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Monday, 22 June 2015
Page: 7114

Mr GRIFFIN (Bruce) (21:20): Last year I travelled to the United Nations in New York to serve on a bipartisan team, alongside DFAT officials, to represent Australia at the United Nations General Assembly. There were 288 resolutions passed at the General Assembly about a range of issues—international cooperation, areas of conflict and human rights concerns. Seventeen of those resolutions related to Israel and/or Palestine. I do understand the concerns expressed by both Israel and the United States about the level of focus upon Israel in this forum; however, this is not surprising. It was at the first convening of the United Nations in 1946 that the partition plan for two states, Israel and Palestine, was first proposed and responsibility for the resolution of the ensuing conflict was clearly with the United Nations. However, nearly 70 years later there is only one sovereign state, which was declared unilaterally, and the other state is under military occupation.

Israel is a modern democratic nation and therefore should be held accountable to these standards, but it has ignored resolutions at both the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council. It could be argued that in comparison to some other countries that have ignored UN Security Council resolutions, Israel has faced relatively few consequences.

Since the election of the Abbott government there has been a marked shift in Australia's voting in the General Assembly. For example, a resolution regarding Israeli settlements, noting their illegality and calling on Israel to stop building settlements, was supported by 157 countries, over 80 per cent of the world. Australia was not amongst them. Under the Labor government this resolution was supported. Another resolution, recognising that Israel has no right to assume sovereignty over Jerusalem, again supported by the vast majority of the world, was not supported by Australia. Again, Labor supported this resolution. This is quite bizarre given consistent DFAT testimony, including in Senate estimates earlier this month, where the department's senior legal adviser, Dr French, stated:

Without going into any details of the legal advice provided to the government with respect to this question, it is clear that historical facts exist that the territories were occupied in the 1967 war and have continued to be occupied.

In the context of these votes, it is hard to understand how Australia supported a resolution reaffirming 'the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, including the right to their independent State of Palestine' and calling on states to see that right realised, given Australia seems to be doing little to support the establishment of an independent state of Palestine. It is also hard to understand that Australia supported a resolution recognising the rights of the Palestine refugees displaced in 1967 to return, because again this government is doing nothing to assist this to happen. It is good that Australia supported resolutions regarding the UN body that supports Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, though we have just decreased its funding by $1 million in this year's budget. However, Palestinians need more than a bandaid response; they need to see their political rights realised. It is not only in the General Assembly that we have not supported Palestine. Last year Australia completed our term as a non-permanent member of the Security Council. One of our last acts on the Security Council was to vote down a resolution calling for an end date to the occupation of Palestine.

I am pleased to be part of the Labor Party, which is unequivocal: East Jerusalem, alongside the West Bank and Gaza, is indeed occupied and the settlements are illegal and Israel must withdraw from them. It is clear from comments from a majority of the current Israeli cabinet that there is no commitment to advancing the two-state solution. Rather than any commitment to withdraw from the settlements, Israeli cabinet ministers express their determination to continue to grow the settlements. I understand and respect Israel's right to security in its own borders, and I fully support it. However, alongside this we must also recognise that Palestine also has a right to security in its own borders.

It is clear that if we do support a two-state solution, which every Australian political party professes to, then we must seek new solutions. The yearly resolutions at the United Nations have not brought a resolution to the conflict. Over 20 years of talks between Israel and Palestine have not brought a resolution to the conflict. Australia must join with other countries to look for new strategies to advance a just solution. Australia can, and should, join with 135 other countries to recognise the state of Palestine. Australia was one of the first countries to recognise Israel, and rightly so. It would be sad if we were one of the last to recognise Palestine. Australia can, and should, support moves in the UN Security Council to call for an end to the occupation of Palestine. Australia can, and should, use its close alliance with Israel to call on it to recognise the right of Palestinians to live in freedom—not in another decade or seven, but now.

I acknowledge that the issues involved are complex. I also acknowledge that the actions of elements of the Palestinian community have been a serious impediment to pursuing a just and secure peace. However, there needs to be a renewal of the peace process and real movement from those in the international community who support a two-state solution.