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Australia reinstates term 'occupied Palestinian Territories' for West Bank

Since 2014, Australian officials had avoided using the words 'occupied' or 'occupation' when referring to the West Bank
Israeli security forces block a Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance from advancing near the West Bank city of Nablus, on 25 July 2023 (AFP)

The Australian government is affirming its position on illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and has decided to revert back to referring to the area as "occupied Palestinian territories", calling settlements a breach 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,” Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong said at the Parliament House 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 and reaffirms our commitment to negotiate a two-state solution in which Israel and a future Palestinian state coexist.”

Since 2014, Australian officials have avoided using the words "occupied" or "occupation" when referring to the West Bank. According to the Australian Broadcast Corporation, prior to that year, the usage of these terms was inconsistent.

“The description of East Jerusalem as ‘occupied’ East Jerusalem is a term freighted with pejorative implications, which is neither appropriate nor useful,” then-attorney general George Brandis told a Senate hearing in 2014.

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In 1967, Israel occupied and annexed the eastern part of the city of Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as the capital of a future state, in a move that has never been recognised by the international community or international law.

In 2022, the Australian foreign ministry overturned a policy from 2018 that acknowledged western Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Australia no longer recognises Jerusalem as capital of Israel
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In June, Israel's far-right administration sanctioned unprecedented levels of construction in illegal settlements within the occupied West Bank in its first six months of power, Israeli anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now said.

Israel endorsed 12,855 housing units for settlers throughout the occupied West Bank since January, Peace Now said. It is the highest number the group has recorded since it started tracking such activity in 2012.

Also in June, Australia's Labor Party passed a resolution calling on the country to “recognise Palestine as a state”. Next week, the party will convene for the Labor Party national conference.

According to Wong, the Australian government had engaged with the Israeli ambassador on the issue because it remained “a committed friend of Israel”.

She said the government had “rebalanced Australia’s positions in international forums while opposing anti-Israel bias in the UN”, adding that Australia would continue to condemn “all forms of terrorism and violence against civilians”.

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