update deskIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Canberra to resume use of term ‘occupied Palestinian territories’

Australian Jewish groups slammed the decision as "inaccurate, ahistorical and counterproductive."

The Australian flag flies above Sydney Harbor and the city's Opera House. Credit: ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock.
The Australian flag flies above Sydney Harbor and the city's Opera House. Credit: ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock.

Australia’s Labor government will resume the use of the term “occupied Palestinian territories” in reference to eastern Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, reversing an unofficial policy stance that had been in place for almost 10 years.

“In adopting the term, we are clarifying that the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza [sic], were occupied by Israel following the 1967 war and that the occupation continues,” Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong told lawmakers on Tuesday, The Guardian reported.

“[The move] reaffirms our commitment to negotiate a two-state solution in which Israel and a future Palestinian state coexist,” said Wong, adding that Canberra had engaged with the Israeli ambassador on the issue as Australia remains “a committed friend of Israel.”

Australia’s top diplomat furthermore said the government would strengthen its opposition to Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, calling them “illegal under international law and a significant obstacle to peace.”

Sources cited by the Guardian said ministers had broadly refrained from using the term “occupied” or “occupation” since 2014, beginning under the leadership of Prime Minister Tony Abbott (2013-15), once named a top Christian ally of the Jewish state.

“The description of East[ern] Jerusalem as ‘occupied’ East Jerusalem is a term freighted with pejorative implications, which is neither appropriate nor useful,” then-Attorney General George Brandis said at the time.

The Palestinian Authority welcomed Tuesday’s policy shift, calling it a “significant and important development in the Australian position,” but said Canberra should go even further and “recognize the state of Palestine swiftly, in accordance with international law and international legitimacy.”

The Zionist Federation of Australia and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry in a joint statement slammed the move as “inaccurate, ahistorical and counterproductive.”

Canberra’s decision “effectively denies any Jewish claim to the West Bank [known by its biblical names Judea and Samaria] and Jerusalem. The most important Jewish holy sites of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall are in [eastern] Jerusalem, and there has been an unbroken Jewish presence in the West Bank for thousands of years,” the two organizations said.

“The foreign minister has previously stated that Australia should not preempt the outcome of final-status issues. It is regrettable that the government has now done that,” added the statement.

Canberra’s announcement came on top of earlier anti-Israel policy changes.

In October, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s Cabinet revoked the country’s recognition of western Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, walking back language adopted by former Liberal Party Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Then-Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid described Canberra’s announcement as a “wretched move” during a meeting with the Australian ambassador to Israel, who had been summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem for a diplomatic dressing-down.

In addition, two months ago, the Labor Party’s branch in Victoria, the country’s second-most-populous state, passed a resolution calling on the federal government to “move immediately to recognize Palestine.”

“For some time now, there has been a sector of the Labor Party trying to push it away from its historic and principled support for the Jewish national home and social democratic principles and to turn it into a hard-left Corbynist party,” Alex Ryvchin, co-chief executive officer of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, commented at the time.

“Ultimately, Labor will need to determine its course and live with the consequences. The Jewish community will not stand by and accept policies that pander to those who want to see Israel disappear, and we believe the vast majority of Australians are with us,” said Ryvchin.

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