home       biography       publications       speeches       organisations       images       @contact

Australia hinders progress in Middle East peace process

With Bob Carr in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, 8 June 2014    

Australia’s new policy of refusing to describe East Jerusalem as “occupied”, confirmed by a statement made by Attorney-General George Brandis in consultation with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, will not be helpful to Australia’s reputation, the peace process or Israel itself.

The Abbott government’s new position shatters what has been for nearly 50 years a completely bipartisan position. Neither Fraser and Peacock, nor Howard and Downer either adopted or even explored taking a similar stance. And for very good reason.

East Jerusalem was occupied by Israel in 1967. No other state – not even the US – describes the situation in any other terms. There are multiple Security Council resolutions rejecting Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem. The International Court of Justice in 2004 declared not only that the West Bank was occupied but that this was illegal. The court made no distinction between East Jerusalem and other parts of the Palestinian territories.

If East Jerusalem is not to be referred to as “occupied”, why not Nablus or Bethlehem? If  the Australian government can say “occupied East Jerusalem” is fraught with “pejorative implications” what is to stop Ms Bishop applying this to the occupied West Bank as a whole? It is a short step away for the Coalition government to declare that all the West Bank, with its population of more than 2 million Arabs, is no more than a “disputed" territory. 

The government’s statement follows Julie Bishop’s earlier break from bipartisan consensus when she said in Israel in January that she’d like to see which international law has declared Israel’s settlements illegal. The answer is that there is overwhelming international consensus that Israel is in clear breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, specifically Article 49, paragraph 6, which states that  “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”.  

Even within Israel, there is distinguished support for that view. Then-legal counsel to the Foreign Ministry and now a leading international judge, Theodore Meron, told Prime Minister Eshkol at the start of the occupation in 1967 that settlements would be illegal, and he adheres to this advice today.

Four leading Israeli lawyers, including former attorney-general Michael Ben-Yair, wrote to Ms Bishop restating the international legal consensus. They said they viewed with deep concern the Foreign Minister’s comments on settlements. So did a number of other eminent Israelis, including four winners of the Israel Prize, the country’s most prestigious award.

None of this means that it is neither desirable nor possible to negotiate a peace settlement in which some of the Palestinian territory now occupied and illegally settled by Israel is recognised as part of Israel, in return for Israel giving up an equivalent land area in return. Every realistic two-state formula envisages some territory swaps.

The successive statements of the Abbott government reinforce the annexationists and rejectionists within the Israeli government, who are now engaged in a torrent of further settlement building, and are utterly unhelpful in creating an environment in which the peace talks that US Secretary of State John Kerry has tried so hard to kick start can resume.

Israeli realists know that indefinite occupation of the West Bank will degrade their own country, maintaining its Jewish identity only at the price of compromising its democracy. As former prime minister Ehud Barak put it so clearly: “As long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel, it is going to be either non-Jewish or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”

In March this year US casino owner and mega-donor to the Republican Party Sheldon Adelson hosted a gathering of what is known as the Republican Jewish Coalition, an opportunity for presidential candidates to strut their wares.

When New Jersey Governor Chris Christie referred to visiting Israel and flying over "the occupied territories", he was immediately upbraided by Adelson and required to issue a clarification. Tea Party Republican orthodoxy prohibits reference to occupation:  "occupied territories" are now “disputed" only.

This has never been the American position under any Democrat or Republican president. It should not be the Australian one.


This article can also be accessed at http://www.theage.com.au/comment/australia-hinders-progress-in-middle-east-peace-process-20140608-zs15x.html#ixzz34IalqbCu