EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: Members of Australia’s Jewish community have hailed a shift in the Abbott Government’s policy in relations with Israel.
The Attorney-General George Brandis has signalled he will drop the word “occupied” in references to East Jerusalem.
Critics argue the move will put Australia out of step with the United Nations.
The Arab community is now appealing to Joe Hockey for support, given the Treasurer has Palestinian roots.
Jason Om reports.
JASON OM, REPORTER: Occupied or not occupied – that was the question about East Jerusalem during a rowdy two days of Senate Estimates this week.
LEE RHIANNON, GREENS SENATOR: So, you don’t use the term “occupied” Palestinian territories even though it is a United Nations term used widely by a number of international agencies and European Union et cetera.
GEORGE BRANDIS, ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, it is used by a lot of people. It is used by a lot of Communists, too. Weren’t you a part of the Communist Party once?
SENATOR: And you’re saying they’re not an area are they occupied or not?
JASON OM: The next day the Attorney-General clarified Australia’s position in a statement from the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
GEORGE BRANDIS: 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 judgemental language.
JASON OM: Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 war. Both sides claim Jerusalem as their capital.
JULIE BISHOP, FOREIGN MINISTER: We don’t think it’s helpful to name it “occupied East Jerusalem” when in fact it is the subject of a negotiated peace settlement between the two sides.
JASON OM: The news has been praised by Israel and welcomed by many in the Jewish community at home.
COLIN RUBENSTEIN, AUSTRALIA/ISRAEL AND JEWISH AFFAIRS COUNCIL: I think what it does do is show Australia is both a moral and political leader on this issue by trying to zero in on the real situation and actually trying to take some emotion and a pre-judgment of the issue out of the equation which in recent times, has only impeded the prospects of advancing the negotiations.
Look at the record. It’s not very good. So clinging to this outmoded, destructive stereotyping of alleged occupation of Palestinian territories has been totally unhelpful and destructive to reaching a satisfactory mutual compromise.
JASON OM: But one former Foreign Minister says it’s out of line with the position of successive Australian governments.
BOB CARR, FORMER FOREIGN MINISTER: No other country is saying this. Not the United States, none of the Europeans, none of the close friends of Israel like Canada. No-one has said that East Jerusalem is not occupied.
JASON OM: Bob Carr says it’s worrying that the argument could applied to other areas like Bethlehem or other cities in the West Bank.
BOB CARR: It is a shocking lurch from a policy that’s been bipartisan, a policy that is recognised in international law – that reflects international law.
COLIN RUBENSTEIN: Australia may be out of step with UN resolutions and other countries, but it’s in step with political, historical and legal reality, so I think this is really a breath of fresh air.
BILL SHORTEN, OPPOSITION LEADER: Middle East eastern issues are very complex but we think that the Government should step through these processes rather than pull surprises on people.
REPORTER: So are you comfortable or not?
BILL SHORTEN: Well, I think that it’s more a process issue for the Government.
JASON OM: The row could leave sitting Liberal MPs in Western Sydney’s uneasy and perhaps also the Treasurer.
(EXTRACT FROM ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE AUGUST 2013)
JOE HOCKEY, TREASURER: I am proud of my Palestinian remember heritage. I am proud of the fact my father was born in Palestine and came to Australia.
ISSA SHAWEESH, AUSTRALIA PALESTINE ADVOCACY NETWORK: I think, sort of like he should be talking to our Foreign Minister about the issues.
JASON OM: The Arab community is furious.
ISSA SHAWEESH: The resolution is to have a Palestinian state on the 1967 border and with East Jerusalem as its capital. That’s what we want Joe Hockey to be talking to his members in government.
JASON OM: The Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are growing, with plans for 1500 new units.
Jason Om, Lateline.