Responses provided by DFAT to matters taken on notice during Senate Estimates on the issues of Australian aid to Palestine, Israeli settlement expansion, military trials of Palestinian children and the cancellation of Bassem Tamimi’s visa.
First, we were asked yesterday by Senator Abetz for some information on the operation of the foreign foundations, councils and institutes. We are tabling the information that he requested this morning. Second, a number of members of the committee raised questions relating to Palestine and Israel. I would like to respond in more detail than we were able to last night.
Whole interaction with Ms Frances Adamson (Secretary, DFAT) during Senate Estimates (Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Foreign Affairs and Trade Portfolio).
CHAIR ( Senator Back ): Good morning. In a moment I hope to welcome back the Attorney-General, the Hon. Senator Brandis, representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and I welcome back the secretary of the department of foreign affairs, Ms Adamson, and officers of the department. We are in continuation on outcome 1. Secretary, you wanted to make some points of clarification?
Ms Adamson : Thank you, Chair. First, we were asked yesterday by Senator Abetz for some information on the operation of the foreign foundations, councils and institutes. We are tabling the information that he requested this morning. Second, a number of members of the committee raised questions relating to Palestine and Israel. I would like to respond in more detail than we were able to last night.
In relation to how we know that our aid to the Palestinian territories is not being diverted to terrorists, the department has in place arrangements for due diligence, regular monitoring and reporting, and comprehensive financial checks that are aimed at ensuring that no funding goes directly or indirectly to terrorists or people linked to terrorists. Australian funding to the Palestinian Authority goes through a World Bank multi-donor trust fund. In addition to the World Bank’s due diligence processes, DFAT signed an MoU with the Palestinian Authority in 2014 to ensure screening of all beneficiaries of Australian funding against comprehensive sanctions lists, including Australian and Israeli lists, in accordance with the counterterrorism and terrorist financing protocols used by the EU’s PEGASE, which is the Mecanisme Palestino-Europeen de Gestion de l’Aide Socio-Economique program. Australia also funds a UN monitoring mechanism agreed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority which tracks reconstruction materials entering Gaza, including for humanitarian purposes. This mechanism provides reassurance to Israel that materials are not being misused for terrorist purposes.
We were also asked whether Australian aid to the Palestinian Authority was funding salaries for Palestinian prisoners, including convicted terrorists. The answer to that is no. The recipients of Australian funding provided to the Palestinian Authority via the World Bank trust fund are all screened against sanctions lists. Only individuals cleared through that process are able to access the public service salaries and social security benefits that our funding supports. An MoU between Australia and the Palestinian Authority requires that the Palestinian Authority commission an independent audit every six months to confirm that checks against the relevant sanctions lists have occurred. The most recent audit was provided on 7 February. It confirmed that the process had been complied with over the preceding six months.
We were also asked what we knew about the Palestinian Authority’s support to terrorists. We are aware that the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, a parallel entity of the Palestinian Authority, provides financial assistance and support to the families of terrorists, including those terrorists who are killed while perpetrating an attack. Such terrorists are referred to as martyrs in official Palestinian circles. The Palestinian Authority commemorates the acts of such terrorists, including by naming public buildings and roads after them and honouring their memory through various official acts. Clearly this is completely at odds with Australian values and undermines the prospects of a meaningful peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Australia continues to raise concerns about actions which jeopardise the prospects for peace, including terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians and security personnel; tolerance of and incitement of such attacks by Palestinian leadership figures; unilateral Palestinian efforts to achieve statehood without a negotiated settlement; and Israeli settlement activity, demolitions and land expropriations. We have made clear our opposition to this policy to Palestinian counterparts. We promptly terminated our involvement with a Palestinian NGO, UAWC, after evidence emerged that they held a tree-planting ceremony in honour of so-called martyrs. We were asked whether we knew about the US congressional action to address this issue. The answer is that we do and that we are monitoring the progress of the Taylor Force Act legislation closely.
We were also asked about Australian concerns regarding Israeli settlements. I can say that Australia, including at the level of the foreign minister and Prime Minister, has raised with Israeli ministers, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, our concerns regarding Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank and our opposition to this and similar unilateral moves which undermine prospects for a negotiated two-state solution. The embassy in Tel Aviv monitors Israeli settlement plans and activities closely and makes representations from time to time on this issue in response to particular developments.
We were asked about military trials of Palestinian minors. Australia frequently discusses with Israeli officials and like-minded countries the treatment of Palestinian minors held in Israeli detention. We have urged Israel to reform and improve its practices in this area. In late 2011, then foreign minister Rudd did direct Australian officials to observe military court proceedings of Palestinian minors. This occurred in January 2012 but has not been ongoing. It has not been pursued under the current Australian government. NGOs do this work already, and we believe that the efforts of the Australian government are better directed to advocacy efforts with Israeli authorities and working with organisations such as UNICEF which have much greater expertise in this area.
We were asked whether DFAT had provided advice that contributed to the cancellation of Mr Bassem Tamimi’s visa. The answer is no. Any further questions on the cancellation of Mr Tamimi’s visa should be directed to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.