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Arab League and foreign ministers criticise Govt's 'occupied' stance -

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NICK GRIMM: So what's the power of a single word? Well it can pack quite a punch it seems.

Foreign ministers from 57 Islamic nations have condemned the Federal Government's decision not to use the term "occupied" when referring to east Jerusalem.

Their statement, issued in Jeddah, also calls on member states to "take necessary measures" in response.

The declaration was made as the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop sought to assure ambassadors from many of those countries that Australia's position hasn't changed.

It's not clear if her efforts will have the desired effect.

From Canberra, Alexandra Kirk reports.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Last week the Arab League, a regional organisation of 22 Arab countries in and around North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and south-west Asia, wrote to the Foreign Minister.

PM understands the letter urged the Government to reconsider the position as stated by the Attorney-General George Brandis a fortnight ago.

GEORGE BRANDIS: The use of the word "occupied" is not something that the Australian Government, of either political persuasion, acknowledges or accepts.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And it pointed out that revoking the term "occupied" violated international law and Australia's obligations.

Yesterday foreign ministers from 57 Islamic countries, in Saudi Arabia for a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, issued a statement including a paragraph condemning Australia's decision not to use the term "occupied".

The agreed text reads, Point 13:

EXTRACT FROM ORGANISATION OF ISLAMIC COOPERATION STATEMENT: Condemns all positions affecting the legal status of the occupied Palestinian Territory, including east Jerusalem and, in this regard, condemns the orientation of the Australian Government not to describe the city as "occupied;" reiterates that this orientation contradicts international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention and relevant resolutions of the United Nations, particularly resolutions of the Security Council; calls on the Government of Australia to respect its commitments under international law in this regard, and requests member states to condemn such illegal positions and take necessary measures to respond to them.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: At the same time in Canberra, 23 Arab and Islamic ambassadors were meeting the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

According to the ambassadors, the Foreign Minister told them any policy change from Australia would come from her or the Prime Minister and not from anyone else.

Soon after, the Attorney-General George Brandis indicated he'd got the message loud and clear.

GEORGE BRANDIS: 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.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The question now is whether Julie Bishop has convinced ambassadors and their respective governments that there's no need for concern and therefore no need for trade sanctions.

The ambassadors are in the process of reporting back.

The head of the Palestinian delegation, Izzat Abdulhadi, says the Minister was more forthcoming in her talks with them than in the public statement reaffirming there'd been no change to Australia's position on the legal status of the Palestinian Territories, including east Jerusalem and relevant United Nations resolutions.

IZZAT ABDULHADI: Unfortunately I don't think that the public statement reflects exactly the outcome of the meeting because she repeatedly said that, I mean, she considered east Jerusalem as "occupied" and this is very important and she said because of that she supports the 242…

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Sorry United Nations resolution?

IZZAT ABDULHADI: Yeah, the Security Council resolution 242, which is the basis for all the peace process, very important resolution, includes that Israel should withdraw from all territories occupied in the recent conflict.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: What else did the Minister say?

IZZAT ABDULHADI: Also she tried to explain what is the difference between the small "o" and capital "O". She said that we would continue using the small "o" as an adjective to describe east Jerusalem as "occupied".

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And is that acceptable?

IZZAT ABDULHADI: For us it is okay because we don't have in Arabic, I mean, capital "O" or small "o". For us it is only "o".

ALEXANDRA KIRK: So do you think that this will be the end of the matter?

IZZAT ABDULHADI: Look I need more time to confer with my government about this, you know, because I think I need also to provide them with actual information about it.

Today it's Friday. Unfortunately it's difficult a little bit, but I think tomorrow maybe I will have more consultation with them to reflect on the outcome of the meeting because they did not know exactly what happened in this meeting.

But for me I think yes, maybe this will be the end of story. Not the end of, the end of Senator Brandis' story but not the end of the Australian position. I mean we need to wait and see how this position is translated in action and translated in other future statement.

NICK GRIMM: Izzat Abdulhadi, he's the head of the Palestinian delegation to Australia. He was speaking to Alexandra Kirk.