Australia urged to clarify new East Jerusalem position


Australia's decision to drop the word "occupied" in relation to East Jerusalem is causing a stir around the world.  

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)


Arab and Islamic representatives are holding emergency meetings in Canberra following Australia's decision to stop referring to East Jerusalem as "occupied".


They're calling on Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to clarify the country's position on Israel and the Palestinian Territories.


It comes after the Palestinian Foreign Ministry summoned Australia's diplomatic representative to explain the change.


Thea Cowie reports.


(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)


Australia's decision to drop the word "occupied" in relation to East Jerusalem is causing a stir around the world.


Head of the General Delegation of Palestine Izzat Abdulhadi says Arab leaders have met twice in Canberra, agreeing to write to Australia's Foreign Minister requesting an urgent meeting about the apparent policy shift.


"In this letter we express also our deep concern about this position of Australia and then we explain to Australian government about the legal status of Jerusalem as occupied. This is important for all Arabs. East Jerusalem has an interest for Palestinians but also it's an issue for all the Arab and Islamic countries so we all have the same position."


Ambassador Abdulhadi says Islamic representatives are also meeting, and will hopefully join calls for Australia to clarify its position.


Last week federal Attorney General George Brandis announced the Australian government will no longer refer to East Jerusalem as occupied territory, saying that description is judgemental and unhelpful.


But Ambassador Abdulhadi says it's Australia's decision to drop the word "occupied" which is unhelpful.


"For me it wasn't useful statement at all and will not contribute to the peace process or implementation of the two state solution. Unforteunately Australia has isolated itself from the international community and the peace process. Even the Americans they don't have this position at all. In the worst scenario they describe the West Bank, East Jerusalem as disputed areas, but they don't describe it as not occupied so it was surprising to some extent and shocking."


In a statement to SBS, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says there has been no change in the Australian government's position on the legal status of the Palestinian Territories.


Former Australian Ambassador to Israel Ross Burns agrees Australia's policy shift is not helpful.


But he says the real damage could be to Australia's international standing.


"The damage is to our reputation as a middle power. To be adopting the sort of foreign policy throw-away lines that you might get from the Marshall Islands or South Sudan or somewhere under pressure from their Israeli interlocutures I think is very very dangerous. I wouldn't be surprised if the Americans are pretty ropable about it too. Because to some extent it undermines the whole basis of the negotiating position they've been trying to sustain between the Palestinians and Israelis. If you're suggesting there's nothing to negotiate about, in terms of the international status of Jerusalem then you're undercutting the ground from under the Americans."


Ross Burns is now an executive member of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network.


Jewish-Australian political activist Antony Lowenstein is questioning the Abbott government's motives.


He says he thinks the government is seeking to appease the Jewish community ahead of proposed controversial changes to the Racial Discrimination Act.


"For Australia to come out and suggest somehow that using the word 'occupied' is inappropriate suggests to me two things - one that they want to appease a Zionist community in Australia which is incredibly pro-settlements and pro-occupation, or they're trying to do this as some kind of quid pro quo in relation to the Racial Discrimination Act which mainly the Jewish community is upset about that the Australian government is proposing to possibly change."


But Israeli Ambassador to Australia, Shmuel Ben-Shmuel is welcoming the change in language, saying the Abbott government has come to a reasonable position of its own accord.


"People accuse the Jews of plotting around the world and changing the regimes, this is a democratic country, one of the leading democratic countries in the world and I'm sure that the government of Australia can reach its own conclusion, all this is nonsense."


Ambassador Ben-Shmuel says he hopes Australia is setting an example he hopes others will follow.


"It's a reasonable step which I wish all likeminded countries would accept, the sooner the better, because the way to peace is through direct negotiation through the parties involved, not through intimidation and accusation and not using this word 'occupation' as if this is the source of the conflict. The source of the conflict was, and still is, the refusal of many in the Arab world and within the Palestinian community to accept Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state in this region."




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