Senator Lee Rhiannon – Estimates questions about detention of Ahed Tamimi and US embassy move to Jerusalem

May 1, 2018

Questioned whether the Australian government had raised concerns about Palestinian children in Israeli military detention, including Ahed Tamimi, and if Australia had concerns about the decision by the USA to move their Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Has the Australian government raised concerns with Israel regarding the other Palestinian children currently held in Israeli detention? I understand there are about 350 Palestinian children held in Israeli military jails?

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 RHIANNON: Has the Australian government made any contact with Israeli counterparts around the arrest and detention of Ahed Tamimi, who was detained on 19 December and continues to be held while she awaits trial?


Mr Neuhaus : Yes, we’ve had contact on that case.


Senator RHIANNON: What was the context for the contact, please?


Mr Neuhaus : I will go into more detail on that. It’s been raised by our embassy in Israel.


Senator RHIANNON: Was it raised that this young woman should not be held, because if she was in a civil court in Israel she wouldn’t be held in this way? Was it raised that she should not be held?


Mr Neuhaus : This is not the first of these sorts of issues which we have raised on several occasions. We always raise them consistent with broader human rights concerns, particularly in the case of minors, as we’ve discussed in other Senate estimates hearings.


Senator RHIANNON: Did you raise that the trial should not occur in a closed court?


Mr Neuhaus : I can’t say precisely what was said at that time, but, as a general position, that is something we’re not comfortable with.


Senator RHIANNON: Can you take it on notice to release what the statement was or, otherwise, what the contents of the statement were? Can you take that on notice, please?


Mr Neuhaus : I could, but the discussions are, in fact, private, but we’ll give you as much detail as we can.


Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Will the Australian government insist on having an international observer attend the court hearings of Ahed Tamimi to ensure a fair trial takes place?


Mr Neuhaus : We do attend some cases. I can’t say at this point whether that would be one that we would necessarily attend.


Senator RHIANNON: But you will consider attending?


Mr Neuhaus : We’re certainly prepared to consider it.


Senator RHIANNON: Has the Australian government raised concerns with Israel regarding the other Palestinian children currently held in Israeli detention? I understand there are about 350 Palestinian children held in Israeli military jails?


Mr Neuhaus : We have consistently raised the issue of minors in detention, yes.


Senator RHIANNON: What does ‘consistently’ mean, please?


Mr Neuhaus : That means: on occasions when we meet. I myself meet with the ambassador here fairly frequently, but it happens more frequently at our post in Tel Aviv.


Senator RHIANNON: Again, does ‘frequently’ mean: once every six months?


Mr Neuhaus : No, more frequently. We make representations every one or two months on a range of issues, but that is one in which we have been quite frequent.


Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.


Senator RHIANNON: I want to move on to the issue about the US decision to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem. There was a vote in the United Nations General Assembly last year condemning the US for its decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. We abstained on that vote and I noted at the time that our Ambassador to the UN Gillian Bird said that ‘there was much in the resolution that we agreed with, but we abstained’. Can you elaborate on what was meant by that comment, please?


Mr Neuhaus : Our position on Jerusalem, as you know, is that it that needs to be left in the final negotiations for what we hope will be the two-state solution, which Australia has supported over the years and continues to support. In terms of the resolution referring to the two-state solution final negotiations, those are things that we would support in principle. However—and this is consistent with our long-standing policy—we did not feel it appropriate that this resolution be brought on in the UN General Assembly and so we abstained from the resolution.


Senator RHIANNON: You spoke about the peace process there. What is your response to the US decision and how it affects the peace process?


Mr Neuhaus : We’re disappointed by the US decision. We think it complicates the peace process, but we still regard the US as playing a very important role and as a necessary player for any peace process.


Senator RHIANNON: I understand that in the Oslo agreements, and in other attempts to resolve these issues, it has been set out the final status of Jerusalem must be decided in direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Is that the position of Australia?


Mr Neuhaus : That remains the position of Australia.


Senator RHIANNON: Therefore we do have concerns about the US decision?


Mr Neuhaus : Yes. We do.


Senator RHIANNON: Has the government conveyed our concerns about President Trump’s decision directly to the US?


Mr Neuhaus : We have indeed engaged the US on this. The minister herself has engaged the US on this matter, and around that resolution we had discussions with the US in explaining our position. And we explained our position both to Israel and to the Palestinian Authority in those discussions.


Senator RHIANNON: At what level was that, please? Was it a public statement or a press release? Or was it actually ambassador to ambassador, minister to minister.


Mr Neuhaus : Ambassador to ambassador, minister to minister is more appropriate. We try to avoid too many public statements, as we’ve already discussed on other issues today.


Senator RHIANNON: I imagine that the US urged us to vote with them?


Mr Neuhaus : Of course.


Senator RHIANNON: Or to at least abstain.


Mr Neuhaus : Yes, they urged us to vote against the resolution.


Senator RHIANNON: Did the US urge Australia to lobby countries in our region to also abstain or vote against the resolution?


Mr Neuhaus : No. As we made our position clear to them, it wasn’t appropriate.


Senator RHIANNON: Australian embassy officials in the Pacific were not tasked with making representations on this issue?


Mr Neuhaus : No, but in New York we did make it clear how we were going to vote.


Senator RHIANNON: So we are expected to believe that it’s pure coincidence that not one Pacific Island country supported the resolution, when the vast majority of other states supported it. The trend in the voting of those Pacific countries on these issues was different from how they’ve voted in the past. We had nothing to do with that change?


Mr Neuhaus : No. I can actually say we did not have anything to do with that.


Senator RHIANNON: In your view, were they contacted by the US? Was there a threat to withdraw aid—considering that was being spoken about?


Mr Neuhaus : I’m sure they were contacted by the US—I mean, the US was lobbying on this issue. I’m unable to comment as to any threats with regard to aid. I’m not aware of them.

Link to full Hansard transcript.