Australia’s left-wing Labour government announced last week that they will refer to Judea and Samaria as the “occupied Palestinian territories” and considers them to be in violation of international law.
“The Australian government is strengthening its opposition to settlements by affirming they are illegal under international law and a significant obstacle to peace,” Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong told parliament on Tuesday. “In adopting the term, we are clarifying that the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza, were occupied by Israel following the 1967 War, and that the occupation continues.”
Ironically, Wong added that Australia would remain a “committed friend of Israel.” She added that this change “reflects legal advice and UN Security Council resolutions” and is conforms to the policies of the UK, New Zealand, and Europe.
In June, the Labour Party passed a resolution calling on Australia to “recognize Palestine as a state.” Last year, the Australian Foreign Ministry reversed a 2018 policy by the previous government to recognize western Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while it “acknowledged the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a future state with its capital in East Jerusalem.”
It should be noted that this is the first Australian government in nearly 50 years that has been dominated by the left wing of the Australian Labor party. The party is set to hold the 49th National Conference of the Australia Labor Party (ALP) this week and the new policies may be in preparation of this conference.
Liberal MP Julian Lesser, who is Jewish, criticized the new resolution.
“This decision will not help a two-state solution on the ground, it will only embolden and please… terrorist organizations, like Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” he said.
The Zionist Federation of Australia and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry said they were “deeply concerned” by the decision, calling it “inaccurate, ahistorical, and counterproductive.”
“Describing East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza as ‘occupied Palestinian territories’ effectively denies any Jewish claim to the West Bank and Jerusalem. The most important Jewish holy sites of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall are in East Jerusalem, and there has been an unbroken Jewish presence in the West Bank for thousands of years,” they said. “Israelis and Palestinians have agreed to negotiate the division of the West Bank between them. Describing the territories as ‘Palestinian’ not only preempts the outcome of negotiations but is counterproductive.”
“The announcement will be used by Israeli and Palestinian hardliners to bolster support within their respective constituencies and put a peace agreement further out of reach,” they added.
International Legal Forum CEO Arsen Ostrovsky called the decision “highly flawed and one-sided,” as well as “contrary to established principles of international law.”
“Despite highly biased political proclamations in some international arenas, such as the United Nations, the status of Judea and Samaria, which form a central and indisputable part of Jewish history, are subject to final status negotiations and to which Israel has a legitimate legal right,” Ostrovsky said.
“For the record,” he added, “Canberra was only made the capital of Australia in 1913, when the city had to be built from scratch, whereas Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for over 3,000 years.”
Ostrovsky added that the Australian government intends to classify Gaza as occupied, even though Israel evacuated Gaza in 2005.
No fewer than 30 Christian groups across Australia signed, and widely-circulated, a letter to their government, criticizing the new polices. The organizations, representing “hundreds of thousands of Australian Christians” under the banner of the “Southern Cross Alliance for Israel” (SCAFI) – said they were “dismayed” by the decision, and urged the government “to reconsider and correct” its policy.
The term Occupied Palestinian Territory, they wrote, “wrongfully implies that Israel has no legal title in Judea, Samaria or Jerusalem, and that Gaza is occupied by Israel.”
“The phrase suggests that any Jewish presence in places where Jews have lived for thousands of years, the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem including [where] Judaism’s most sacred, ancient and holy site, the Kotel and Temple Mount [are situated] is ‘illegal,’ simply because Jordanian forces ethnically ‘cleansed’ it of Jews between 1948 and 1967.”
The Christian organization listed “the basis for Israel’s claims” to parts of Samaria, Judea and eastern Jerusalem:
- the international legal mandates for the establishment of a Jewish homeland there, under the League of Nations in 1920 and renewed under the UN in 1945;
- the doctrine of succession of territorial title within the boundaries of the previous British government at the time of Israeli independence in 1949;
- the absence of a competing legal sovereignty in [Judaea and Samaria] at the time of Israeli occupation in 1967;
- the absence of any international rule at that time prohibiting acquisition of land taken in a war of self-defence;
- the Jewish right of self-determination in indigenous land in Judaea and Samaria; and
- the security imperatives of control on the hills overlooking Jewish population concentrations in the coastal centre of Israel.
- There has never been any legal commitment, legal document, treaty, agreement, contract or formal binding resolution that has determined that the territories belong to the Palestinians – or that they are under Palestinian sovereignty. (UNSC Chapter VI Resolutions are recommendations and not binding, as are UNGA Resolutions).
They recognized that Judea and Samaria “can be described as disputed territory because Israel gained control of it in a defensive war and relinquishing all control would pose an existential threat [to Israel].
“For Australia to prejudice peace negotiations by unilaterally declaring borders in a disputed territory is absurd and will only entrench Arab intransigence,” they concluded.
“We respectfully urge you to reconsider and to correct this government policy.”
SCAFI chairman John Lockwood told Israel Today that the letter will be delivered directly to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Wong at the ALP conference, where official recognition of “Palestine” is to be considered.