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Negotiating semantic minefield of 'occupied' and 'disputed' becomes a pressing necessity

By David Singer - posted Thursday, 19 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.

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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.

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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.

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About the Author

David Singer is an Australian Lawyer, a Foundation Member of the International Analyst Network and Convenor of Jordan is Palestine International - an organisation calling for sovereignty of the West Bank and Gaza to be allocated between Israel and Jordan as the two successor States to the Mandate for Palestine. Previous articles written by him can be found at www.jordanispalestine.blogspot.com.

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All articles by David Singer

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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