Before the Labor Party national conference the following week, the Australian government announced that it would bring back the term “Occupied Palestinian Territories” and that it would increase its objections to “illegal” Israeli settlements.
At the national conference that will take place in Brisbane, it is anticipated that certain delegates would lobby for the party to take a more forceful stance and commit to a deadline for the recognition of Palestinian statehood.
The government has not indicated that it is willing to go to that extreme, but it has signalled a return to language that is franker about the occupation.
Penny Wong, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, presented an overview of the situation to Labor Members of Parliament and Senators at Parliament House on Tuesday. It was the second time in the past two weeks that members of the caucus had raised questions regarding Israel, which is a symptom of internal worries about the group.
After some time had passed, Wong reported to the Senate that the Australian government was “gravely concerned about alarming trends that are significantly reducing the prospects of peace.”
She stated that the Australian government is increasing its opposition to settlements by reiterating that settlements are illegal that too under international law and a substantial obstacle to peace. “The Australian government is strengthening its opposition to settlements,” she said.
Wong said that the approach was consistent with resolutions passed by UN Security Council when the Coalition requested him to explain the precise limitations. In addition, she stated that it was consistent with “the approach taken by key partners including the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and the European Union.”
“By adopting the term, we are clarifying that the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza, were occupied by Israel following the war in 1967 and that the occupation continues. Additionally, this reaffirms our commitment to negotiate a two-state solution in which Israel as well as a future Palestinian state coexist”.
Wong stated that the Australian government had discussed the matter with the Israeli ambassador in order to demonstrate that it continued to be “a committed friend of Israel.”
She stated that the government has “rebalanced Australia’s positions in international forums while opposing anti-Israel bias in the UN”. Wong stressed that Australia would maintain its position that “all forms of terrorism and violence against civilians” are unacceptable.
According to sources that have knowledge of the shift in policy, ministers have largely abstained from using the phrase “occupied” or “occupation” since 2014, despite the fact that Australia has continued to support resolutions passed by the United Nations general assembly and the United Nations security council that use such language.
The previous government of the Coalition was reluctant to use the term from the beginning of its tenure in office.
“The description of East Jerusalem as the ‘occupied’ East Jerusalem is term freighted with pejorative implications, which is neither appropriate nor useful,” the then-attorney general, George Brandis, said in 2014 during a Senate inquiry.
However, in 2018, Scott Morrison stated at the Sydney Institute that Australia was “subject to UN security council resolutions that apply to the Jerusalem issue.” Resolutions 478 and 2334 are two examples of such resolutions.
The latter “reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in Palestinian territory that has been occupied since 1967, which includes East Jerusalem, and has no legal validity as well as constitutes flagrant violation under the law.”
Simon Birmingham, the spokesperson for the Coalition on international affairs, expressed his disgust with the declaration made on Tuesday.
He stated that it had “nothing to do with advancing a lasting two-state outcome” and “everything to do with managing factional differences ahead of the Labor national conference.”
The national conference of Labor voted in favour of a resolution in both 2018 and 2021. The resolution “supports recognition and right of Israel as well as Palestine to exist as 2 states within secure as well as recognized borders” as well as “calls on the next Labor government to recognize Palestine as a state.”
Wong has not yet committed to a timeline for when a Palestinian state will be recognized by her government.
In the run-up to the conference, members of the Labor party are working behind the scenes to guarantee that the administration will not suffer any embarrassment about its defence and foreign policy, particularly Aukus.
After the current administration of Australia withdrew the recognition of West Jerusalem as capital city of Israel that had been given by the previous government of Morrison, the Israeli foreign ministry called the Australian ambassador to give him a diplomatic dressing down in October of last year.
When asked about this at the time, Wong stated that Australia was returning to its “previous and longstanding position that Jerusalem is a final-status issue that should be resolved as part of peace negotiations between Israel as well as the Palestinian people.”
Amir Maimon, the Israeli ambassador to Australia, has in the past pleaded with the Australian government not to recognize Palestinian statehood until after a comprehensive peace agreement has been reached.
On the other hand, the leader of the Palestinian mission in Australia, Izzat Abdulhadi, stated that there was “huge support from the grassroots of the Labor party” to recognize statehood, which he contended would be in keeping with “Australian fair go principles.”
Both the Israeli embassy and the Palestinian representation have been asked for comment on the situation.