SYDNEY: Australian’s foreign minister met Arab and Islamic ambassadors Thursday to try to soothe concerns over Canberra’s stance on East Jerusalem, insisting there was no policy change despite moves to stop referring to it as “occupied.”
The meeting followed fury after Attorney-General George Brandis said the term would not be used as it carried pejorative implications and was neither appropriate nor useful.
Eighteen diplomats from countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia protested and warned of possible trade sanctions.
Australia’s export trade with the Middle East accounts for billions of dollars annually, particularly in wheat and meat.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said there had been a “constructive” discussion and released a letter to the diplomats reaffirming there was no change in the government’s position on the legal status of the Palestinian Territories.
“Our position is consistent with relevant U.N. resolutions adopted over many years, including U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338,” it read.
“Senator Brandis’ statement was about nomenclature, and was not a comment on the legal status of the Palestinian Territories.”
While avoiding the term “occupied” altogether, it added that Australia continued to be a stong supporter of a two-state solution “with Israel and a Palestinian state existing side by side in peace and security.”
The diplomats were furious with comments on East Jerusalem, which was occupied by Israel in a move never recognized by the international community, and concerned that it was a “substantial policy shift.”
The Palestinians claim Jerusalem as the capital of their own state.
The international community views all Israeli construction on land occupied in 1967, including the West Bank, as illegal and a major obstacle to a negotiated peace agreement.
The head of the Palestinian delegation to Canberra Izzat Abdul-Hadi said he was satisfied with the way the meeting went.
“The foreign minister was very clear about it today, that, yes, East Jerusalem is occupied. She repeated it several times,” he told Sky News.
Abdul-Hadi added that it appeared Brandis, who said Australia would no longer call East Jerusalem occupied but disputed, had overstepped the mark.
“The other important development was that she said that from now on ... the policy of Australia is declared by either herself or the prime minister only.”