(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)
A meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Saudi Arabia is set to consider how member states will respond to Australia’s shift in language on East Jerusalem.
Earlier this month Attorney General George Brandis announced Australia would no longer refer to the territory as “occupied”, saying the term is judgemental and unhelpful.
The move has outraged majority Arab and Islamic nations whose representatives have met with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop seeking clarification of Australia’s position.
Thea Cowie reports.
(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)
The Canberra meeting with the Foreign Minister was frank and at times tense.
That’s according to the head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia, Izzat Abdulhadi.
Mr Abdulhadi and representatives of 18 majority Arab and Islamic countries went to the meeting with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop seeking clarification of Australia’s position on Israel and Palestine.
Emerging from the meeting, he said the issue remains murky.
“She said that Senator Brandis would not use the language of occupied with a capital “O”. This means as if it’s a part of the name. But the government will continue to use occupied East Jerusalem with a small “o”. Really the understanding of most of the ambassadors when we finished is that it’s really confusing.”
Mr Abdulhadi says the Foreign Minister has indicated Senator Brandis will not be making any future statements on policy relating to Israel or the Palestinian territories again.
He says the diplomats were told those statements will come from Ms Bishop herself or the Prime Minister.
Jordanian Ambassador to Australia Rima Alaadeen says she’s been assured Australia continues to support a solution to the Middle East conflict that will include the eventual creation of a Palestinian state.
And she says Ms Bishop has also stated that Australia supports UN Security Council Resolutions which use the term “occupied.”
“Her Excellency the Foreign Minister who reassured the Ambassadors of the OIC that there was no change in Australia’s position and Australia continues to support Resolutions 242 and 348. We consider that it was a positive meeting and we are encouraged by this clarification.”
The rift has the potential to affect Australian exports to the Middle East, through trade sanctions or boycotts.
The Saudi Ambassador reportedly raised the possibility during the meeting with Julie Bishop.
Iraqi Ambassador Mouayed Saleh was not ruling out trade sanctions, and says other countries are seriously considering taking that step.
“That was considered and that’s going to take some time so definitely Australia needs to look at that. JOURNALIST: so you can’t rule that out? // SALEH: I can’t. I can’t rule that out because the other countries are really thinking seriously about doing such a thing.”
Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Saudi Arabia alone import more than 10-billion-dollars worth of Australian goods a year.
Key Australian exports include grains and live animals.
WA Farmers’ Federation President Dale Park says the state’s farmers are particularly vulnerable, even to the smallest shifts in trade to the Middle East and Indonesia.
“We do put some beef into the Middle East but on the sheep side the Middle East is almost our only market at the moment. I don’t think we can underestimate the reliance we are on some of those Muslim markets. We’re the meat in the sandwich yet again it seems.”
Mr Park says farmers are still recovering from bans on live exports to Indonesia and the Middle East in recent years.
Labor’s agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon agrees there could be serious implications for trade and says he’s received correspondence from concerned Arab diplomats.
Arab Bank Australia managing director Joseph Rizk has told the ABC he thinks trade sanctions and boycotts are unlikely.
But he says the row is likely to affect Australian exports to the Middle East nonetheless.
“It’s obviously that the Middle East is not going to boycott Australia. That is my view. But over time it will affect trade if the policy is not clarified and the commentary that’s recently been made is not elaborated on.”
Ahron Shapiro is a policy analyst with the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council.
He says disruptions to trade over the East Jerusalem issue are unlikely.
And denies a suggestion that the Attorney General’s shift in language on East Jerusalem could have been designed to placate Jewish groups opposed to his proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act.
“There’s no quid pro quo, there’s no special relationship. The Jewish groups and the Israel lobbying groups all work on their own and they don’t take into account what one position is on one issue and what they may be on another issue. The government acts always in its national interest. AJAC as an organisation has made our position clear that we want any changes that may happen to the current position on the Racial Discrimination Act to be done in very careful and cautious measures that don’t in any way diminish the protections that are already in place.”