Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Matters of Public Interest

Middle East

12:59 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | Hansard source

I rise on a matter of public interest—that is, the urgent need to progress peace talks between Israel and Palestine. I rise to make a small contribution to the United Nations International Year of Solidarity with Palestine and to indicate my personal support for the inalienable rights of the Palestine people to have an independent, viable and sovereign state.

I rise to condemn Israel's use of excessive force in the West Bank, which continues to result in the inexcusable death and injury of Palestinian civilians.

I rise to condemn the violation of human rights, the lack of freedom for Palestinians in the West Bank, the breaches of international law by the Israeli government and the so-called deliberate de-Arabisation of the West Bank through illegal settlements and the construction of a separate wall.

I rise to condemn terrorist attacks on Israel and the loss of innocent lives in Israel as a result of the ongoing conflict. I support the remarks of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in launching the International Year of Solidarity with Palestine. On 16 January this year the UN Secretary-General issued the following statement:

Today marks the launch of the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. This will be a critical year for achieving the two-State solution, bringing an end to the occupation that started in 1967, and securing an independent, viable and sovereign State of Palestine living in peace and security with the State of Israel where each recognizes the other’s legitimate rights.

I call on all members of the international community and, in particular, Israelis and Palestinians, to work together for justice and a durable peace. Israel and Palestine need to live up to their commitment to a negotiated two-State solution and resolve all permanent status issues, in accordance with Security Council resolutions, the Madrid principles, the Road Map, the 2002 Arab Peace initiative and existing agreements between the parties.

The leaders of Israel and Palestine will need political will, a sense of historic responsibility and a clear vision for a better future for this and future generations. I pledge to do my utmost in support of their efforts.

The remarks from the UN Secretary-General have been put into practical action by US Secretary of State, John Kerry, who has visited the Middle East on 11 occasions. The Australian Financial Review, on Wednesday, 5 March 2014, reported that Israeli leaders were angered by recent remarks from Mr Kerry that he fears Israel would face deepening isolation and boycotts from the international community if the peace talks collapse.

The Australian Financial Review also reported that Mr Obama had reiterated those fears last week in an interview with a Bloomberg View columnist and said he planned to emphasise to Mr Netanyahu that this could represent Israel's final chance for a lasting deal. The President of the United States said:

When I have a conversation with Bibi, that’s the essence of my conversation—

President Obama was using Mr Netanyahu's nickname—

"If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who? How does this get resolved?"

In my view, this issue must be resolved in the interests of peace in the Middle East and peace in the world.

In a similar vein to the comments from President Obama, the former director-general of the Israeli Ministry for Foreign Affairs, during the Ehud Barak government, Mr Alon Liel, said the following:

Israel has arrived at an important juncture in its history, and I say this as someone who was born with the state and has never been (and will never be) the citizen of another country. We must choose now, immediately, between the two options—do we divide the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea into two states, or do we build a common state?

There is no consensus regarding this issue among the Israeli public. Not even in the government or the ruling party. There are intense deliberations in Israel, and this is also the moment when world Jewry should carefully examine its stand on this issue.

The Israeli decision this time is different, not only because it must make decisions regarding borders and the future of the country, but also because this time Israel faces the consolidated and organized world opinion—a global consensus—that a Palestinian state should be established alongside Israel. The next Israeli decision that is upon us—for better or for worse—will therefore determine our size and our national character, and also the question of our international standing. This is probably the most fateful decision since the creation of Israel, and as felt by many, the last chance to decide our fate before things will get out of control.

Mr Liel went on to say:

I am not saying that the Jewish world should be quiet silent at this time. But on the other hand, I also don’t think that with the issue at hand—an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank—any Jewish “establishment” in the Diaspora has the authority to speak on our behalf. This is the moment to put aside all the clichés, all the conventions, and all the brainwashing of three generations. This is the moment to think—not only for us here in Israel, but for every Jew in the world who genuinely cares about Israel’s character and future. Every such Jew should put himself in our shoes, and reflect on whether he would be willing to live in a country that denies 2.5 million of its residents their citizenship. The alternative on which the Jews should reflect is whether they are willing to grant Israeli citizenship to the large Palestinian public in the West Bank, at the cost of making the Jewish state a bi-national Israeli-Palestinian state.

He continues by posing a question. He says:

There is another question that must be asked: Are you, dear Jew in Melbourne, Toronto or Paris, ready to support a decision that would make Israel a pariah state in the international arena? What would you do, dear Jew, if the risk of such isolation was hovering over the heads of Australia, France and Canada, countries whose passports you hold? Would you be willing to approve a decision that would isolate the country in which you live and raise your family?

He goes on to say:

You cannot, at this crucial moment for the future of the state of Israel, continue to recite outdated slogans recited for generations. Now is the moment when we must all together hit the reset button and rethink our destiny. Without a reset we risk the destruction of the magnificent edifice we have built here over the past 66 years.

Alon Liel is a brave and farsighted man. His courage and commitment should not be diminished by comments made by our foreign minister, Ms Julie Bishop, quoted in The Times of Israel on 15 January this year, suggesting that, contrary to conventional diplomatic wisdom, Israeli settlements may not be illegal under international law. UN Security Council resolution 465 of 1980 labelled Israel's policy of population transfer into the occupied Palestine territory, including East Jerusalem, as a 'flagrant violation of the fourth Geneva Convention and a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East'. I call on the foreign minister to follow the example of the General Secretary of the United Nations, follow the example of the President of the United States, and work constructively to ensure that the peace process commences and works towards a two-state solution which guarantees peace, dignity and security for the Palestinians and Israelis. Foreign Minister, ditch the outdated slogans.

Failure by the Australian Israeli community and political leadership to take note of the words of Alon Liel will mean that we are not playing our part in supporting the peace process. Failure to ditch our outdated slogans will mean continuing insecurity, more deaths and more violence in the Middle East.

I have read with great concern the recent Amnesty International report Trigger happy—Israel's use of excessive force in the West Bank. This is a detailed exposition of Israeli breaches of international humanitarian law, the law of occupation, breaches of international human rights law and breaches of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. Amnesty International in its report calls on the Israeli authorities to rescind military order 101 and relevant articles in military order 1651 and fully respect the right of Palestinians in the West Bank to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Amnesty International go on and call for an assurance that the Israeli army, border police and other security forces policing demonstrations or performing other law enforcement duties at all times comply fully with the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN basic principles on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials. They go on to call for the assurance that law enforcement officials apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force, including use of handcuffs or other restraints, which should be used only if non-violent means have proven to be, or are likely not to be, effective. They call for the prohibition of the firing of live ammunition and rubber or plastic coated metal bullets unless it is strictly unavoidable for fully trained firearms officers under effective regulation, monitoring and control. They call for the prohibition of the discharge of 'less lethal' projectiles or baton rounds, such as those made purely from rubber or plastic. They go on and make a number of other recommendations, including establishing strict rules for training in the use of hand-held batons; and establishing a transparent system open to public scrutiny, including an independent body of medical, scientific and judicial experts to review and report on the safe development and dangers of non-lethal incapacitating weapons and 'less lethal' weapons in order to establish effective regulations.

There is a range of recommendations that are far too lengthy to me to go through at the moment. But one of the key recommendations is to conduct independent, impartial and prompt investigations into all reports of Palestinian civilians killed or seriously injured by the actions of Israeli forces in the OPT.

This is a very serious issue and this is an issue that in the United Nations International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People all politicians should place serious emphasis in trying to assist, in any small way they can, in achieving peace between Israel and Palestine. I just think it is unacceptable that we continue to see mainly young Palestinians being killed when they are protesting for what they believe is their inviolable right to have a state. There were 22 killed last year and six are dead in the last two weeks. This is unacceptable. I call on our government and I call on the Israeli government to do everything they possibly can to make sure we have peace in the Middle East, because that means peace in the world.


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