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Tuesday, 16 June 1992
Page: 3644

Senator ARCHER —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. Would the Minister explain to the Senate how his intervention in the Middle East and his continuing attacks on Israel, firstly, will assist the Middle East peace process and, secondly, will advance the Australian interests; or is this just another demonstration of the same naivety which led him to believe that he could rely on the good faith of the murderous Khmer Rouge in Cambodia?

Senator GARETH EVANS —It is not a matter of making an attack on anybody; it is a matter of trying to make a constructive contribution from where we stand and with the relationships we have to what is a deeply and seriously intractable problem. I think the situation is best understood in the context in which I described it in a TV interview a couple of days ago when I said that the context, in a nutshell, against which I said what I did was as follows. In the first place we are acutely conscious, as we always have been, of the very great and grave security problems that Israel faces—both external and internal—and the need for Israel to have long term guarantees about that security situation.

  Secondly, we argue—and I think the rest of the world agrees with us in this respect; indeed, there is a common, united position on this—that the present peace process that is under way is the best possible way, and probably the only way, of guaranteeing that kind of secure future for Israel. We argue, thirdly—and I think not naively in this respect—that there is a constituency for such a peace settlement within the neighbouring Arab countries and within the Palestinian community that has never previously existed. It is a function of lapse of time; it is a function of the end of the Cold War and the realignment of international relationships as a result of that; it is a function, in particular, of the outcome of the Gulf war and the dynamics that have been operating in the region since then. We argue further in that context—and I put this point in Israel—that it is tremendously important that every nation in the region do everything possible within its power to assist that particular peace process and not undermine it or set obstacles to it.

  We are concerned, as a great many other countries around the world are concerned—and I can vouch for that on the basis of very direct conversations with some very key Foreign Ministers in that respect—with the continued, very active program of settlement building not just in East Jerusalem but in many other locations on the West Bank and indeed Gaza; with the policy that is being implemented in the West Bank and Gaza; and with these combined with the kind of approach that Israel has adopted across the conference table. The third mentioned of those things is probably less significant than the other two in the particular timing context we are talking about, with the Israeli elections and so on, but the combination of those three factors has been formidable. And there is a very real prospect, in my judgment and in the judgment of a great many other people around the world, that the peace process will collapse if those obstacles are maintained in the way that is the case at the moment. The fragile constituency of moderates within the Arab nations and within the Palestinian community—both within Israel and in the Occupied Territories and beyond—simply cannot be held together if that present conjunction of policy attitudes continues.

  I know it is not always popular to say things like this, to say things directly and frankly, even to a country with which we have the kind of relationship that we have had traditionally with Israel. But I want to say in this respect that I really do think it is a little unfortunate, and represents short memory on the part of a number of people, to suggest that, in making these points and making them in the way that I did in the Middle East, this represents either any serious backsliding in terms of the friendly relationship that Australia has with Israel, or any falling short in terms of my own commitment to the position of Israel.

  One of my most treasured possessions, on my mantelpiece at home in Melbourne, is a piece of early Roman glass in a case with the following inscription on it: `Presented to Senator Gareth Evans for his outstanding contribution to the campaign to rescind United Nations resolution 3379'. The inscription records that this was in the presence of the Israeli Ambassador and the Chairman of the World Zionist Organisation and is signed `Mark Leibler, President of the Zionist Federation of Australia'. I have also very carefully filed at home—along with a number of other letters to similar effect from people like Leslie Caplan, the head of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry; Shimon Peres in Israel; Isi Leibler himself—a letter from Mr Yitzhak Shamir, to the effect—

Senator Walters —Mr President, I raise a point of order. I ask the Minister whether he would like me to recite a few letters that I have received back home, too. It might put it in perspective.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Walters knows that is not a point of order.

Senator GARETH EVANS —If Senator Walters has a letter like this from Yitzhak Shamir, I would be only too delighted to see her table it in Parliament. In reference to my and Australia's role in diplomatically working for the rescission of the `Zionism is racism' resolution, he used the following language:

It took 16 years for the blot—

he is referring to the `Zionism is racism' resolution—

to be removed from the record of the United Nations.

  Throughout those years, few governments and a few individuals made valiant and consistent efforts to achieve the repeal. I take this opportunity of thanking you personally and the Australian Government for all you did in this regard.

Senator Crichton-Browne —Mr President, I raise a point of order. Should apologies and personal explanations be made after Question Time or during Question Time?

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. Senator Evans, it is becoming a very long answer.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I would just like to finish by saying that, among many such exchanges I have had in recent years with various members of the Jewish leadership in Australia, I treasure in particular the following words that were put on the public record from Mark Leibler in Melbourne in 1988 when responding to something I had earlier said critically about the situation in the Occupied Territories and about the position of the PLO. He said:

Gareth, you make the point that true friendship both requires and accommodates frankness. I agree, and trust that my response to some of your remarks will be accepted in the same spirit.

I make that point because there has been a long tradition of robust and lively debate in the Jewish community in Australia, and between the Jewish community and the Australian Government, over many years. The commitment of this Government to the situation in Israel, to the peace process, to the survival of Israel and to the position of the Jewish community is absolutely unqualified and undiminished. I hope that some of the robust political debate that has been taking place recently, and some of the opportunism of the Opposition in this respect, will not conceal that fact.

Senator ARCHER —Mr President, I have a supplementary question. I did ask how this will advance Australian interests. That seems to have escaped Senator Evans. I am prepared to concede that his visit was not for anything other than his own self-gratification, but how will it advance Australian interests?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The interests of every country in the world are affected by the course of events in the Middle East. That was very clear in the response that the Opposition and others made to the emerging situation in the Gulf War. There is an intractable interconnection in all the various complex issues that are running in the Middle East, and the future course of the peace process and the implications of what flows from it are of immense relevance not only to the immediate situation of the people in those countries, and the region as a whole, but indeed to the whole world. There is no doubt that the countries in that region believe that that is so because of the very active way they pursue diplomatically the support of other nations all around the world for the particular issues that are constantly being debated in this context in the United Nations. It is an absolute nonsense to suggest that Australia has no interest in the outcome of these particular issues. If people felt that, I would be very grateful if they ceased to besiege me, from both sides of the fence, with representations constantly to take positions diplomatically, in the UN and elsewhere, on just these issues that we are talking about. People cannot have it both ways.