Questioned Australia’s support for a two-state solution and its failure to condemn settlement expansion in the West Bank.
Does the Australian government still support a two-state solution between Australia and Palestine? Why then is the Australian government refusing to line up with the overwhelming international consensus and strongly condemn Israel’s settlement building program, which has accelerated in recent months?
Whole interaction with Senator George Brandis (Attorney-General) and Mr Marc Innes-Brown (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 LUDLAM: Thank you. I might come back to this if there is time. I am just aware that the clock is running down. Again, through you if you like, Attorney, does the Australian government still support a two-state solution between Australia and Palestine?
Senator Brandis: Yes.
Senator LUDLAM: Thank you. The clarity is appreciated. Why then is the Australian government refusing to line up with the overwhelming international consensus and strongly condemn Israel’s settlement building program, which has accelerated in recent months?
Senator Brandis: I will let the relevant official respond in detail but might I just make the observation that Australia makes its own decisions in relation to foreign policy informed by its own considerations. The fact that, as you say, there is an overwhelming international consensus, there is certainly a strong majority of countries in the United Nations who take a view at variance from the view Australia took late last year, but Australia takes its own view, for reasons that Mr Innes-Brown will expand upon with particularity.
Mr Innes-Brown : We are concerned about settlement announcements and we have raised them at various occasions in various fora. We are concerned. Our policy position has always been that we are concerned about unilateral actions that jeopardise the peace process.
Senator LUDLAM: Such as that?
Mr Innes-Brown : Yes, that is one example but there is a range of others as well.
Senator LUDLAM: Yes, there is. Was that issue raised by the Prime Minister in his bilateral communications with the Israeli Prime Minister a week or so ago?
Mr Innes-Brown : I understand the subject was raised during the visit, yes.
Senator LUDLAM: What about the subject of the regularisation bill which effectively retrospectively legalised the theft of land from the people of Palestine? Was that raised with the Prime Minister?
Mr Innes-Brown : I am not aware that that particular issue was raised.
Senator Brandis: Nor do we accept your rather tendentious characterisation of the events, but you are entitled to your view, of course.
Senator LUDLAM: I appreciate that. Can you tell me something about the recent embassy workshop in Tel Aviv at which the subject was, as I understand it, the trends, challenges and scenarios on Israel’s northern border? I understand that this workshop was conducted with the Israel Project. Is that correct?
Mr Innes-Brown : My information is that if you are referring to the round tables with what was called the Israel Foundation, I think they are the same thing. My understanding is there was a discussion about the security challenges facing Israel’s northern border or northern area.
Senator LUDLAM: It says here that it is a project but let us assume that you right. You are closer to this than I am. This organisation is a supporter of the Australian government settlement building; is that correct?
Mr Innes-Brown : I have asked that question but I am advised that the organisation is not currently pro settlement. It is actually considered to be a non-partisan NGO.
Senator LUDLAM: Just in the interests of time, I would appreciate if you are able to table any documentary evidence that would have helped you form that view. How much money did DFAT pay this organisation?
Mr Innes-Brown : I will have to take that on notice. I do not believe we paid them any money.
Senator LUDLAM: Again, if that could be taken on notice.