Threatened with economic sanctions, Australia backtracked on its opposition to the term ‘Occupied East Jerusalem.’

In a meeting on Thursday with ambassadors of Arab and Islamic states, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop tempered her recent statements against the term “Occupied East Jerusalem,” seemingly caving in to anti-Israel pressure and boycott threats.

Back in January, in an interview with the Times of Israel, Bishop questioned the accuracy of the term, stating:

“I would like to see which international law has declared them [Jewish settlements] illegal.”

Also, earlier this month, Australian Attorney-General George Brandis, speaking in Parliament, said that the administration does not consider the eastern section of Israel’s capital city to be “occupied.” The next day, in a statement drafted in coordination with Bishop and Peter Varghese, secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – following a lively debate among Australian lawmakers – Brandis reinforced the message, saying:

“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.”

Trade with Middle East Accounts for Billions Annually

The Palestinian Authority’s representative in Australia reportedly threatened to organize international trade sanctions over the move, followed by a number of Arab and Islamic countries. A delegation of 18 diplomats from Arab and Islamic countries submitted a formal complaint.

Australia’s trade with the Middle East accounts for billions of dollars annually.

“We want to maintain the trade and we will work very hard with them to ensure that that happens,” Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said last week.

Izat Abdulhadi, head of the PA delegation in Australia, said it seemed that Brandis had made statements beyond his authority. “The other important development was that she [Bishop] said that from now on… the policy of Australia is declared by either herself or the prime minister only,” Abdulhadi said.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, while still leader of the Liberal opposition in December 2012, had told Haaretz that a “government he leads will be unashamedly and unapologetically pro-Israel, akin to that of [Canadian Prime Minister] Stephen Harper‘s Conservative government.”

The Harper government thus appears to remain Israel’s strongest ally in the international arena.

Author: Atara Beck
Staff Writer/Editor, United with Israel