*Pic: Greste in the Egyptian dock …
On 4 June a shot was fired around the world from Canberra at a Senate hearing of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, on an argument over semantics between the UN term “occupied territory” for East Jerusalem that the Attorney-General Senator George Brandis refused to countenance, and instead rebranded it as “disputed territory”.
As reported in yesterday’s press, “Australia was hailed by Israel’s government, scolded by a group of 57 Muslim-majority countries, and had multibillion-dollar export trades put under threat… Arab anger flared at the apparent change in policy…Arab officials threatened trade sanctions on the live sheep and cattle trade, worth over $2 billion…”
Not realising the import of Senator Brandis’s “storm in a teacup”, the travelling Prime Minister was quizzed by the press on this in Washington DC and unintentionally poured more fuel to the fire by saying it was a mere:
“terminological clarification”. But in the process he introduced the word “disputed”. Abbott told a press conference: “The truth is they’re disputed territories”.
In an effort to avoid trade sanctions, last Thursday the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was forced to clarify the government’s position with the ambassadors from 18 Muslim-majority nations (including Indonesia and Malaysia) to reassure them that Australia’s support for a two-state solution with Israel was intact. The ambassadors have since reported this back to their capitals and to the Headquarters of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation for further deliberation.
We won’t know the trade ramifications of this semantic battle for some months to come.
But in the international political arena, this has not advanced Australia’s cause or reputation in the Muslim world.
Indeed, the Egyptian Court has just handed a seven year sentence to the Australian journalist Peter Greste.
He may well be the first casualty of this semantic battle that didn’t have to happen.