Questioned what representations Australia has made to the Israeli government in response to land appropriations, forced evictions, demolitions and settlement activity, particularly in Sheikh Jarrah, as well as attacks on Gaza which destroyed the Al Jazeera and Associated Press office and killed over 60 children.
Minister, you made a statement on 12 May that called for a ‘halt to actions that increase tensions’ in Israel-Palestine, ‘including land appropriations, forced evictions, demolitions and settlement activity’. Have we communicated that to the Israeli government?
Whole interaction with Senator Marise Payne (Minister for Foreign Affairs) and Mr Benjamin Hayes (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 want to move on to Israel and Palestine. Minister, you made a statement on 12 May that called for a ‘halt to actions that increase tensions’ in Israel-Palestine, ‘including land appropriations, forced evictions, demolitions and settlement activity’. Have we communicated that to the Israeli government?
Senator Payne: These are matters which we have raised consistently. I’m just trying to find the statement of 12 May, because there are a number of statements. I don’t have the 12 May statement with me.
Senator RICE: Your most recent one, I think.
Senator Payne: No. There’s a statement—well, there are statements to the UN as well, but for some reason I don’t have the 12 May statement.
Senator RICE: So you say you consistently—
Senator Payne: But we do consistently communicate that. Yes, I do. And we do consistently communicate that, yes.
Senator RICE: At what level has that been communicated and by whom? When did we communicate previously?
Senator Payne: Previously it was at the level of Prime Minister to Prime Minister. I might say that was before changes—or reported changes—last night. Previously it was from foreign minister to foreign minister; between officials and in Tel Aviv.
Senator RICE: So there would have been a communication making that statement after your statement on 12 May?
Senator Payne: That would have gone to the Israeli embassy here and it would have been provided through our post in Tel Aviv as well.
Senator RICE: In estimates previously, officials have refused to be explicit that the Australian government considers the unilateral annexation of territory in the West Bank as illegal under international law. Is that still the government’s position?
Senator Payne: I will ask officials to respond to that but I’m not sure I agree with your characterisation. I will ask Mr Hayes to respond.
Senator RICE: If you are willing to say that it was definitely illegal under international law, I would be very happy to hear that.
Mr Hayes : Australia’s concerns about annexation and our call for a return to negotiations is consistent with international law and the UN Security Council resolutions.
Senator RICE: Yes, that’s what you’ve told me previously. But you have refused to be explicit that it is illegal under international law.
Mr Hayes : We don’t take a position on the legality under international law.
Senator RICE: So you are not willing to state that. Okay. I just wanted to check that was still the case. That’s extremely disappointing, as I said last time. What representations has the Australian ambassador made to the Israeli government over the forced eviction of Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood?
Senator Payne: I will take that on notice.
Senator RICE: What representations has the ambassador made to the Israeli government regarding the attack on the Al-Jalal tower, housing and the Al Jazeera and Associated Press offices?
Senator Payne: I will take that on notice. In relation to the Al Jazeera office, I recall issuing a statement which indicated that we were concerned about the impact on freedom of the press, to paraphrase that, but I will find the exact words for you.
Senator RICE: What representations have we made to the Israeli government over the high rate of civilian casualties in Gaza, including the deaths of over 60 children?
Senator Payne: If you would care to refer to our statements in the United Nations of 20 May and 16 May and the public statements which have been made and, indeed, the statement that you referred to of 12 May, you will see that we have commented on those issues in, if not every one, almost every one of those statements.
Senator RICE: Can you take on notice what actual representations to the Israeli government you made? You said they were statements to the UN.
Senator Payne: Yes.
Senator RICE: The department, I am sure, is aware of the Human Rights Watch report, A threshold crossed: Israeli authorities and the crimes of apartheid and persecution. Has the department provided a briefing on that report to you, Minister?
Senator Payne: Not that I have seen. But I may stand to be corrected. So, if you prefer, I will take that on notice.
Senator RICE: Perhaps somebody from the department might recall?
Mr Hayes : The department has not provided a briefing to the minister on the Human Rights Watch report.
Senator RICE: Why not? It’s a very significant major international human rights organisation concluding that the Israeli government is committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution. You don’t think that would be an appropriate thing for the minister to be briefed about?
Mr Hayes : Australia values the contribution that Human Rights Watch makes as an important civil society voice on human rights matters. A number of the issues that have been raised in the Human Rights Watch report are issues that Australia raises regularly with Israel, and the report was shared with the minister and her office.
Senator RICE: Sorry, I missed your last bit.
Mr Hayes : The report was of course shared with the minister and her office.
Senator RICE: Does the Australian government agree with the Human Rights Watch assessment:
Israeli authorities methodically privilege Jewish Israelis and discriminate against Palestinians. Laws, policies, and statements by leading Israeli officials make plain that the objective of maintaining Jewish Israeli control over demographics, political power, and land has long guided government policy.
Senator Payne: There is a range of observations made in that report and in many other reports which are provided to us by human rights NGOs. We don’t comment on every observation and every suggestion in those reports.