JEWISH leaders have criticised a joint statement by Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr and his British counterpart William Hague that labels all Israeli settlements illegal.
The statement was released at the conclusion of the fifth Australia-UK Ministerial Consultations (AUKMIN) last Friday.
It calls for the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the new Israeli government to “engage seriously in negotiations without preconditions”.
It then urges the PA to “exercise restraint and avoid provocative actions at international forums”, and also to “abide by the terms of the Gaza ceasefire and to stop all rocket attacks”.
But it also claims that all Israeli settlements are “illegal under international law” and that settlement activity “undermines the prospects for peace”.
Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) executive director Peter Wertheim commended the statement for calling for a resumption of negotiations without preconditions and for placing the onus on the Palestinians for maintaining the Gaza ceasefire.
But he said the call for the PA to avoid provocative actions at international forums had come too late, given the recent successful bid for UN non-observer state status – on which both Australia and the UK abstained. And he labelled the statement’s position on settlements “a departure from previous statements”.
“[It] will be seen by many in the Jewish community as a further move by Carr away from his previous sympathy for Israel,” Wertheim said.
Zionist Federation of Australia president Philip Chester endorsed the statement’s support for a two-state solution, but said the status of Israeli settlements was still to be determined under international law.
Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) executive director Colin Rubenstein said the “excessive and misplaced focus” on the settlement issue was at the expense of highlighting other, more important issues.
“Claims of the illegality of settlements are highly dubious and have been disputed, not only by Israel, but also by some of the world’s top lawyers,” he said.
“Israeli policies since 2004 have prevented any new settlements or the expansion of the boundaries of existing settlements. Furthermore, population and internal growth within these existing settlements would not substantially affect the size, contiguity or viability of a future Palestinian state.”
Also responding to the AUKMIN statement, Liberal MP Christopher Pyne, the leader of opposition business in the House of Representatives, told The Australian that “Bob Carr is a dangerous amateur who has ended the bipartisanship between Labor and the Coalition that has marked Australia’s approach to Israel since 1948.”
Firing back, Carr said the Liberal Party had abandoned its support for a two-state solution, because “the spread of settlements undermines it”.
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr.