Senate Question Time responses on Middle East policy

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subject: Middle East policy

Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I thank the Senator for the question and acknowledge his interest and expertise in national security and foreign affairs matters.

What I would say to him, is that this Government is guided by the principle of advancing the cause of peace, and progress towards a just and enduring two-state solution. It is clear that viewing the conflict from one perspective will not achieve such peace and any lasting solution to the conflict cannot be at the expense of either Palestinians or Israelis. The conflict is a matter to be resolved through negotiations between the parties.

I've outlined our principal position and what I would say to the Senator is that we have taken steps consistent with these principles. We have reaffirmed Australia's previous longstanding and bipartisan position that Jerusalem is a final status issue. We recognise that is a deeply felt issue for many, and there are few issues more central to the Jewish people than the status of Jerusalem.

We have rebalanced Australia's positions in international forums, while opposing anti-Israel bias in the UN. We have called out unilateral actions that undermine the prospects of peace.

We unequivocally condemn all forms of terrorism and violence against civilians in Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and have repeatedly called on both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to take immediate steps to halt the violence.

We are gravely concerned about alarming trends that are significantly reducing the process of peace. We are deeply concerned by the Israeli government settlement activity including its advancements of thousands of settlement units, retroactive legalisation of illegal outputs and policy changes.

The Australian government is strengthening its opposition to settlements by affirming they are illegal under international law and a significant obstacle to peace. This is consistent with the position of past governments, reflects legal advice and UN Security Council resolutions which determine that the settlements 'have no legal validity and constitute a violation of international law'.

Australia is proposing to adopt or will be adopting or returning to the term Occupied Palestinian Territories. The point I would make to the Senator is that is consistent with the UN Security Council resolutions. It consistent with the approach taken by key partners including the United Kingdom, New Zealand and the European Union.

This is a term which has been used including on past occasions by past foreign ministers and past governments, that is consistent with much of the nomenclature that is used within the UN context and is used, as I said, by key partners including the United Kingdom, New Zealand and the European Union.

In adopting the term, we are clarifying that the West Bank including East Jerusalem and Gaza were occupied by Israel following the 1967 war and that the occupation continues and reaffirms our commitment to a negotiated two state solution in which Israel and a future Palestinian state co-exist.

I think the only matter that is properly within my portfolio is the engagement I've had with the Ambassador and/or DFAT has had with the Israeli Embassy and I'll obtain those details. I can confirm there has been engagement with the Ambassador, and that is because we do remain a committed friend of Israel. We do. We recognise Israel's right to defend itself. We recognise the uniquely challenging security environment.

This is not a partisan issue.

Australia does continue to call out unfair and disproportionate targeting of Israel in international forums. We have opposed the referral of the conflict to the ICJ because we do not believe that will bring parties closer to negotiations. And we will continue to fight anti-Semitism.

It is a friendship that has been and should remain based on a shared commitment to democracy and the rule of law and that is the approach we are taking.

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