[Published 14 June 2014]
Two former Australian Foreign Ministers—Bob Carr (2012-2013) and Gareth Evans (1988-1996)—have published an article this past week engaging in a semantic tug of war with Australia’s current Foreign Minister—Julie Bishop - over Australia’s recently declared policy of refusing to describe East Jerusalem as “occupied territory”.
East Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria were conquered in 1948 by Transjordan and illegally annexed in 1950 - when Transjordan then changed its name to “Jordan” and the 3000 years old geographic designation of “Judea and Samaria” to the “West Bank”.
East Jerusalem and the West Bank were lost by Jordan to Israel in the 1967 Six Day War.
In 1980, the Israeli Knesset passed a Basic Law declaring reunified Jerusalem the eternal capital of Israel, while providing for freedom of access to each religion’s holy sites—a decision not sanctioned by the United Nations.
“Occupied territory” carries the clear connotation that such territory indisputably belongs to someone else. Yet East Jerusalem and the West Bank have not been under any internationally recognised sovereignty or control since Great Britain handed back its administration of the Mandate for Palestine to the United Nations in 1948.
Israel refers to the West Bank as “disputed territory”:
“The West Bank and Gaza Strip are disputed territories whose status can only be determined through negotiations. Occupied territories are territories captured in war from an established and recognized sovereign. As the West Bank and Gaza Strip were not under the legitimate and recognized sovereignty of any state prior to the Six Day War, they should not be considered occupied territories.
The people of Israel have ancient ties to the territories, as well as a continuous centuries-old presence there. These areas were the cradle of Jewish civilization. Israel has rights in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, rights that the Palestinians deliberately disregard.”
Australia’s Prime Minister - Tony Abbott - agrees:
“It is important, as far as you can, not to use loaded terms, not to use pejorative terms, not to use terms which suggest that matters have been prejudged and that is a freighted term.
The truth is they’re disputed territories.”
Carr and Evans conveniently overlook mentioning or rebutting Israel’s position—indicating a level of intellectual dishonesty which is disappointing coming from persons with such distinguished backgrounds.
Instead - Carr and Evans ring the alarm bells - attempting to incite a state of international hysteria when claiming:
“If East Jerusalem is not to be referred to as “occupied”, why not Nablus or Bethlehem? If the Australian government can say “occupied East Jerusalem” is fraught with “pejorative implications” what is to stop Ms Bishop applying this to the occupied West Bank as a whole? It is a short step away for the Coalition government to declare that all the West Bank, with its population of more than 2 million Arabs, is no more than a “disputed” territory."
Are they really unaware that 40% of the West Bank—including Nablus and Bethlehem - contains 96% of the West Bank Arab population—and has been under the total administrative control of the Palestine Liberation Organisation since 1995?
Have they forgotten that Israel offered to cede its claims to sovereignty in more than 90% of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority in 2000/2001 and 2008—and that both offers were rejected.
Carr and Evans aren’t averse in misleading their readership when they assert:
“The International Court of Justice in 2004 declared not only that the West Bank was occupied but that this was illegal.”It is unseemly that they forget to mention that this decision was an Advisory Opinion only and has no binding legal effect.
What is completely inexcusable is that Carr and Evans relied only on this International Court of Justice decision—whilst apparently failing to consider the following established international law with specific application to the West Bank—namely:
1. The Mandate for Palestine 1922 - especially article 6 - and article 80 of the United Nations Charter and
2. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338
These provisions provide the legal basis for Israel using the term “disputed territory” and Australia rejecting the pejorative term “occupied territory” used in countless UN Resolutions - misleadingly suggesting an Arab entitlement to 100% exclusive sovereignty.
The Arab-Jewish conflict has been an ongoing battle of words as much as a series of real live battles fought by the Jews against its Palestinian Arab neighbours, the armies of six Arab States and a myriad number of terrorist groups over the last 130 years.
Notable semantic battles that have influenced the political debate include:
1. Do the words “in Palestine” as used in the Mandate for Palestine mean “all of Palestine”?
2. Do the words “Withdraw from territories” used in Security Council Resolution 242 mean “all the territories”?
3. Are there “1967 borders” or only “1967 armistice lines”?
4. Did the words “Reconstitute the Jewish National Home” as used in the Mandate for Palestine preclude the creation of a Jewish State?
5. Does “Palestine” include what is today called “Jordan”?
Whilst one side talks “occupied territory” and the other “disputed territory”—negotiations will continue to go nowhere.
A pathway through this semantic minefield needs to be found which leads to the parties using commonly agreed and understood language.
If not—this minefield could blow up with disastrous consequences for everyone—not just the disputants.
Another Syria or Iraq is the last thing the world needs now.