate nor useful,” George Brandis said, reading out a statement written following a conversation with Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop.
“It should not and will not be the practice of the Australian government to describe areas of negotiations in such judgmental language,” he said.
Brandis said the description of areas, which are the subject of negotiations, by reference to historical events was “unhelpful.”
He added that Australia supported a peaceful solution to the Palestinian- Israeli conflict that “recognizes the right of Israel to exist peacefully within secure borders and also recognizes the aspiration to statehood of the Palestinian people.”
The comments came following a heated debate Wednesday evening in the Senate, where Brandis took issue when a Greens party senator referred to “occupied east Jerusalem.”
Brandis said this language prejudged matters still under negotiations.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman praised the Australian move, saying it showed a “serious” approach to the issue, and indicated Canberra was not willing to “try to please and pander to radical Islamist factors,” which “are scaring anyone who dares to tell the truth regarding the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”
Liberman said he hoped other countries would have the integrity and show the courage to follow Australia’s lead.
Another Israeli diplomatic official applauded the move, saying “the sound of wisdom comes from Australia.”
“Let’s hope this sturdy common sense view propagates itself to other continents, though given the situation of international relations I wouldn’t hold my breath,” he said.
“Speaking wisdom aloud is very dangerous in international relations.”
In January, Bishop – during a short visit to attend Ariel Sharon’s funeral – took issue with those calling the settlements illegal. Indeed, Australia now refrains from using the term “illegal” to refer to settlements. Canberra also does not refer to the West Bank as “occupied” territory, but rather “disputed” territory.
Although the European Union routinely states the settlements are “illegal,” the US – which is adamantly opposed to Israel’s settlement policy – refrains from using that term, now generally calling them “illegitimate” or “unhelpful.”
Last month, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat wrote Bishop slamming Australia’s ambassador to Israel, David Sharma, for meeting Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel in his east Jerusalem office.
Erekat said the meeting had the “effect of attempting to legitimize the illegal situation on the ground and may be deemed as aiding, abetting or otherwise assisting illegal Israeli policies.”
Canberra simply ignored the protest.
Australia’s policy shift on the settlements began soon after the election victory in September of Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition over Kevin Rudd’s Labor Party.
In November, the new government abstained on two anti-Israel resolutions at the UN – one to end all settlement activities, and another calling for compliance with the Geneva Convention – signaling it would no longer reflexively vote against Israel on settlement-related votes.