House debates

Tuesday, 12 February 2019


Australian Parliamentary Delegation to Kuwait, Jordan, Palestine and Israel

7:30 pm

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

From 7 January to 15 January, as co-convener of the Australian Parliamentary Friends of Palestine, I led a fact-finding mission to Kuwait, Jordan, Palestine and Israel. This was a cross-party delegation comprising Labor, Liberal, National and Greens members of parliament. Our primary goals were to enhance parliamentary relations with Kuwait and Jordan, to seek a greater understanding of the Palestine-Israel conflict and to see firsthand the impact that the occupation of the West Bank has on the daily lives of its people. Over an eight-day period, we met with key government and non-government officials, academics and business stakeholders. As well, we heard from local Palestinians and Israelis during our visits to Kuwait, Amman, Jericho, Ramallah, Hebron, Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

Our journey began in Kuwait where we held meetings with the speaker of the Kuwaiti parliament, members of the foreign affairs committee and the Kuwait chamber of commerce. In Amman, we met with members of the Australia-Jordan Parliamentary Friendship Group. We had a very frank and candid meeting with the Jordanian foreign minister, Mr Ayman Safadi, who impressed upon us the need to come and work together towards a comprehensive, just and peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The minister made it abundantly clear that ongoing tensions and the absence of a germane peace process were being stoked and manipulated by extremists, and that, unless resolved, this conflict would continue to inspire and feed the terrorist narrative.

Crossing the King Hussein Bridge, or the Allenby Bridge, our first meeting was with the Governor of Jericho who briefed us about the impact that Israeli settlements are having on Palestinian farmers—in particular, critical access to water, land, roads, infrastructure and other utilities—which is having a detrimental effect on local economic development. Water security was also raised during our meetings with NGOs Ma'an, Al-Haq and the Palestinian Hydrology Group in Ramallah. It was made clear that water restrictions in Gaza and the West Bank are not only a fundamental violation of human rights; they're a key environmental issue in the occupation of Palestinian land by Israel. We met with the Governor of Hebron, Mr Jibreen al-Bakri. During our walk through the historic town centre, the starkness of the situation was both confronting and palpable. It's a network of security checkpoints, heavily armed Israeli defence force patrols and a crisscross of securitised urban infrastructure. There are about 800 settlers in Hebron and, at any one time, 400 soldiers are deployed to protect them.

What we saw in Hebron is very much an example of the broader network of segregation that exists in the West Bank: hundreds of kilometres of the towering wall separating Ramallah from Jerusalem and hundreds of checkpoints that the Israeli defence force use to separate, control and restrict the movement of the Palestinian people. Our visit to the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem reinforced the miserable consequences of this continuing regime. Its debilitating impact on both Israelis and Palestinians is profound. We met with Israeli NGOs Breaking the Silence and the human rights group B'Tselem. They pressed strongly that Israel's future security could only be secured by living in peace with their Palestinian neighbours.

These courageous Israelis speak out because they love their country and are proud to be Israelis. Their plea to Australia, as a close friend of Israel, is for us to urge Israel's political leadership to negotiate in good faith with the Palestinians in order to progress a two-state solution. They realise that time is running out for a viable Palestinian state. The alternative, they say, will have far-reaching consequences for peace, democracy and security in Israel.

This was also the message conveyed to us during our meetings with Palestinian officials Dr Hanan Ashrawi, Dr Mustafa Barghouti, Deputy Prime Minister Dr Nabil Abu Rudeina, and others, who expressed their despair at the Trump administration's decision to withdraw funding from UNRWA and to close the PLO office in Washington. They saw this as signs of an increasingly one-sided approach to the much anticipated peace deal that might be eventually offered. It was conveyed to us repeatedly that the US decision to move their embassy to Jerusalem had intensified tensions and contributed to the disillusionment and exasperation of a new generation of young Palestinians who believe Oslo is finished and that the only option is resistance. Similarly, the Australian government's badly managed announcement regarding moving our embassy to West Jerusalem in the future was seen as unhelpful and one that broke with our long-held commitment to progressing a two-state solution. Our delegation was at all times encouraged to work with the Australian parliament and government to assist in finding a peaceful way forward.

I'd like to thank our ambassador in Kuwait, Mr Jonathan Gilbert; our ambassador in Jordan, Mr Miles Armitage, and the Australian representative in Ramallah for their excellent support and assistance with the delegation. Finally, I'd like to thank his excellency Izzat Abdulhadi, the Ambassador of the State of Palestine here in Australia. I'd like to table the delegation's report.