Attached are answers that have been provided to me by a former Australian Ambassador to Israel in response to questions that have been put to him by a third party.
This is in relation to the Record number of (Australian) pollies for Israel article that has been in the Australian media.
Labor 4A Just Palestine
Why does it require a 17- person delegation of Federal Ministers, Opposition frontbenchers and MPs to visit Israel to discuss the bilateral relationship. Does this leadership exchange really suggest our relations with Israel are as important and complex as our relations with the only other country to warrant such treatment, the United States?
There is no detectable reason why 17 politicians should find the time especially when a new Government faces so many challenges to the task of putting an action program into place to travel so far for an exercise that is basically content-less.
The bilateral relations with Israel do not need such intensive discussion every year or so.
They largely tick along by themselves. Israel is not a major trade partner and the cultural side of things is minor in scale and largely the work of the organizer, Mr. Dadon, himself. Sadly, this is another indication of the major political parties being spooked by pressure from the Israel lobby to provide another political gesture of support for Israel at a time when its Government is largely being cold-shouldered by the rest of the Western world. Its particularly inappropriate given that Israel is dragging its feet over peace talks and providing another stumbling block to the whole idea of reconciliation with the Arabs of its own community by its introduction of an oath of allegiance from non-Jews to a Jewish State.
The Australian gesture is a curious move, well out of step with all other Western countries. Factors which might have required Australian to be more circumspect in its support for Israel at the moment include:
- the recent abuse of Australian passports by Israels intelligence service, Mossad,
- the lack of any resolution of the Australian Governments stated demand for an explanation/apology
- the continued defiance of international norms by Israels building of settlements in territory recognized by Australia as occupied under international law, and
- The obvious reluctance of the present Israeli Government to engage in any meaningful peace moves except on terms that would require the abandonment of UN resolutions adopted over the last 43 years.
Do such visits organized by private interests but which take on an agenda flowing through to our wider bilateral relations have any implications for our international interests?
Parallel or non-state organizations increasingly set the agenda in relations with Israel. This is unhealthy in such a delicate environment. Instead of relations following the norms related to the overall priorities of government (eg with due regard to the signals Australia is sending to the Arab and Islamic world) Australia is allowing lobby interests to partly fund and set up programs that inevitably colour how our interests are pursued. This limits Australias capacity to be playing a helpful role in peace-making between Israelis and the Arab states including Palestine. By agreeing to conduct bilateral relations through lobby groups, the suspicion is also aroused that the level of funding through various channels for the activities of political parties is setting the agenda.
Should public funds be used to co-finance such lobby-designed events?
If public funds are being used as part-funding for the travel of Ministers, Front-benchers, MPs and an ABC journalist as part of this lobby-related visit, this would be a serious infringement of Westminster principles of not mixing Government and private interests. At the least, the norms of a parliamentary democracy would require the visit to be controlled by Australias Embassy and respect Australias overall interests in the region.
What opportunities will participants have to see the Palestinian perspective on events, in accordance with the balance Australian Governments have traditionally professed?
A balanced picture seems doubtful.
It used to be traditional for visiting politicians also to include an equivalent number of Palestinian contacts in East Jerusalem and Ramallah. For this reason, such visits were coordinated through the Embassy in Tel Aviv and the Australian Representative in Ramallah.
This seems to occur rarely since the late stages of the Howard Government, including Kevin Rudds period as Opposition Foreign Affairs Spokesman, and during his subsequent Prime Ministership. This is out of kilter with the practice of other parliamentary democracies and gives the strong impression that Australia has abandoned any attempt at a balanced policy. It would be interesting to know if any contacts are being sought in Ramallah, Gaza or East Jerusalem and whether such interlocutors are being given equal time.
A visit to some of the most egregious stretches of the wall Israel has built, largely on Palestinian land, would also be instructive. Any agreement by Australian MPs or Ministers to meet Israeli officials in East Jerusalem or the West Bank would also represent defiance of long-standing Cabinet decisions to acknowledge the legalities of the occupied status of such territories and the consequent international norms on not recognizing the permanent statues of such occupation. Its particularly distressing that the ABC is contributing to these events.
They already have two correspondents in Jerusalem who could cover any significant outcomes. Sending a third, heavyweight political commentator from Canberra gives the event itself an authority is does not deserve as news.
How will this visit help Australia’s goal of supporting a two-state solution?
Not at all. By signaling now a close understanding with just one side and implicitly supporting its positions by a lack of overt commentary on its defiance of international norms, Australia is contributing to Israels defiance of international norms
See Response to Canadian BDS campaign