By Gabrielle Chan
Opposition leader suggested only ‘some settlement’ was illegal, a shift in Labor’s position
Bishop George Browning has written to Bill Shorten calling on him to clarify Labor policy on Israeli settlements in the West Bank after the opposition leader suggested to the Zionist Federation that only “some settlement activity” was illegal.
“If accurate, these comments would amount to a serious distortion of traditional Australian policy on settlements, most notably the ALP’s clear condemnation of the practice of all settlement building on Palestinian land as illegal,” wrote Browning, the president of the Australian Palestine Advocacy Network.
“Your comments could be taken as suggesting that only settlements illegal under Israeli law need be curtailed, implying that this leaves all officially funded and sanctioned activity (by far the great bulk of the population transfer into occupied territory) as not to be questioned.”
Shorten addressed the issue of Israeli settlements in a broader speech about changes to the Racial Discrimination Act.
“We do acknowledge that some settlement activity in the West Bank is illegal under Israeli law and we encourage the Israeli authorities to act effectively with respect to this,” Shorten said on Sunday.
“The issue of Israeli settlements will be definitively concluded when there is a peace treaty, with defined borders – and then everyone knows the territory that Israel has, and that Palestine has.
“So the real answer to the settlements is to reach a settlement. And the sooner that is done the better.”
Shorten’s comments reflect a shift in Labor’s position. In 2009, then foreign minister Stephen Smith outlined Labor’s position.
“The government’s position is that Israel needs to freeze all settlement activity,’’ he said. “This is one of Israel’s obligations under the roadmap for Middle East peace.”
Browning said Shorten’s comments were “even more concerning” than those of the foreign minister, Julie Bishop, who suggested that settlements might not be inconsistent with international law.
Australia now abstains on whether the Palestinian territories should be subject to the Geneva conventions and on defining Israeli annexation of land in the occupied territories as in breach of international law. Under both previous prime ministers Australia had upheld the general assembly resolutions.
“I hope this is not an accurate statement of the ALP’s position under your leadership and that of shadow minister Tanya Plibersek, and would be grateful for clarification of the ALP’s position,” Browning wrote to Shorten.
Shorten’s office has been contacted for comment.