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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 10281

Ms PARKE (3:19 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Will the minister report on his recent visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories? What is the government’s approach to the Middle East peace process?

Mr STEPHEN SMITH (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the member for Fremantle for her question and for her support of the Middle East peace process. Since the House last met, on 28 October I visited Israel and the Palestinian territories. The objective of the visit to Israel was, firstly, to relay to the Israeli government congratulations on behalf of Australia on the 60th anniversary of the independence of Israel, of the creation of the Israeli state. The second purpose was to underline Australia’s very strong support of a two-nation-state solution to the Middle East—a nation-state for Israel within defined and secure boundaries and borders and a nation-state for the Palestinian people.

In Jerusalem I had the opportunity of meeting with Prime Minister Olmert, Foreign Minister Livni and Opposition Leader Netanyahu and I had the privilege of laying a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. In the Palestinian territories I met with Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister al-Maliki, visited the Kalandia refugee camp in the Palestinian territories and also announced the final allocation of the $45 million announced by Australia at the Paris Donors Conference to support the Palestinian territories and humanitarian assistance in the Palestinian territories. Of the final $10 million allocation, $7.5 million will be ascribed to the Palestinian Authority for capacity and institution building and $2.5 million for further humanitarian assistance.

Whilst much of my time in the Palestinian territories and Israel was spent discussing the Middle East peace process, I think it is true to say that the issue uppermost in the minds of the Israeli leadership is Iranian nuclear activity. In this respect, Australia’s recent adoption of autonomous sanctions so far as Iran and its nuclear program is concerned was very warmly welcomed by the Israeli government and the Israeli leadership.

So far as the Middle East peace process is concerned, I underlined very strongly to both the Israeli leadership and the Palestinian Authority Australia’s very strong support for a two-nation-state solution, the Annapolis process, the 2002 road map for peace process and the 2007 Annapolis initiative commenced under the Bush administration in November 2007.

In that context, I warmly welcome the statement overnight by the so-called Middle East quartet, comprising the United Nations, the European Union, the Russian Federation and the United States. The quartet have reported that President Abbas and Foreign Minister Livni reaffirmed their commitment to ‘vigorous, ongoing and continuous negotiations in order to conclude a peace treaty resolving all outstanding issues, including all core issues without exception’.

As the quartet emphasised on the weekend, both sides must abide by their road map obligations to create an atmosphere conducive to negotiations. Over the weekend the quartet also reiterated that both parties must:

… fully implement their obligations under phase one of the Roadmap, including in relation to freezing settlement activity and the dismantlement of the infrastructure of terrorism.

The Australian government very strongly shares this sentiment, as we share the sentiment expressed by Secretary of State Rice on more than one occasion in the course of this year that, ‘at a time when we need to build confidence between the parties, the continued building and settlement activity has the potential to harm the negotiations going forward’.

Both parties need to abide by their obligations under the 2002 road map for peace and not do anything which disturbs or jeopardises the Annapolis peace process: peace and security, non-use of force and terrorist activities insofar as the Palestinian territories are concerned and settlement activity insofar as the Israeli side is concerned.

I take this opportunity to update the House on resolutions dealt with before the United Nations General Assembly fourth committee on Friday night and Saturday morning. The General Assembly fourth committee dealt with nine resolutions relating to the Middle East. In respect of these nine resolutions, the Australian government instructed our representative to the United Nations to change Australia’s vote from the previous voting habits of the last few years on two occasions. It is important to make the point to the House that, when it comes to General Assembly resolutions, the government adopts the following approach. Firstly, we treat these resolutions on a case-by-case basis and consider them on their merits. Secondly, we consider these resolutions firmly within the context of our very strong adherence to our support for a two-nation-state solution and our support of the peace process. If the resolutions are consistent with that approach then we support them.

In 2003 the General Assembly made a reference to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion on the legality of the construction of the Israeli security barrier. Since that time, the Australian voting practice changed on a number of significant resolutions, including, for example, the resolution on settlements. The Australian government has come to the view that, whilst the reference by the General Assembly to the International Court of Justice was not supported by the Australian government or by the opposition at the time, and whilst we regard—as the previous government did—that advisory opinion as an advisory opinion and not a binding opinion, we will not oppose a resolution in the General Assembly on the Middle East simply because it refers to that advisory opinion. That is the case as far as the resolution on settlements is concerned where, on behalf of the government, I instructed our permanent representative to the United Nations to change Australia’s vote to support the resolution as far as settlements were concerned because this was consistent with our approach for a two-nation-state solution, our support for the road map for peace and the Annapolis process.

In doing so on that and on the second resolution on which I instructed a change in the Australian voting position, regarding the Geneva convention, Australia joined another 160 nation-states in support of those two resolutions as compared with two-nation-states who abstained and six who opposed. In that context, we joined the overwhelming majority of the international community. It is not necessarily about the quantity; we also need to look at where some of our longstanding, like minded colleagues are. In support of the settlements resolution we find the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and the European Union. It is not so much the number of nation-states; it is whether these resolutions sit squarely within the Australian government’s policy. Australia’s longstanding policy on a two-nation-state solution for the Middle East and support for the road map for peace and the Annapolis process was in every respect consistent with the nine resolutions voted on by the General Assembly on Friday night and Saturday morning.

This is not just a government view; this is a longstanding Australian position shared by both sides of the House. This government will do nothing to jeopardise our longstanding public policy and foreign policy commitment to a two-nation-state solution for the Middle East and our very strong support of the road map for peace and the Annapolis peace process.