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Thursday, 20 March 2003
Page: 13225

Mr ROSS CAMERON (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Family and Community Services) (1:05 PM) —I was interested to see some remarks by the Minister for Small Business and Tourism published today. Yesterday at the National Press Club, the minister said that what had eventually persuaded him to join in support of the coalition of the willing were the prospects it provided for a solution to the problem of peace in the Middle East. It was also his view that it created the renewed potential for the achievement of a Palestinian state. It is true that one of the issues cited as a reason for the invasion of Iraq is the support for terrorism by the Iraqi administration. The most indisputable proof of that support is Saddam Hussein's famously self-publicised support of $US25,000 cash for the families of suicide bombers in Palestine.

I want to say as the chair of the Australia-Palestine parliamentary group that I have a profound sympathy with the cause of the Palestinian people, yet I have no instinctive hostility to the cause and the legitimate aspirations of the Jewish people in Israel. Clearly though, one of the outstanding tasks for this generation of public leaders around the world is to achieve a resolution to this problem. There can be no doubt that the seething sense of injustice that the failure to resolve the Palestinian question has caused, throughout the Middle East in particular but in other places around the world, blows wind into the sails of those who are tempted by the route of political terror. For all of us who would aspire to the title of humanitarian, however well or poorly we meet that aspiration, we have to dedicate our creativity, our resources and our energy to finding a resolution to this problem.

Can I express my deep disappointment that the Sharon government seems to be walking further and further away from the table of negotiation and from the path of genuine movement towards peace. There has been an apparently unilateral decision to reject any road map to peace that may come from the US administration. On the Israeli side, there has apparently been a stepping back from the idea of a sovereign state for the Palestinians as the objective of a peace process to something less. At the same time, we have had conciliatory moves from the Palestinians including, for the first time, a voluntary initiative towards greater power sharing by the senior leadership of the Palestinian cause—which has certainly been welcomed by the international community. While I am supporting my government's commitment to the so-called coalition of the willing, I want to make it clear that it represents no diminution of our commitment to the satisfaction of the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to a secure homeland—in fact, it represents an increase in our commitment. It is possible that the establishment of a democratic government, besides Israel, in the Middle East, will actually strengthen the hand of the Palestinians. That is certainly my hope.

Finally, the most demoralising aspect for me of the performance by the Israeli government has been the support for continued housing settlements in the occupied territories. If there is to be peace in the Middle East, it will be based on the creation of a viable Palestinian state. If that state is to be viable, it cannot be honeycombed by Jewish settlements throughout the Palestinian territories. I urge the government of Israel to communicate a message of hope to the world by taking a much more constructive and proactive approach towards the road map to peace by withdrawing the settlements and by restoring the objective of a sovereign Palestinian state as the goal of the peace process.