The Palestinian Authority intends to lobby Arab and Muslim countries to reevaluate relations with Australia after Canberra announced last week that it would stop referring to East Jerusalem as “occupied” territory, a senior PA official wrote in a letter to Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
“Palestine will request that the Arab League and the Islamic Conference [Organization of Islamic Cooperation] review the relations of the Arab and Islamic world with Australia in light of Australia’s unlawful recognition of the illegal settlement regime in occupied Palestine,” Saeb Erekat wrote in the letter, dated June 5.
On Thursday, Australia’s Attorney General George Brandis explained that using the word “occupied” was judgmental and did not contribute to the dialogue about the contested area.
“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.”
In the letter, Erekat responded to Brandis’ statement, saying it showed that Australia “does not intend to comply with its duty under international law not to recognize Israeli sovereignty over any part of the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel in 1967, including East Jerusalem.”
He added that the term “occupation” reflects a “legal fact” based on UN resolutions.
Israel captured East Jerusalem as well as the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights in the Six Day War of 1967. Most of the international community has not recognized Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem to this day.
Israel welcomed Australia’s move, with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman applauding “the Australian government for its honesty and integrity in its treatment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
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.”
In May, Australia’s ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, drew fire after meeting with Housing Minister Uri Ariel in the latter’s East Jerusalem office.
“It should be noted that diplomatic recognition of the situation created by the attempted annexation of our capital is a flagrant violation of international law,” Erekat wrote to Canberra after that meeting.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.