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Palestine urging Arab states to review ties with Australia

June 7, 2014 4:05 P.M. (Updated: July 15, 2014 2:37 P.M.)
By: George Hale
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Palestinian officials say they will ask Arab and Muslim-majority countries to re-evaluate relations with Australia after Canberra dropped the term "occupied" when referring to East Jerusalem.

In a letter to Julie Bishop, Australia's foreign minister, the PLO's chief negotiator blasted that decision and said Palestine would respond by asking two regional Arab and Muslim state blocs to review their ties with Australia.

"Palestine will request that the Arab League and the Islamic Conference review the relations of the Arab and Islamic world with Australia in light of Australia's unlawful recognition of the illegal settlement regime in occupied Palestine," Saeb Erekat wrote in the June 5 letter, which was obtained by Ma'an.

He condemned Attorney-General George Brandis' pronouncement in Australia's senate this week that the use of the word "occupied" to describe East Jerusalem was "neither appropriate nor useful."

The remarks demonstrate that Australia "does not intend to comply with its duty under international law not to recognize Israeli sovereignty over any part of the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel in 1967, including East Jerusalem," Erekat wrote.

He added: "Palestine views these developments in the gravest terms and is weighing the appropriate legal and diplomatic response."

Israel occupied East Jerusalem along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967 after a Middle East war.

It later annexed the city in a move that was never recognized internationally.

The issue flared in Australia's Senate this week after Brandis issued a statement to clarify Canberra's stance on the question of the legality of settler homes in East Jerusalem.

"The description of areas which are the subject of negotiations in the course of the peace process by reference to historical events is unhelpful," he said Thursday.

"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 judgmental language."

Palestinian officials quickly blasted the attorney general's remarks.

"Israel's illegal annexation of East Jerusalem is beyond 'pejorative' and 'inappropriate'; it is a deliberate and egregious violation, not just of international humanitarian law and consensus, but of the basic norms of responsible behavior that governs relations among civilized states," said PLO official Hanan Ashrawi.

"Trying to fabricate or distort the law to fit Israel's lawless behavior is shameful and dangerous," she said. "Brandis, whether out of ignorance or whether out of blind bias, is trying to render Australia complicit in the Israeli occupation, and is forcing it to become an advocate of international criminal behavior."

A number of senators also disagreed, pointing out that Australia had voted in support of UN resolutions in 2011 and 2012 where such language was used to describe settlements in East Jerusalem.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon suggested that dropping the term "occupied" would represent a "massive shift" in Australia's foreign policy, the Australian Associated Press reported.

Australian Greens leader Christine Milne Friday called it "an outrageous backdown" by the Tony Abbott-led government.

Israeli leaders, meanwhile, praised the policy shift.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman welcomed the "serious" move by Australia, which he said was not afraid to "tell the truth regarding the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians."

AFP contributed to this report.
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