Australia drops ‘occupied’ label from East Jerusalem

Attorney general says the term is ‘freighted with pejorative implications’ and ‘not useful’

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A housing construction site in an East Jerusalem neighborhood, October 27, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A housing construction site in an East Jerusalem neighborhood, October 27, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Australian government will not refer to East Jerusalem as “occupied, territory” the government said in a statement on Thursday, 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 did not recognize 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.”

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, according to Haaretz.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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