Foreign Minister Penny Wong has assured the Jewish community that the federal Labor government “will not impose its view” of the final borders of Jerusalem, “which should be the result of peace negotiations”, after it hardened its policies on Israel this week.
Wong told Senate Question Time on Tuesday that Australia will now use the term “Occupied Palestinian Territories” to describe lands beyond the green line, as well as Gaza, which Israel withdrew from in 2005.
“We are clarifying that the West Bank including East Jerusalem and Gaza were occupied by Israel following the 1967 war and that the occupation continues,” she said.
The government is also strengthening its opposition to settlements “by affirming they are illegal under international law and a significant obstacle to peace”, Senator Wong added.
“We are gravely concerned about alarming trends that are significantly reducing the process of peace. We are deeply concerned by the Israeli government settlement activity, including its advancements of thousands of settlement units, retroactive legalisation of illegal outputs and policy changes.”
In comments made exclusively to The AJN on Wednesday, Wong said, “We respect the historical and enduring connection the Jewish people have to Jerusalem’s holy sites.
“There are few issues more central for many Jewish people than the status of Jerusalem – it’s the heart of Israel’s origins and its future.
“Jerusalem is a final status issue … The use of the term ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories’ does not change this.”
Labor Member for Macnamara Josh Burns told The AJN, “Let me be clear, the Kotel is the holiest site for the Jewish people. It is in Israel and will remain so.”
Labor’s federal conference will be held from August 17-19, after a motion calling on the federal government “to recognise the Palestinian state within the term of this Parliament” passed at its Victorian state conference in June.
“Labor’s back-room decisions on Israel and the Palestinian territories have everything to do with managing factional differences ahead of the Labor National Conference, and nothing to do with advancing a lasting two-state outcome,” Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Senator Simon Birmingham said.
Liberal Member for Berowra Julian Leeser told ABC News on Tuesday, “The Labor Party has had a problem with the hard left at this conference. They’ve had two foreign policy matters which the hard left has attacked. Firstly AUKUS, and secondly the State of Israel.
“They’ve torn down one of those foreign policy pillars, which is support for the State of Israel, to preserve the other.”
Liberal Senator for Victoria and Shadow Minister for Home Affairs James Paterson said, “Anthony Albanese and Penny Wong should stand up to the extreme left of the Labor Party in support of a lasting two-state solution in which Israel and Palestine peacefully coexist.”
Calling the changes “counterproductive”, independent Member for Wentworth Allegra Spender said she will continue to press the government to support a constructive solution.
“Australia should promote productive dialogue and encourage a return to good-faith negotiations. There is no point in Australia making symbolic changes to language,” she said.
In a joint statement, Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler and Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Jillian Segal called the change in language “inaccurate, ahistorical and counterproductive”.
“Describing the territories as ‘Palestinian’ not only pre-empts the outcome of negotiations but is counterproductive,” they said.
“Palestinian terrorism against Israeli targets has risen dramatically, and Palestinian leadership has refused to enter into negotiations with Israel in the last two years … the Australian government should be urging the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.
“The announcement will be used by Israeli and Palestinian hardliners to bolster support within their respective constituencies and put a peace agreement further out of reach.”
They added, “It is concerning that just as Arab states are moving closer to Israel and normalising relations, this announcement moves Australia in the opposite direction.”
Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council executive director Colin Rubenstein said, “This new Australian position – in contradiction of the publicly stated positions of like-minded democracies such as the US and Canada – flies in the face of previous comments by the Foreign Minister that final status issues should only be resolved by negotiations between the parties.
“This was the rationale for reversing the previous government’s recognition of Israel having the same right as any other country to declare where its capital is – in this case, in west Jerusalem.
“This decision will make it extremely difficult for Australia to present itself as a credible and effective advocate for a two-state peace.”
Australia–Israel Labor dialogue co-convenor Adam Slomin said the policy change “only emboldens extremists on both sides”.
“This announcement places Australia as an outsider and not a cooperative supporter for both parties to reach a two-state solution,” he said.
The New Israel Fund, however, welcomed the decision, saying, “The current Netanyahu government has enabled the far-right, messianic agenda of the settlement enterprise and continues to support the agenda of the settlement movement.”
- Palestinian territories
- Australian Labor Party (ALP)
- Penny Wong
- Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ)
- Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA)
- Josh Burns
- Julian Leeser
- James Paterson
- Allegra Spender
- Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC)
- Adam Slomin
- New Israel Fund