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Tuesday, 13 May 2008
Page: 1561

Senator TROOD (8:02 PM) —As many senators would be aware, this month we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the birth of the state of Israel. This is a special occasion not only for Israel but also for the very close relationship it has established with Australia. Israel is the only state so far to be created by the United Nations. This occurred at a time when an Australian occupied the presidency of the General Assembly, and it gave us a unique opportunity to be one of the first countries to step forward and show our support for the creation of the new Jewish state.

All these decades on, Israel stands as a bulwark of democracy in the Middle East and an enduring symbol of courage and determination in the face of daily security threats and extreme geopolitical adversity. Indeed, Israel’s history has been characterised by challenges, by conflict and by a struggle to survive in a sea of regional turbulence and tension. Upon its establishment in 1948, Israel was soon invaded by surrounding states. It has remained under direct threat from many of its neighbours for much of its history.

Following this inauspicious beginning, the first decades of Israel’s nationhood saw a fragile peace interspersed with conflict. The new state provided a safe haven for Jewish people from around the world, among them the disempowered survivors of the Second World War. To many, Israel represented a place of safety from oppression and exclusion and the opportunity to build a life in a free and enterprising new society. Over the last 60 years, Israel’s population has grown from a mere 200,000 people to almost seven million.

Despite its unsettled beginnings, Israel’s economy grew quickly. In the early days, its unique kibbutz system allowed for the growth of a strong agriculture industry on land that for many years had been considered infertile. As the decades progressed, Israel’s economy developed rapidly, particularly its technology sector and its educational institutions. The result is an economy which has became one of the most technologically intensive and innovative of any around the world.

In relation to demography, the diverse mix of national backgrounds that makes up Israel’s population has led to a rich and diverse cultural life and allowed Israel to boast many world-class writers, composers, playwrights, dance groups and orchestras.

Regrettably, today, as at the time of its birth, Israel sits in the heart of an unstable and uncertain Middle East. While it offers a stable and energetic model of democracy for the region, sadly it is not one that to date has been emulated. Israel is yet to secure an enduring peace with its neighbours behind secure borders. Despite all efforts to resolve the complex issues involved, several factors prevent any meaningful resolution. Not least, the peace process is hampered by divisions among the Palestinians. Fatah is perhaps less corrupt and politically incompetent than was once the case, but it remains ‘a thin reed’ on which to build regional peace. Another major obstacle to peace is the militant and extremist nature of Hamas. Despite having won the 2006 Palestinian elections, this hardline extremist group continues to prosecute the destruction of Israel and, as a result, cannot make any substantive or constructive contributions to the peace process. The contrast between the two sides could not be more obvious. While Israel has strong representative institutions, the Palestinian people do not, and they have been ill-served by those who purport to speak for them.

Australia shares Israel’s earnest desire for a just and secure peace. It is one of the many things that have bound our two countries together over the last 60 years. We have been a close friend and ally of Israel throughout this period and we have developed deep political, economic and cultural relationships. Both countries share a strong belief in the principles of democracy and the rule of law. We also share the experience of welcoming a diverse range of peoples and cultures to our respective countries.

Trade is also an integral part of the Australia-Israel connection. From small beginnings, Australia and Israel have developed a wide-ranging trade relationship. In the early 1970s, trade between the two countries totalled only $10 million. In the last financial year, it reached over $800 million, and it continues to grow. The exchange of ideas is another important aspect of Australia’s relationship with Israel. As a result of strong bilateral business networks, Australia has been able to share in Israel’s advanced technology and IT industries, as well as its education and training services sector. Under Operation Paladin, Australia’s defence forces work closely with Israel and other regional partners as a part of the United Nations’ Truce Supervision Organisation. Australia has supported this operation since 1956.

In 2002, the Howard government established the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange. The exchange fosters cultural links and embraces the full range of the cultural diversity of both countries, promoting Australian culture in Israel and Israeli culture in Australia. Today, Australia is also the home of a strong, active and growing Jewish community of around 120,000 people. This makes Australia the 10th largest Jewish community in the world. Australia continues to foster this connection by encouraging Jewish students to come to Australia through a range of scholarships and the active promotion of our university sector.

On this auspicious occasion, I would like to take this opportunity to wish Israel all the best for its 60 year anniversary celebrations. I wish Israelis well for their next 60 years, and for many years beyond. I express the hope that the new American peace initiative may bear fruit and lead to a stable peace between Israel and its neighbours. I look forward to the close relationship between Australia and Israel remaining strong and continuing to grow closer as the years go on.