ISRAELI Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lauded the Australian government after Attorney-General George Brandis (pictured) clarified last week the Coalition does not refer to East Jerusalem as “occupied”.
In a statement authorised by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop last Thursday, Senator Brandis told a Senate Estimates hearing that using the term “Occupied East Jerusalem” is unhelpful to the peace process.
It followed a heated debate the previous evening, at which Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon and Independent Nick Xenophon both repeatedly asked Senator Brandis whether the Coalition regarded East Jerusalem as occupied.
In Thursday’s statement, Senator Brandis said: “The description of areas which are the subject of negotiations in the course of the peace process by reference to historical events is unhelpful.
“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.”
Netanyahu praised this stance at his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday. “To say this sharply and with such clarity and, I would say, courage, is refreshing given the chorus of hypocrisy and ignorance; ignorance not only of ancient history, but of recent and current history,” he said.
Zionist Federation of Australia president Danny Lamm commended the government “for taking a stand on this issue and for recognising that the final status of Jerusalem can only be resolved by a return to the negotiating table”.
“Any use of the term ‘occupied’ predetermines the outcomes of negotiations as defined in United Resolutions 242 and 338,” he said.
Executive Council of Australian Jewry executive director Peter Wertheim said the fact that the United Nations routinely refers to parts of Jerusalem as “occupied” “does not make such language sacrosanct”.
“The Australian government is correct in stating that the Israelis and Palestinians themselves have agreed that the final status of Jerusalem is to be worked out through direct negotiations, and that the use of loaded language by others, which prejudges the issue, serves no constructive purpose,” he said.
Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council executive director Colin Rubenstein also welcomed the clarification. “Prejudging the issues in dispute encourages an ongoing Palestinian refusal to make the compromises essential for [a two-state solution] to come about,” he said.
But Brandis’s statement has come under fire from the federal Opposition, with a spokesperson for shadow foreign affairs minister Tanya Plibersek saying, “Clear Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advice to Labor in government was that the settlements are not in line with international law.”
Former foreign ministers Bob Carr and Gareth Evans wrote an opinion piece in The Canberra Times on Sunday that was harshly critical of the position, prompting a rebuke from their one-time colleague, Melbourne Ports MP Michael Danby.
“Former foreign ministers Evans’ and Carr’s obsessive interest in the fine detail of the Arab-Israeli conflict was to the detriment of other more pressing issues, such as China’s conflict with its East Asian neighbours and the 150,000 people killed in Syria and its resultant refugee and terrorist outflow,” he said.
Attorney-General George Brandis.