Senator Janet Rice – Estimates question about Israeli settlements and Australian recognition of Palestine

October 26, 2017

Questioned whether Australia is raising concerns with the Israeli government about settlement expansion and whether this expansion might prompt Australia to recognise the state of Palestine.

What action is the department taking in raising the issue of illegal settlements in Palestine?

Whole interaction with Mr Matthew Neuhaus (Acting First Assistant Secretary, Middle East and Africa Division, DFAT)  during Senate Estimates (Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Foreign Affairs and Trade Portfolio).

Senator RICE: I’ll leave that there, given the time. I want to move onto Israel and Palestine. I understand that Prime Minister Turnbull is shortly going to be travelling to Beersheba to attend the 100th anniversary of the battle of Beersheba. I have read that he intends to raise the case of Malka Leifer, who is accused of abusing girls in her care, with the Israeli Prime Minister. What other issues is the Prime Minister intending to raise with the Israeli Prime Minister, and, in particular, whether he will be raising Australia’s concerns with regard to the expansion of illegal settlements in occupied Palestine?


Ms Adamson : That’s really a question for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.


Senator RICE: Okay. What action is the department taking in raising the issue of illegal settlements in Palestine?


Mr Neuhaus : The department, through our representatives—through our own contact here with embassies through our embassy in Israel—has frequently raised the issue of illegal settlements.


Senator RICE: At what level have these concerns been raised?


Mr Neuhaus : They have been raised at the full range of levels over the years; it depends on the time period. We have raised them even at ministerial level.


Senator RICE: And what response have you got to those concerns? Have you raised particular announcements, such as the recent announcement of the 31 new apartments in the city of Hebron, the first time for 20 years that final approval has been given for a new settlement of Amihai, and then, just yesterday, the approval of a major expansion in east Jerusalem for 176 new housing units?


Mr Neuhaus : Yes, I’m very aware of that development, and we have indeed raised it with the deputy ambassador here.


Senator RICE: So what response have you got from the Israeli government?


Mr Neuhaus : Well, regrettably, settlements continue, so you might say that’s the sort of response. But, in principle, they hear us out when we make those representations.


Senator RICE: In a recent official statement the Israeli government said: ‘During 2017 approximately 12,000 housing units in different stages of planning and construction will be approved, about four times the amount in 2016.’ It continued: ‘There is nobody that does more for settlement, steadfastly and wisely, than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.’ Does this statement and sentiment concern the Australian government, and have you made representations about that statement?


Mr Neuhaus : These sorts of activities do concern us, because, as you know, and it’s been reiterated today in the article foreshadowing the Prime Minister’s visit, we’re very committed to the two-state solution, and these sorts of activities do make that outcome more difficult.


Senator RICE: They completely undermine it. Is there anything more the Australian government could be doing?


Mr Neuhaus : We’re doing all that we can, as far as I can see.


Senator RICE: Is the Australian government considering moving forward with the recognition of the state of Palestine, as a statement, that if—basically, the opportunity to recognise the state of Palestine is decreasing the more that settlements occur.


Mr Neuhaus : As I’ve said, we remain committed to the two-state solution, and we engage with both parties, and it is for them to negotiate that outcome. I am confident that that view will be reiterated by the Prime Minister when he visits both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Mr Abbas, as he’s going to see him as well.

Link to full Hansard transcript.