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Antagonizing Palestinians, Australia's linguistic blunder snowballs

By       Message Nicola Nasser     Permalink
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Reacting to antagonized Palestinian snowballing protests to her government's decision on June 5 to reverse a 47-year-old bipartisan consensus on describing eastern Jerusalem as "occupied," Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on June 13 denied any "change in the Australian government's position."

On June 5, Australian Attorney-General George Brandis in a statement said: ''The description of East Jerusalem as 'Occupied East Jerusalem' is a term freighted with pejorative implications, which is neither appropriate nor useful.''

The new Australian terminology provoked Jordan, the third-largest importer of Australian sheep in the Middle East, to summon Australia's charge d'affaires, John Feakes, to convey its "concern" because "The Australian government's decision violates international law and resolutions that consider east Jerusalem as an integral part of all Palestinian territories occupied in 1967."

Similarly, the Australian Representative in Ramallah, Tom Wilson, was summoned by the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to convey "deep concern" because Brandis' remarks "contradict all international resolutions." They requested "official clarification."

Bishop's "no change" statement came in response. It was followed on June 14 by Prime Minister Tony Abbott who said, while on a trip to North America, that his government had made only a "terminological clarification."

Australia still "strongly" supports the "two-state solution" and "there has been no change in policy -- absolutely no change in policy," Abbot said, but at the same time confirmed that, "We absolutely refuse to refer to occupied East Jerusalem."

Abbot two days earlier stated that the OccupiedPalestinianTerritories (OPT) are in truth "disputed territories."

Canberra is showing no signs of backing down. Australian ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, on June 11 said Brandis' reasoning could lead his government to similar official linguistic change on the West Bank.

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"I think we just call the West Bank, 'the West Bank,' as a geographical entity without adding any adjectives to it, whether 'occupied' [the Palestinian position] or 'disputed' [the Israeli position]. We'll just call it what it is, which is 'the West Bank.'," he told the Tablet. However, this is not official yet, he said.

"There has been no change in the Australian government's position on the legal status of the Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem," Bishop "clarified" in her statement. She was not convincing. The credibility of Bishop's and Abbot's denial of "change" could hardly be plausible.

It is a "radical change in the Australian position on Palestine," Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said. The head of the Palestinian delegation to Canberra, Izzat Abdulhadi, said Australia's new stance is "very provocative."

On June 12, Arab and Islamic ambassadors from 18 countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Indonesia, protested to Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs in Canberra.

Jerusalem is the permanent headquarters of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The organization was founded in response to the burning of Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest site, by the Australian arsonist Michael Dennis Rohan in 1969.

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The Australian on June 10 reported from Jerusalem that the 57-member OIC will hold a joint emergency meeting this month with the 22-member Arab League to decide their response to Australia's "terminology" declaration.

Secretary General of the Arab League Nabil al-Arabi sent Bishop a "letter of protest" requesting "official clarification," his deputy Ahmad bin Hilli said last Monday.

Palestinians are on record to invoke the multi-billion annual Australian agricultural exports to the member states in the discussions. Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss told reporters last Friday that "we will work very hard with them to maintain the trade," but so far his government has shown no signs to that effect.

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*Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist in Kuwait, Jordan, UAE and Palestine. He is based in Ramallah, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

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