Senator Richard Di Natale – Estimates question about US embassy move and settlements

photo of Senator Richard Di Natale
October 25, 2018

Questioned US and Australian decisions regarding embassy locations and representations made to Israel on the issue of settlement expansion.

Secretary, can you tell me what’s changed regarding the situation in Israel-Palestine since your recent comments that the US decision to move its embassy had ‘not been helpful’ and ‘makes a very, very difficult process even harder’?

Whole interaction with Ms HK Yu (First Assistant Secretary, Middle East and Africa Division), Ms Frances Adamson (Secretary, DFAT) and Senator Marise Payne (Minister for Foreign Affairs) during Senate Estimates (Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Foreign Affairs and Trade Portfolio).

Senator DI NATALE: Secretary, can you tell me what’s changed regarding the situation in Israel-Palestine since your recent comments that the US decision to move its embassy had ‘not been helpful’ and ‘makes a very, very difficult process even harder’?

 

Ms Adamson : What has changed is that the government has decided to review Australia’s position.

 

Senator DI NATALE: But your comments still stand?

 

Ms Adamson : My comments were made in relation to the US decision. I was asked a particular question in an interview and I gave a response that the move had not been helpful to the Middle East peace process. In relation to the location of Australia’s embassy, I answered a question which was consistent with the Australian policy under the previous Prime Minister.

 

Senator DI NATALE: Does it remain your view?

 

Ms Adamson : In relation to which particular aspect? There are two—

 

Senator DI NATALE: Both.

 

Ms Adamson : It’s fair to say that the peace process has long been in a period where there’s been no significant progress; that is the first thing to say. Therefore no action that has been taken could be regarded as helpful to that process because it has been in a period of stasis.

 

Senator DI NATALE: Does it remain your view that the US decision, and, indeed, as a corollary to that, Australia’s decision to move its embassy, is not helpful and makes a difficult process harder?

 

Ms Adamson : In relation to the peace process, there’s probably a need for a broader discussion about it. Certainly, there have been some developments, or at least some thinking within the US administration in relation to that, which has not yet been announced or made public. That is really the focus of the process rather than the location of embassies.

 

Senator DI NATALE: I don’t have much time. You made a very clear comment about your view in relation to the relocation of the US embassy—that it was not helpful. I’ve asked you now on a number of occasions: does it remain your view?

 

Ms Adamson : I was asked a question about whether the move of the US embassy was counterproductive to the situation in the Middle East, and I said it had not been helpful. That was back in June.

 

Senator DI NATALE: Does it remain your view?

 

Ms Adamson : There has been no change to my assessment of the move of the embassy. I said it had not been helpful. It had not assisted the process, but I made—

 

Senator DI NATALE: You also said that ‘it makes a very difficult process even harder’. Does that remain your view?

 

Ms Adamson : There is no doubt whatsoever that the peace process has long been a very difficult process.

 

Senator DI NATALE: Does the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem make a difficult process even harder? It’s a very simple question.

 

Ms Adamson : Yes, Senator—

 

Senator DI NATALE: You’re being very evasive and I’ve asked you a very straightforward question.

 

CHAIR: Ask the question.

 

Senator DI NATALE: Does it remain your view?

 

Ms Adamson : It remains my view that the peace process is very difficult and that the embassy move has not assisted the peace process.

 

Senator DI NATALE: Does it make it even harder?

 

Ms Adamson : That’s really a judgement currently for peace process negotiators, and Australia is not directly involved in that role. I would not now reiterate that view in exactly the same way.

 

Senator DI NATALE: How does it advance the likelihood of achieving a two-state solution?

 

Ms Adamson : I am sorry, Senator; how does what—

 

Senator DI NATALE: How does the relocation of the Australian Embassy to Jerusalem—

 

Ms Adamson : That’s a hypothetical question.

 

CHAIR: It is only part of the policy.

 

Senator Payne: The government has announced a review—

 

Senator DI NATALE: The government has announced it is considering it. It is an entirely appropriate question when the government announces it is considering relocating its embassy to Jerusalem.

 

Senator Payne: It is a matter for review, Senator.

 

Senator DI NATALE: I’m asking a very straightforward question: how does that advance the likelihood of achieving a two-state solution?

 

Ms Adamson : The government has announced a review. We will have input into that review, obviously, as will a range of other stakeholders.

 

CHAIR: Is it not the case that the totality of the announcement of the review was not only considering recognising west Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but also recognising east Jerusalem as the potential capital of a Palestinian state?

 

Senator Payne: As I said, Senator, when you raised that earlier, that is clearly stated in the Prime Minister’s joint media release of 16 October.

 

Senator DI NATALE: Can I take it that the government has recently privately condemned settlement activity, Minister?

 

Senator Payne: The government has raised its concerns with Israel in relation to settlement activity, as I indicated to you in the chamber recently, and we do so in our engagements with them.

 

Senator DI NATALE: Can you detail when and how those criticisms were made?

 

Senator Payne: I’ll take that on notice. Actually, I can tell you that the previous minister raised it earlier this year. It has also been raised directly with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I will get the finer details of that; or HK Yu, who is here, can add to that.

 

Ms Yu : Yes, there have been a number of representations made by the Australian government with regard to the settlement issues. I’m happy to go through a number of interventions that we’ve made, if that would be helpful to you, Senator.

 

Senator DI NATALE: Given that we’ve got restricted time, I’ll get you to take those on notice.

 

Ms Yu : Sure.

 

Senator DI NATALE: If you could provide those on notice, we’d all appreciate it. Ms Adamson, are you concerned about the message that we’re sending regarding the continued breaching of international law through illegal settlement construction by the consideration given to the relocation of the Australian Embassy to Jerusalem?

 

Ms Adamson : No, Senator.

 

Senator DI NATALE: You don’t believe it makes a very difficult process even harder?

 

Ms Adamson : You asked whether I was concerned about the impact of settlement activity.

 

Senator DI NATALE: The message we’re sending as a result of the relocation of the embassy.

 

Ms Adamson : We continue to make representations on the settlements issue.

 

Senator DI NATALE: Are you concerned it is being seen as a tacit endorsement of that breach of international law—the relocation of the embassy?

 

Ms Adamson : No.

Link to full Hansard transcript.

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