Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Australian Blunder About Occupied Jerusalem:
Antagonizing Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, June 19, 2014
Reacting to antagonized Palestinian snowballing protests to her
government’s decision on June 5 to reverse a 47-year old bipartisan
consensus on describing eastern Jerusalem as “occupied,” Foreign Minister
Julie Bishop on June 13 denied any “change in the Australian government’s
On June 5, Australian Attorney-General George Brandis in
a statement said: ''The description of East Jerusalem as 'Occupied East
Jerusalem' is a term freighted with pejorative implications, which is
neither appropriate nor useful.''
The new Australian terminology
provoked Jordan, the third largest importer of Australian sheep in the
Middle East, to summon Australia's charge d'affaires, John Feakes, to convey
its “concern” because “The Australian government's decision violates
international law and resolutions that consider east Jerusalem as an
integral part of all Palestinian territories occupied in 1967.”
Similarly, the Australian Representative in Ramallah, Tom Wilson, was
summoned by the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to convey “deep
concern” because Brandis’ remarks “contradict all international
resolutions.” They requested “official clarification.”
change” statement came in response. It was followed on June 14 by Prime
Minister Tony Abbott who said, while on a trip to North America, that his
government had made only a “terminological clarification.”
still “strongly” supports the “two-state solution” and “there has been no
change in policy – absolutely no change in policy,” Abbot said, but at the
same time confirmed that, “We absolutely refuse to refer to occupied East
Abbot two days earlier stated that the Occupied
Palestinian Territories (OPT) are in “truth … disputed territories."
Canberra is showing no signs of backing down. Australian
ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, on June 11 said Brandis’ reasoning could
lead his government to similar official linguistic change on the West Bank.
“I think we just call the West Bank, ‘the West Bank,’ as a geographical
entity without adding any adjectives to it, whether ‘occupied’ [the
Palestinian position] or ‘disputed’ [the Israeli position]. We’ll just call
it what it is, which is ‘the West Bank.’,” he told the Tablet. However, this
is not official yet, he said.
“There has been no change in the
Australian government’s position on the legal status of the Palestinian
Territories, including East Jerusalem,” Bishop “clarified” in her statement.
She was not convincing. The credibility of Bishop’s and Abbot’s denial of
“change” could hardly be plausible.
It is a “radical change in the
Australian position on Palestine,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad
al-Maliki said. The head of the Palestinian delegation to Canberra, Izzat
Abdulhadi, said Australia’s new stance is “very provocative.”
June 12, Arab and Islamic ambassadors from 18 countries, including Saudi
Arabia, Egypt and Indonesia, protested to Australia's Department of Foreign
Affairs in Canberra.
Jerusalem is the permanent headquarters of the
Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The organization was founded in
response to the burning of Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, by
the Australian arsonist Michael Dennis Rohan in 1969.
on June 10 reported from Jerusalem that the 57-member OIC will hold a joint
emergency meeting this month with the 22-member Arab League to decide their
response to Australia’s “terminology” declaration.
of the Arab League, Nabil al-Arabi sent Bishop a “letter of protest”
requesting “official clarification,” his deputy Ahmad bin Hilli said last
Palestinians are on record to invoke the
multi-billion annual Australian agricultural exports to the member states in
the discussions. Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss told
reporters last Friday that “we will work very hard with them … to maintain
the trade,” but so far his government has shown no signs to that effect.
Bishop’s and Abbot’s “no change” statements tried to imply that their
country’s policy has not changed and that if there was a change it is a
linguistic one only.
Either case the change in “terminology” serves
neither Australian nor Palestinian interests. Coming ahead of Israeli Prime
Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to Australia this summer, to be
the first ever sitting Israeli premier to visit Canberra, it serves only as
a free of charge welcoming present.
However, coming on the 47th
anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory in
eastern Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza Strip and in 2014, which the United
Nations proclaimed an International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian
People, the Australian “change of language” was “absolutely disgraceful and
shocking,” according to the member of the Executive Committee of the
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Hanan Ashrawi.
inflammatory and irresponsible statements … are not only in blatant
violation of international law and global consensus, but are also lethal in
any pursuit of peace and toxic to any attempt at enacting a global rule of
law,” Ashrawi was quoted as saying by the Times of Israel on June 6.
In fact, describing the Palestinian territories, eastern Jerusalem
inclusive, as “occupied” is not only a Palestinian position.
Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem has not been recognized by the
international community and all 193 countries of the UN, including the U.S.,
refuse to have their embassies in Jerusalem because it would imply their
recognition of the city as Israel’s capital.
Published by The
Guardian on this June 11, Ben Saul wrote: “Calling east Jerusalem ‘occupied’
simply recognizes the near-universal legal status quo, namely that it is not
sovereign Israeli territory.”
“Declaring that east Jerusalem
will not be described as ‘occupied’ implies that Australia rejects the
application of international humanitarian law … The term "occupation" is
therefore not pejorative or judgmental.” Saul said, adding that “Australia’s
new view … corrodes the international rule of law and violates Australia’s
international law obligations” in accordance with the Geneva conventions to
which both Australia and Israel are signatories.
The UN Security
Council Resolution 478 on August 20, 1980 censured “in the strongest terms
the enactment by Israel of the ‘basic law’ on Jerusalem,” affirmed “that the
enactment of the ‘basic law’ by Israel constitutes a violation of
international law” and determined “that all legislative and administrative
measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which have
altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of
Jerusalem, and in particular the recent ‘basic law’ on Jerusalem, are null
and void and must be rescinded forthwith.”
Ninety UNSC resolutions,
let alone 40 others vetoed by the U.S., rule accordingly. Now Australia is
the only other nation that joins and supports Israel in its violation of all
these resolutions. Aside from Israel, it is also the only nation to change
its language on the Palestinian Occupied Territories.
linguistics in context
The Palestinian people are not known for
their short memory. They view the Australian government’s “terminological
clarification” in the context of the country’s recent pro-Israel changes of
policy as well as in Australia’s historical anti-Palestinian policies.
Last month, Ambassador Sharma met in East Jerusalem with the Israeli
Minister of Housing Uri Ariel, who is in charge of the illegal construction
of the colonial settlements in the OPT.
In January this year, while
on an official visit to Israel, Foreign Minister Bishop told the Times of
Israel that she isn’t convinced that Israeli construction of illegal
settlements in OPT is a violation of international law, and called
international boycotts of these settlements “anti-Semitic” and “Hypocritical
Last November, Australia failed to join 158 nations
who supported a UN General Assembly resolution calling for an end to Israeli
settlements or to join 160 countries which supported another resolution
calling on Israel to “comply scrupulously” with the 1949 Geneva Conventions.
In November 2012, Australia abstained from supporting the UNGA
recognition of Palestine as a “non-member observer state” by a vote of 138
to 9, rendering PM Abbot’s latest “clarification” that Australia still
“strongly” supports the “two-state solution” a hollow statement.
Quoted by Emeritus Professor Peter Boyce AO, President of the Australia
Institute of International Affairs in Tasmania, a 2010 study found that 78%
of Australians were opposed to Israel’s settlements policy and only 22%
thought Jerusalem should be recognized as Israel’s capital. More recently,
at the time of the 2012 General Assembly vote on Palestinian non-member
observer State status, 51% of Australians thought their country should vote
“Yes” and only 15% “No.”
“Australia has had an important role in the
establishment of the Israeli state” and it “stood alone among western
governments in its uncritical alignment with Israel,” Professor Boyce wrote.
Certainly Boyce had history in mind. Australia in its capacity as the
Chairman of the UN
General Assembly's Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine helped to push through
the UN Partition
Plan on November 29, 1947. It was the first UN member state to vote in
favor of Israeli statehood and the first to grant Israel de-jure recognition
when the U.S. recognized it de-facto only. Israel was also the first Middle
East country with which Australia established diplomatic relations in 1949.
Australia had defended all Israeli wars on Palestine, Egypt, Jordan,
Lebanon and Syria as “in self defense,” especially the 1967 war in which it
occupied more Palestinian territories and the lands of four Arab countries.
* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West
Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.