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Wednesday, 21 November 2012
Page: 9379

Middle East

Senator STEPHENS (New South Wales) (14:29): My question today is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr, and follows on from my question yesterday. Knowing the concerns of all senators here about the crisis in Gaza, can the minister provide an update to the Senate on the recent diplomatic efforts to address the crisis?

Senator BOB CARR (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs) (14:29): This week the President of Egypt, President Morsi, intervened to help broker a ceasefire. Egypt is continuing discussions with both sides and we fully support its efforts. The intervention of the President is a reassertion of Egypt's regional leadership and is to be welcomed in general and, in this case, in particular. On November 19, European Union foreign ministers met in Brussels. The ministers condemned the rocket attacks on Israel and called for an urgent end to hostilities. The EU High Representative Catherine Ashton said:

…attacks must end immediately, or even more innocent civilians will suffer.

We are calling for urgent de-escalation and cessation of hostilities. In this respect we support the mediation efforts of Egypt and other parties.

Yesterday UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met Israeli PM Netanyahu in Jerusalem and urged both sides to reach an immediate ceasefire. He said:

Further escalation would be dangerous and tragic for Palestinians and Israelis, and would put the entire region at risk.

Yesterday, the Secretary-General of the league of Arab states, al-Arabi, and a delegation of 10 Arab League foreign ministers arrived in Gaza for talks. Yesterday in New York, the UN Security Council met in a closed-door session and will reconvene soon pending the outcome of ceasefire discussions. Today, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with the Israeli leadership in Jerusalem and Secretary Clinton said:

The goal must be a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike.

The secretary will later meet President Abbas in Ramallah before travelling on to Cairo. Talk of a possible ceasefire has intensified in the last 24 hours. (Time expired)

Senator STEPHENS (New South Wales) (14:31): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for that update. Can the minister advise how the Australian government is responding to the crisis?

Senator BOB CARR (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs) (14:32): The Australian government is gravely concerned by the crisis in Gaza and prospects for a further escalation in violence. Australia condemns the repeated rocket and mortar attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip and calls for them to end immediately.

An opposition senator: That's not what you said before.

Senator BOB CARR: I have said that every day I have spoken on this matter—every day, without exception. We recognise Israel's right to defend itself, like that of any country subject to attack. Any response by Israel needs to be proportionate and not lead to civilian casualties. We have on more than a dozen occasions called on both sides to exercise restraint. We call for any public demonstrations or rallies in Australia to be peaceful and not to target private businesses or individuals. The Australian government supports a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict—a solution based on the right of Israel to live in peace within secure borders and reflecting the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to also live in peace— (Time expired)

Senator STEPHENS (New South Wales) (14:33): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I thank the minister for that particular perspective, but I ask now if the minister can outline how the Australian government's approach is supporting international efforts to de-escalate the conflict?

Senator BOB CARR (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs) (14:33): Events obviously are moving very close, as I think I indicated in the opening paragraphs of my first answer. A range of international efforts to resolve the crisis are underway. We hope that when we wake up tomorrow morning it is to news that a ceasefire has been arrived at overnight. The government holds the view that complex foreign policy ought not to be expressed through competing parliamentary motions. The best way for the Senate to express concern for the lives of Israelis and Palestinians is through a motion supported by all senators. The best way for the Senate to express support for international efforts to resolve the crisis is through a motion supported by all senators. For these reasons, the government will introduce to the Senate a motion that acknowledges the full complexity of this crisis and support all efforts to de-escalate the conflict. It will reflect the principles I enunciated in the first part of my answer to Senator Stephens this afternoon.