By Andrew Tillett
Israel’s top diplomat in Australia has rejected suggestions its air strikes on Gaza will jeopardise a potential trade and investment deal, as he blamed Palestinian group Hamas for civilian casualties.
With Israel ruling out an immediate ceasefire, interim Israeli ambassador Jonathan Peled denied his government had reacted with disproportionate force. The latest outbreak of violence has resulted in the deaths of almost 200 Palestinians and 10 Israeli citizens.
”What is disproportionate is over 3000 rockets being launched into Israel, having 5 million Israelis in bomb shelters when a few hundred terrorists are terrorising their own people and Israel at the same time. That is disproportionate,” he told The Australian Financial Review.
“We are saddened by this loss of life. But it is very easy to criticise Israel, a democracy which is open to international scrutiny and law and order, with a terrorist organisation that doesn’t have to report to anybody and has disrespect for human life.
“This is a harrowing situation for Israelis but we have no other choice really but to defeat Hamas. Defeating Hamas is not in Israelis’ interest, it’s in the interest of the Palestinians whose cause they’ve hijacked, of the Arab countries in the region and of everyone because they understand this is a terror organisation not interested in peace or negotiation.”
Australia and Israel have launched a feasibility study on developing closer economic ties, including a potential free trade agreement, which is due for completion by June 30.
But pro-Palestinian groups are calling for talks and any deal to be shelved in light of the latest conflict.
Australia Palestine Advocacy Network vice-president Nasser Mashni contrasted Australia’s criticism of China on human rights matters with the lack of condemnation of Israel.
At a time when the whole world is calling for an immediate halt, Australia shouldn’t be doing business with Israel.
— Nasser Mashni, vice-president, Australia Palestine Advocacy Network
Mr Mashni claimed Israel was now bombing the roads leading to Gaza’s main hospital.
“We’re jumping up and down about the Uighurs and Hong Kong, as we should, but what we are silent on is Israel’s continued occupation. We’re saying nothing about 2 million Palestinians caged in densely,” he said.
“At a time when the whole world is calling for an immediate halt, Australia shouldn’t be doing business with Israel.”
Mr Mashni seized on recent reports that an Israeli weapons manufacturer, Elbit, has had its battle management system removed from Australian army vehicles because of alarm over a potential software backdoor to also urge a boycott of Israeli defence products.
“We shouldn’t be doing anything with Elbit, which markets its products as battle tested. Battle tested means what we are seeing on our screen now: bombing buildings, killing kids,” he said.
With Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying Israel had a right to self-defence, Mr Peled said it was “ridiculous” to suggest trade and investment talks should be put on hold.
“I don’t believe the bilateral relationship between Israel and Australia, which is an excellent one, has to be in any way affected by Israel’s current war against terror,” he said.
“I don’t see any connection between these issues and I disregard them totally.”
Mr Peled said Israel had been taken a bit by surprise by the sophistication of Hamas’ arms, saying it was a full-fledged army but was “using their own people as human shields” by locating its forces in built-up urban areas.
Mr Peled said Israel had to do the “dirty job” of attacking Hamas terrorists and would do so until the country achieved a “sustainable peace and quiet”.
“A ceasefire is not enough,” he said.
Palestine’s ambassador to Australia, Izzat Abdulhadi, said any trade or investment agreement with Israel must include a human rights clause, allowing Australia to suspend the deal and impose sanctions against Israel for human rights breaches.
Mr Abdulhadi accused Israel of using excessive force in Gaza and said its criticism of Hamas for using human shields was being abused as a “licence to kill” innocent civilians.
“I don’t think self-defence includes killing more than 60 children and 40 women and other innocents,” he said.
“I don’t think self-defence includes bombarding big towers and media outlets. Targeting houses of people is also not self-defence.”
Mr Abdulhadi, who met government officials on Monday, urged the Morrison government to contribute to the peace process by immediately recognising the state of Palestine.