Palestinian groups in Australia have hailed the federal government’s decision to use the term Occupied Palestinian Territories when describing the West Bank and Gaza. It’s a move that was swiftly criticised by Jewish groups as inaccurate and ahistorical. The government says it is guided by the principle of progress towards a two-state solution.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has defended the government’s decision to reinstate the term occupied Palestinian territories, as the Opposition accused it of unilateral action.
“My Government is a strong supporter of Israel and its right to exist. My Government will continue to engage constructively on these issues.”
Foreign Minister Penny Wong says the government is alarmed by the Israeli government’s increasing settlement activity in the West Bank.
“The government was also deeply concerned – and I would hope all in this place would be – about the alarming trends we have seen in the Middle East in recent times. I would make the point that these trends are significantly reducing the prospects for peace – we are seeing escalating violence, the loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives, civilian lives.”
Yet the Opposition’s Simon Birmingham insists the change is due to another reason entirely…
“You’ve changed Australia’s position in relation to Israel yet again during the life of your government, and done so in order to appease factions ahead of next week’s national conference!”
The Foreign Minister says Australia will align with the U-K, New Zealand and key allies in Europe, And a UN security council resolution in 2016, which determines that the settlements constitute a violation of international law, which Israel disputes.
Australian language has been inconsistent over the years.
In 2014, then Coalition Attorney General George Brandis made the change to using the term disputed from the term occupied, saying that term was neither appropriate nor useful.
Palestinian groups say the latest change to the terminology is a step in the right direction.
Noura Mansour is from the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network:
“It’s hardly a sufficient step if we’re keen in bringing real change and if we’re interested to bringing an end to the ongoing Israeli occupation and human rights violation in Palestine. This step actually depends on whether we’ll be able to translate it into meaningful action on the ground.”
Mike Khizam is from the Australian Friends of Palestine Association:
“It’s an important acknowledgment by the Australian government that illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian areas are the biggest obstacles to peace.”
But Jewish groups have criticised the government’s policy change.
Peter Wertheim from the Executive Council of Australian Jewry says it’s inaccurate, ahistorical and counterproductive.
“The effect is to give support to the most extreme elements in Palestinian society and the result will be driving the parties even further apart rather than bringing them together.”
Dr Bren Carlill from the Zionist Federation of Australia calls the decision absurd.
“The Jewish community thinks that calling them Palestinian territories effectively denies any Jewish legal claims to the West Bank or any Jewish cultural claims to the West Bank which is frankly absurd.”
The shift by the Australian government comes as Israel’s government moves further to the right.
Recently re-elected Benjamin Netanyahu and his ultra-nationalist government, committing to further settlement construction.
The Australian government, meanwhile, has not committed to a time frame for recognising a Palestinian state.