Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman hailed the Australian decision to remove the “occupied” territory designation in reference to East Jerusalem on Thursday, and said he hopes the decision will set a precedent for other countries to do the same.
“I applaud the Australian government for its honesty and integrity in its treatment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Liberman said in a statement.
He praised the Australian stance as a “serious consideration of the issue,” which “shies away from populistic statement and does not attempt to appeal to and flatter radical Islamic forces” who, he said, intimidate those who do not share their view with regard to the settlements.
The settlements are “part of Jewish history for thousands of years and were never a part of a Palestinian state that never existed,” he added. “I hope that other states will discover the bravery and honesty that Australia has found.”
The Australian government had announced in a statement earlier Thursday it would no longer refer to East Jerusalem as “occupied, territory” in what one legislator called a “massive shift” in foreign policy.
Attorney General George Brandis explained Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s position that using the word “occupied” was judgmental and does not contribute to the dialogue about the contested area, the Australian Associated Press reported.
“The description of East Jerusalem as ‘occupied’ East Jerusalem is a term freighted with pejorative implications which is neither appropriate nor useful,” Brandis said during a Senate meeting. “It should not and will not be the practice of the Australian government to describe areas of negotiation in such judgmental language.”
The decision came 47 years to the day after the 1967 Six Day War, in which the Jewish state captured East Jerusalem as well as the West Bank and other territories from Arab neighbors.
The country effectively annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, unifying the city under Israeli sovereignty, though most of the international community has not recognized the move.
On Wednesday night, Brandis came under fire after declaring that no Australia government, regardless of political persuasion, “acknowledges or accepts” calling East Jerusalem “occupied.”
Several lawmakers challenged Brandis, noting that in 2011 and 2012 Australia backed UN resolutions that did refer to East Jerusalem as occupied territory.
Independent senator Nick Xenophon noted that the statement amounted to a “massive shift” in Australia’s foreign policy.
In January, Bishop appeared to contest the view that Israeli settlements anywhere beyond the 1967 lines were illegal under international law.
“I would like to see which international law has declared them illegal,” she said in an interview with The Times of Israel, but added that she did not want to “prejudge the fundamental issues,” which should instead be discussed in the peace negotiations.
Bishop’s comments drew widespread condemnation from Palestinian and Australian officials. She “wants to reinvent international law and call Israeli settlements legal. Or what else was Bishop trying to accomplish by showing her support to Israeli settlements?” Palestinian chief peace negotiator Saeb Erekat wrote at the time in an op-ed published in the Sydney Morning Herald. “If Bishop wanted to show solidarity with an occupation that harms the rights of an occupied population, she did well.”