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Thursday, 13 May 2021
Page: 2698

Middle East


Senator RICE (VictoriaDeputy Australian Greens Whip) (15:13): My question is to the minister representing the foreign minister, who I understand is Minister Birmingham. Minister, in recent weeks violence has engulfed Israel and Palestine following the threatened evictions of Palestinian families from East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and restrictions on and violence against worshippers at al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan. In the last few days the violence has escalated and resulted in the deaths of 67 Palestinians and seven Israelis so far. Minister, do you agree that this latest devastating outbreak of violence stems from the unlawful and unjust occupation of Palestine by the Israeli government? Isn't ending the occupation the best way to end the violence?


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Finance, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (15:14): Our government is deeply concerned by escalating violence in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. We unequivocally call on all leaders to take immediate steps to halt violence, to maintain restraint and to restore calm. We also call on parties to refrain from unilateral actions that destabilise peace. The focus of all parties should be to return to genuine discussions as soon as possible. Australia has for many years supported a two-state solution, and this has not changed. We continue to welcome any initiative that can assist the resumption of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. We encourage the representatives of Israel and Palestinian representatives to enter into good faith negotiations and discussions.

In relation to issues of settlements, the foreign minister issued a statement on 1 July 2020 urging all parties to refrain from actions that diminish the prospects of a negotiated two-state solution, including acts of violence and terrorism, such as rocket attacks on civilians, and land appropriations, demolitions and settlement activity. Australia regularly raise our position about settlement activity with Israeli authorities. Indeed, the Prime Minister and Minister Payne have both done so. The Prime Minister has already said that settlements can at times undermine peace and contribute to the stalemate, and that indeed is why the government continues to urge parties to engage appropriately in discussions.

Senator Rice: A point of order on direct relevance. I've been listening very closely to the minister, and my question was very specific: isn't ending the occupation the best way to end the violence?

The PRESIDENT: With respect, Senator Rice, I think the minister was being directly relevant, given there was a preamble as well. I will ask the minister to continue.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: I have stated the government's position and also stated in that regard the advocacy the government continues to make to Israel and to representatives of the Palestinian people.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Rice, a supplementary question?




Senator RICE (VictoriaDeputy Australian Greens Whip) (15:17): Thank you, Minister. Foreign Minister Payne's statement yesterday called for a halt to actions that increase tensions, including land appropriations, forced evictions, demolitions and settlement activity. Do you agree that these actions undermine progress towards a two-state solution, and can you confirm that the Australian government recognises that settlements in occupied Palestine are illegal under international law?


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Finance, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (15:17): We urge all that are involved in the current chain of violent events across Israel, Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank to cease provocations, to maintain restraint, to de-escalate the current exchange of fire and to halt the violence. The rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel are never justified and represent indiscriminate acts that fuel the cycle of violence and bloodshed. They must cease. We do note that Israel, like any state, always has a right to self-defence under the UN charter. That does not change the government's position in relation to the long-term importance of discussion between the parties and ensuring that the parties avoid all measures and matters that can escalate the chance of conflict and violence.

Senator Rice: A point of order on direct relevance, again. Again, it's useful background information, but my question was whether these actions that we are talking about undermine progress towards a two-state solution and whether the government recognises that settlements in occupied Palestine are illegal under international law.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Rice, I take your point. It was a question regarding the activities of one particular party. I will remind the minister of the question; he has 14 seconds remaining.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: I stress again: the current violence, the current disruption, firmly undermines progress towards a two-state solution. It undermines peace and it threatens lives. The government urges parties to desist from such violence and to return to discussions.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Rice, a final supplementary question.




Senator RICE (VictoriaDeputy Australian Greens Whip) (15:19): No answer to my first two; I will try with a third. Minister, what actions is your government taking both publicly and privately to end the violence and particularly address the root cause of injustices suffered by Palestinians—namely, the occupation of their country? Will the Australian government recognise a Palestinian state as a matter of urgency?


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Finance, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (15:19): No, the government will not. The government's position remains consistent in relation to supporting a two-state solution and urging parties to work towards that in their discussions. Of course, were that to be reached, then further steps in that regard would be considered by the government.