Australia Drops Term 'Occupied' for Jerusalem

Joint statement by Attorney General, Foreign Minister, could signal a 'major shift' in Australia's Middle East policy.

Ari Soffer ,

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop

The Australian government has dropped the usage of the term "occupied" when referring to Jewish neighborhoods in parts of Jerusalem claimed by the Palestinian Authority, in what could signal a significant shift in the country's Middle East policy.

While Australia's previous foreign minister Bob Carr made no secret of his opposition to the existence of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, his successor Julie Bishop has struck a far more balanced tone, openly questioning claims that such communities are "illegal under international law".

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, speaking on behalf of Bishop the country's attorney general, George Brandis, rejected such language, which he termed "unhelpful".

''Australia supports a peaceful solution to the dispute between Israel and the Palestinian people, which recognizes the right of Israel to exist peacefully within secure borders and also recognizes the aspiration to statehood of the Palestinian people,'' Senator Brandis said Thursday.

''The description of areas which are subject to 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.''

Those comments came after Brandis irked some legislators the previous evening by refusing to define "East Jerusalem" as "occupied, claiming that no Australian government "acknowledges or accepts" the use of the term - despite Canberra's support of several past UN resolutions which had indeed used such language.

Thursday's clarification was drafted in consultation with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and her departmental head Peter Varghese, according to the Herald.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon was among those angered by the remarks.

''It's an extraordinary and reckless departure from the bipartisan approach of the last 47 years,'' he claimed.

''It is contrary to the government's position it is completely unhelpful to walk away from the term 'occupied'. If you don't acknowledge historical facts, what are the hopes for lasting peace in the Middle East?

''Even Israel's strongest ally, the United States, does not hold this position.''