By Lenore Taylor
Australia’s foreign affairs minister attempts to defuse language row with Arab nations which threatens trading ties
Julie Bishop has tried to defuse the row over the government’s decision to refer to East Jerusalem as “disputed” rather than “occupied” by refusing to use either term and insisting on only referring to the territory as “east”.
There has been a serious backlash from Arab nations, including threats of trade sanctions, since the change of language was first revealed earlier this month by the attorney general, George Brandis, who told a Senate estimates committee the term “occupied” East Jerusalem was “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,” he said.
In an interview on Sky television on Tuesday, Bishop, who, as foreign affairs minister, is due to meet ambassadors from 18 Arab nations on Thursday to hear their concerns, was asked about the change, which the prime minister has described as a “terminological clarification”.
She insisted there had been no change to policy and that the former Labor government, including former foreign minister Bob Carr had “often described it as East Jerusalem, he didn’t refer to it as occupied, capital O proper noun occupied, East Jerusalem, he referred to it as East Jerusalem, so what we have said is what I thought was a non-contentious statement, the geographic location of East Jerusalem is precisely that, East Jerusalem.”
Ross Burns, former Australian ambassador to Israel and now executive member of the Australia Palestinian Advocacy Network, said Bishop was “trying to row back the terminology change because the government has got itself into a silly mess”.
“It’s true that you don’t always load ‘occupied’ on to the name ‘East Jerusalem’ every time you say it, but you don’t walk away from the terminology either, because it is important, it is an explanation,” he said.
The government has always said it had not changed its support for a two-state solution.
Representatives of 18 nations, including Indonesia, protested against the decision to Australia’s Foreign Affairs Department, with the head of the general delegation of Palestine to Australia, Izzat Abdulhadi, warning it would “unfortunately” influence trade between Australia and the Arab world.
The National Farmers’ Federation has also said it should not be allowed to affect trade.
Speaking on his US trip, the prime minister, Tony Abbott said: “There has been no change in policy – absolutely no change in policy.
“There’s been a terminological clarification. We absolutely refuse to refer to occupied East Jerusalem. That was what the argument between Senator Brandis and the Greens was all about, but there has been no change in policy – simply a terminological clarification.”