Following last week’s statement by Attorney-General George Brandis, speaking on behalf of Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, that Australia does not consider East Jerusalem to be “occupied”, the Palestinian Authority expressed its intention to seek reprisals against Canberra.
In a letter to Bishop dated June 5, PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat wrote, “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.”
Erekat went on to say that Brandis’s statement shows 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.”
On Thursday, Brandis told a Senate hearing, “The description of areas which are the subject of negotiations in the course of the peace process by reference to historical events is unhelpful.”
“The description of East Jerusalem as ‘occupied’ East Jerusalem is a term freighted with pejorative implications which is neither appropriate nor useful.
“It should not and will not be the practice of the Australian government to describe areas of negotiation in such judgmental language.”
The Palestinian response was quick and negative. “Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem is beyond ‘pejorative’ and ‘inappropriate’; it is a deliberate and egregious violation, not just of international humanitarian law and consensus, but of the basic norms of responsible behavior that governs relations among civilized states,” Ma’an News Agency quoted PLO official Hanan Ashrawi as having said.
“Trying to fabricate or distort the law to fit Israel’s lawless behavior is shameful and dangerous,” she charged.
“Brandis, whether out of ignorance or whether out of blind bias, is trying to render Australia complicit in the Israeli occupation, and is forcing it to become an advocate of international criminal behavior,” said Ashrawi.
Israel welcomed the Australian position. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman lauded “the Australian government for its honesty and integrity in its treatment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Australia, he said, is not afraid to “tell the truth regarding the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”
Liberman went on to praise 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 views.
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.”
This is not the first time Australia has drawn Palestinian ire. Back in May, Australia’s ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, made history when he met with Israeli Housing Minister MK Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) at his East Jerusalem office. Then, too, Erekat fired off an angry letter to Canberra, saying, “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.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded Australia’s decision on Sunday at the start of this weeks cabinet meeting.
“Over the weekend we also heard an interesting declaration from the Australian government of a kind that we do not always hear. It simply said that eastern Jerusalem is not occupied territory; the minimum is that is an area in dispute. To say this sharply and with such clarity and, I would say, courage, is refreshing given the chorus of hypocrisy and ignorance, ignorance not only of ancient history, but of recent and current history. What has really happened here? Who invaded who? Who occupied what? What is subject to negotiation? What is the area in dispute? These are new things,” he said.
“I certainly appreciate this stand by the Australian government and I am certain that all those who want to see an agreement here based on peace, justice and truth – and it is impossible to build peace based on historic lies – would agree,” Netanyahu stated. “There is truth and it must be embraced. It requires many, many conclusions and steps, but it certainly does not require the sanctification of lies.”