Australia pledges to reinstate use of term ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories’

Foreign minister says Canberra will also formally harden its position on West Bank settlements, calling them a ‘significant obstacle to peace’

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong speaks in Jakarta, Indonesia, July 13, 2023. (Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana/Pool Photo via AP)
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong speaks in Jakarta, Indonesia, July 13, 2023. (Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana/Pool Photo via AP)

Australia will officially reinstate the term “Occupied Palestinian Territories,” and will harden its objections to settlements in the West Bank, the country’s Labor party said Tuesday.

During a party caucus briefing, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Canberra would move to “strengthen the government’s objection to settlements by affirming that they are illegal under international law and a significant obstacle to peace,” Australia’s ABC News reported.

Wong told parliament that by referring to “Occupied Palestinian Territories,” Australia would be bringing itself in line with the terminology employed by multiple other countries, as well as resolutions from the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council.

“Australia is … returning to the term Occupied Palestinian Territories and the point I’d make is that it is consistent with UN Security Council resolutions, it is consistent with the approach taken by key partners including the United Kingdom, New Zealand and the European Union,” she said, according to the report.

“So, this is a term which has been used, including on past occasions by past foreign ministers and past governments,” Wong added.

A construction site for new housing in the settlement of Shiloh, in the West Bank, on June 21, 2023 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“In adopting the term, we are clarifying that the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza were occupied by Israel following the 1967 War, and that the occupation continues,” she said.

Wong said that while Australia was a “committed friend of Israel,” it was important to adjust the language used in relation to settlements.

According to The Guardian, Wong said the government had “engaged” with Israel’s ambassador to Canberra on the matter.

In a statement, the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) said it expressed its “profound disappointment at the Federal Cabinet decision to label the entirety of the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, as occupied Palestinian territories and to call the settlements illegal.”

“This new Australian position — in contradiction of the publicly-stated positions of like-minded democracies such as the US and Canada — flies in the face of previous comments by the Foreign Minister that final status issues should only be resolved by negotiations between the parties,” said AIJAC executive director Colin Rubenstein.

“This was the rationale for reversing the previous government’s recognition of Israel having the same right as any other country to declare where its capital is – in this case, in west Jerusalem,” he said.

New housing projects in the West Bank Israeli settlement of Givat Ze’ev, June 18, 2023. (AP Photo/ Ohad Zwigenberg, File)

Last year, the Australian government withdrew recognition of western Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with Wong charging that former prime minister Scott Morrison’s decision on the matter 2018 was made not out of “conviction,” but out of “cynicism,” amid a key by-election in the federal electorate of Wentworth, which includes a significant Jewish population.

Then an opposition senator, Wong had vowed at the time that a future Labor Party government would reverse the move.

Both Israel and the Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital. Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.

Former Australian prime minister Scott Morrison speaks during a news conference in Sydney, Aug. 17, 2022. (AAP Image/Flavio Brancaleone)

For decades the international community maintained that the city’s status should be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians. Critics argue that declaring Jerusalem the capital of either inflames tensions and prejudges the outcome of final status peace talks.

On June 30, Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada issued a joint statement calling on Israel to reverse recent decisions to approve more settlement construction in the West Bank, and said they were “gravely concerned” by Jerusalem’s green light to advance plans for some 5,700 new settlement homes. They were part of the 13,082 settlement homes that have been advanced through a pair of major planning stages so far in 2023.

The foreign ministers of the three nations condemned Israel’s “continued expansion of settlements,” which they described as “an obstacle to peace” and a move that “negatively impacts efforts to achieve a negotiated two-state solution.”

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