A senior Palestinian official on Sunday panned recent comments by Australia’s foreign minister to the Times of Israel in which she called on the international community to stop branding Israeli settlements illegal.

PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said statements by Julie Bishop represented “dangerous shifts in Australian foreign policy” and called for an official clarification of Australian policy on the issue.

In an interview with The Times of Israel last week, Bishop said the settlements may not be illegal under international law and warned against proclaiming them illegal until their status is formally negotiated as part of the ongoing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

“I would like to remind the Australian government that in accordance with international human rights law and international humanitarian law, all settlements are illegal,” Ashrawi wrote in a statement on Sunday, citing Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and Article 43 of the Hague Regulations.

Ashrawi referred to Bishop’s comments as “willful defiance of international consensus.”

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, left, with FM Avigdor Liberman in Jerusalem, January 13, 2014 (photo credit: Yossi Zamir)

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, left, with FM Avigdor Liberman in Jerusalem, January 13, 2014 (photo credit: Yossi Zamir)

The position that settlements breach international law — adopted by the United Nations Security Council, the European Union and many other states and international bodies, but rejected by Israel — is based on an interpretation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Article 49, paragraph 6, states that an occupying power “shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Violations of the convention are considered war crimes under international law. Israel is a party to the convention and therefore bound by it.

However, Bishop said it was not helpful to “prejudge the settlement issue if you’re going to get a negotiated solution.”

Rather than supporting a peace agreement with the Palestinians, Ashrawi said, Bishop backs continued Israeli governance of the West Bank.

Her remarks “send a clear message to both the international community and to the Palestinians that Australia is more committed to supporting Israel’s annexation of Palestinian land than backing any peace resolution that ends the military occupation of Palestine and calls for the creation of an independent Palestinian state on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital,” Ashrawi wrote.

In addressing the peace talks, Bishop had said that the settlements were a key component of the negotiations, and stressed that “it’s appropriate that we give those negotiations every chance of succeeding.” However, in light of instability in the region, Bishop expressed a measure of reservation as to the likelihood of their success.

Ashrawi also issued a call to Australia to clarify their position vis-a-vis Israel and the Palestinians.

In a vote on a resolution demanding that Israel cease “all Israeli settlement activities in all of the occupied territories” last November, Australia was one of eight countries to abstain while nearly 160 nations supported the resolution. In December, Australia was one of 13 countries that did not vote in favor of a resolution calling on Israel to “comply scrupulously” with the Geneva Convention. 169 countries voted yes on the measure.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report