Interview with Sally Sara, ABC Radio National Breakfast

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Hamas-Israel conflict; Appointment of Special Adviser to the Australian Government on Israel's response to the Israel Defense Forces strikes which killed Zomi Frankcom.

Sally Sara, Host: Israel appears determined to proceed with its ground invasion of Rafah, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirming that a date for the operation has been set.

Despite mounting public criticism of Israel's approach in Gaza, key allies, the US and UK, have both indicated that they won't halt weapon sales to the IDF.

Last night in a speech at the ANU Security Conference, Australia's Foreign Minister Penny Wong reiterated Australia's support for a two-state solution and warned Israel against the ground invasion.

The Foreign Minister is my guest this morning. Minister, welcome back to the program.

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Good to be with you, Sally.

Sara: To begin with, Penny Wong, is Australia ready and willing to recognise Palestine as a state?

Foreign Minister: Look, we've made no such decision. The discussion I want to have is to look at what is happening in the international community where there is the very important debate about how it is we secure long-lasting peace in a region which has known so much conflict.

Obviously we have the immediate conflict. We need to see Hamas release hostages, we need to see a revitalised Palestinian Authority, we need to see an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. We need all of these things immediately. But the point I'm making is that ultimately peace, security for Israel, will only be achieved if we have a Palestinian state alongside the Israeli state.

Sara: What needs to happen first?

Foreign Minister: Well, obviously what we are looking at and working with the international community is a pathway beyond the immediate conflict. That's what the discussion is within the, amongst the international community. We have to work out how it is we break the endless cycle of violence.

What needs to happen immediately is Hamas needs to release hostages, and we need to see an immediate humanitarian ceasefire so that we can have aid at scale into Gaza, where we know we have a humanitarian catastrophe. We need to see the ceasefire that is seeking to be brokered work, and what I would say also, in light of your introduction, we're very – we're deeply concerned about the proposed invasion in Rafah where so many civilians are sheltering.

As the Prime Minister said directly to Prime Minister Netanyahu, we have concerns, we are urging Israel not to proceed with a major ground offensive in Rafah because of the potential loss of civilian life.

Sara: Would you agree that Hamas needs to be removed from power in Gaza?

Foreign Minister: Hamas has no place in Gaza.

Sara: So how do you remove Hamas from Gaza without a ground operation in your view?

Foreign Minister: The question here is international humanitarian law and making sure that Israel complies with international humanitarian law.

What I would say is this: as I outlined last night, Israel was attacked in the most horrific terms by an organisation, which is dedicated to the destruction of Jewish people and the destruction of the Jewish state, which is Hamas, and more Jewish lives were lost on that day than any single day since the Holocaust. So any state attacked in that way would defend itself.

The point I also made is any state that does defend itself is bound by certain rules, and we are concerned about the humanitarian implications and consequences for civilians in Rafah, as is, you know, the President of the United States.

We have said to Israel, do not go down this path. We know how many Palestinians are sheltering there, people fled because of the conflict in Gaza, and they have nowhere to go, and we are, you know, alongside with the President of the United States and so many others in the international community, we are urging Israel, do not go down this path.

Sara: The Zionist Federation of Australia President Jeremy Leibler's quoted in The Australian newspaper saying that recognising Palestinian statehood so soon after the October 7th terrorist attacks would be a reward for those attacks. How do you respond to those kinds of concerns?

Foreign Minister: Well, I'd make two points: the first point is, and I know Jeremy well, and I saw his comments today, and he's right to say Hamas must release hostages, and that is what the Government has been saying, and that is what I again reiterated last night.

But my point is a longer‑term point, about what is the path to peace? I don't see ultimately any security for Israel without the issue of Palestinian statehood being resolved, and whether it's the normalisation, continued normalisation of relationships from other countries in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, who obviously has said very clearly there will be no normalisation until that issue is resolved, there is no peace in the long‑term unless this issue is resolved.

Sara: Given the Federal Government's concerns about civilian casualties in Gaza and the importance to adhere to international law, and also the killing, of course, of the seven aid workers, including an Australian, is the relationship between Australia and Israel at the moment, is it at a low at the moment, would you say?

Foreign Minister: Look, these are difficult times, they're difficult times for Israel, which was attacked, they are difficult times, these are tragic times. We see tens of thousands of Palestinians, including many women and children, have been killed, you know, these are challenging times, and we take a position that we can be a friend to Israel and friend to the Palestinians.

And my speech last night was a speech that was located in that truth. And ultimately what we can do from Australia's perspective to, one, adhere to the principles of international law in what we say and we do, and that is what we are doing, and secondly, to add our voice to find a way out of this conflict, and that is what we are doing.

Sara: This week the Government announced that retired Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin would serve as Special Adviser on Israel's response to the deaths of the World Central Kitchen aid workers. Can you tell us what he has been able to do so far?

Foreign Minister: Look, we are engaging with Israel about Mr Binskin, Air Chief Marshal Binskin, engaging in relation to their inquiry, we think that is important, you know, there are positive engagements, and we appreciate that.

This is a very important issue for Australia. You know, we have been saying for a very long time, it is important that international humanitarian law be adhered to. Under international humanitarian law, as you know, aid workers are to be protected.

Demonstrably there was a deadly failure of deconfliction, deconfliction being, you know, the ways in which making sure the defence forces are aware of where humanitarian workers are so they can be protected, and there was a deadly failure.

Australians do expect there to be transparency and full accountability, and we've appointed Mark Binskin as a Special Envoy, because – a Special Adviser, because he will be able to assist the Australian Government in considering the investigation against those principles that I've outlined.

Sara: You and Richard Marles wrote a letter to the Israeli Government saying that appropriate action should be taken against those IDF personnel who've not acted in accordance with the law. What is appropriate action in that case?

Foreign Minister: Well Sally, I've been asked that before, and I've said our job as a government is to find out what the facts are and then make decisions on the basis of those facts.

Sara: And Minister, have you had a response to that letter from the Israeli Government as yet?

Foreign Minister: Not as yet. We look forward to a response.

Sara: What happens if you don't see full accountability and transparency from these investigations – what are the consequences for Israel?

Foreign Minister: Well, Sally, my focus at the moment is to engage with the Israeli Government to ensure that there is transparency and accountability, and I would say it is in Israel's interests for the Australian Government and the Australian community to be satisfied that there has been transparency and accountability.

Sara: You've also spoken about the tension and unrest between some Muslim and Jewish communities here in Australia. Do you believe that some of those tensions are deepening, or have they eased in your view?

Foreign Minister: I think the behaviours that we have seen, the distress that we have seen are really problematic for our community, and what I think is, we need to be less condemnatory, more respectful of one another.

People are increasingly struggling with how to discuss this with their fellow citizens, and we've seen antisemitism, we've seen Islamophobia, we've seen language and behaviours that shows that people are losing respect for one another.

That is dangerous for our democracy. We have to be peacemakers at home, and we do that by listening to each other, we do that by respecting each other, we gain nothing by reproducing the conflict here. We gain nothing by shouting each other down, and we gain nothing by delegitimising or belittling one another, and there's been far too much of that in the discussion.

I appreciate how distressed people are, but our democracy matters, it matters to all of us, and we need to make sure as citizens, and as politicians, we reflect the values of respect that our pluralist democracy demands.

I think the way in which particularly, for example, the Greens have used people's distress in order to campaign for votes has been appalling, and it is – there are consequences to that sort of behaviour, and we all ought act more as leaders and peacemakers rather than using this for political campaigning purposes.

Sara: Foreign Minister Penny Wong, time has run out for us. Thank you for your time.

Foreign Minister: Good to be with you.

Sara: Senator Penny Wong there, Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs.

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