Wednesday, Yair Rosenberg of Tablet Magazine interviewed Australia’s ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, about his country’s declaration last week that eastern Jerusalem is not occupied territory—and learned that the Australian position goes far beyond Jerusalem to include the entire West Bank.
In the course of the interview, Ambassador Sharma expanded on his country’s position:
The announcement drew immediate protest from Palestinian representatives, but Australia has shown no signs of backing down. On the contrary, in an interview with Tablet, Australia’s Ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma not only defended the rationale behind the controversial move, but said that the same reasoning also informed his government’s outlook towards the West Bank, though it has not taken an official position on the matter. “The statement that came out that was issued in Canberra last week didn’t make reference to this,” he told me, but “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.’”
Though some of Israel’s critics and supporters have characterized this move as adopting the Israeli position, Sharma explains that the policy is actually designed to ensure that Australia is not taking sides in the conflict at all. “Our position on this is that all the final status issues as identified by Oslo—and that includes the status of Jerusalem, borders, right of return—are all amenable only to political negotiations and a political solution,” he said. “And so a third country taking positions on the legal merits of each party’s plans, if you like, is not helpful and not constructive and ultimately not what’s needed. So we took the view that the term ‘occupied East Jerusalem’ implied a legal view of the respective claims of the parties and we didn’t think it was helpful to be doing that, and as a result, we just said that we won’t be using that term any longer.”
Sharma explained further that last week’s announcement didn’t represent a new policy. To the contrary, he “maintained that Australia’s policy of eschewing ‘occupied’ is not new, but rather a codification of what the country has been doing in practice for many years.”
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