Federal Attorney-General George Brandis last night refused to be drawn into debate over his controversial East Jerusalem comments which have prompted a furious reaction from Middle Eastern diplomats.
The anger at a perceived policy shift was sparked by Mr Brandis’ comments to a Senate estimates committee this month, where he said the term “occupied” East Jerusalem was “freighted with pejorative implications, which is neither appropriate nor useful”.
Speaking to the ABC last night, Mr Brandis declined to comment on the fallout to his comments, which he attributed to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
“I represent the Foreign Minister in the Senate,” he said.
“I was asked some questions in Senate estimates, to avoid confusion, the morning after I answered those questions, and in consultation with the Foreign Minister, I read into the record a statement authorised by her, it is perfectly obvious from that statement, there was never any policy change. Australia always and continues to support the two-state solution.”
When asked by the ABC’s Sarah Ferguson if he regarded East Jerusalem as occupied or disputed, Mr Brandis replied:
“I’m not going to indulge your desire for me to play word games. I have nothing to add to what I said in the Senate Estimates committee and I have nothing to add to what the Foreign Minister said today, both of which are entirely consistent with each other.”
Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull today further clarified the government’s stance.
“I do not want to downplay the importance of language, but I do want to emphasise that Australia’s policy in support of a two-state solution is absolutely where it always has been. So there has been no change of policy. Julie Bishop made that very clear to ambassadors from Islamic countries who called on her yesterday,” he told ABC early on Friday.
“He [Brandis] said the government preferred to use disputed rather occupied, but really the policy remains the same and there has been no change in policy. That is a critically important matter and that is what we’re seeking to reassure everybody about following the Attorney’s remarks in the Senate.”
Ms Bishop met with ambassadors from Islamic nations yesterday, where she repeated that there had been no change in policy.
Further reaction to the comments are expected shortly, following a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Saudi Arabia.
The Guardian reports Foreign Ministers from 57 Islamic nations are considering a statement of condemnation over Australia’s move to refer to East Jerusalem as “disputed” rather than “occupied”.