PA Complains to Australia After Envoy Meets Israeli Official in East Jerusalem

Palestinians lodge letter of protest over ambassador's routine meeting with Ariel in Sheikh Jarrah, as right-wing Israeli media jumps to term it Australian recognition of Israeli authority over East Jerusalem.

Housing minister's bureau

An all-too routine meeting was held Wednesday morning between Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel and Australian Ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma.

In fact, nobody would have known this meeting was even happening, had it not been for a press release distributed by Ariel's bureau blatantly pointing out the fact that the talks between the two were taking place at the government compound in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

Most of the international community does not recognize Israel's authority in East Jerusalem. Therefore, few diplomats or representatives of foreign nations – if at all – would come to an official meeting with Israeli politicians or government officials in that part of the city.

Media outlets self-identified as right-wing and with Ariel's Habayit Hayehudi party – such as the NRG website and Israel National News – were quick to publish that the meeting was taking place, presenting it as a sort of Australian recognition of Israeli authority over East Jerusalem.

Palestinian officials, who heard in the media about the meeting, boiled with anger. Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat turned to the head of Australia's mission in Ramallah, Tom Wilson, and lodged an official letter of protest to be passed on to Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Haaretz, Erekat stresses that the Palestinians are deeply concerned about the fact that the Australian ambassador in Israel attended a meeting with an Israeli official in "occupied East Jerusalem."

Erekat added that this was a violation of international law and an attempt to legitimize an illegal situation. He also said Australia may find itself an aider and abettor of this offense.

"I should also take a moment to kindly remind you that Australia is under a clear obligation to respect and ensure respect for the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Person in Time of War and that a State which knowingly assists another State in the commission of an internationally wrongful act bears responsibility for the violation.

It is not certain that the Australian ambassador in Tel Aviv should worry about the future of his diplomatic career. One of the reasons is that Bishop said that during her visit to Israel last January that she is not convinced settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem constitutes a violation of international law. At the time, she told The Times of Israel in an interview that she wanted to verify what international law deems it to be illegal.