Australia abstains in UN vote on Israel over war crimes investigation 1Mar10 March 1, 2010

by Mark Dodd and John Lyons  -  The Australian -  1 March 2010

AUSTRALIA has abstained from a key UN vote supporting a war crimes investigation of Israel’s military assault on Gaza last year, three months after voting against the resolution.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said yesterday the decision was unrelated to “recent events”, a reference to Canberra’s anger at Israel’s failure to explain the use of three Australian passports by suspects in the murder in Dubai of a senior Palestinian militant.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied the involvement of its spy agency Mossad in the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, which Dubai police say involved 26 people travelling on false passports from four nations.

However, Israel said last night it would provide whatever assistance was needed by any Australian investigation into the misuse of its passports.

“There’s nothing we have to fear here, we’ve nothing to hide,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.

On Friday, the UN General Assembly considered a follow-up resolution to the Goldstone report on the Gaza conflict, which was passed with 98 countries voting in favour, seven against and 31 abstaining.

Australia is traditionally one of Israel’s strongest supporters at the UN, and Canberra denied its decision to abstain was related to the passports affair.

“The Australian government always considers UN resolutions on a case-by-case basis and on their merits,” Mr Smith said. “Australian abstained on this resolution because . . . it did not endorse the Goldstone report.

“Our vote on the resolution was neither determined nor influenced by recent events.”

But the decision appears to mark a hardening of Australia’s stand on the Middle East peace process and frustration at the lack of progress by both sides to resume negotiations.

It could be seen as a signal to Jerusalem not to take Australia’s friendship for granted.

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop accused the government of downgrading its support for Israel, telling Fairfax: “I don’t understand the government’s change of heart.”

Speaking on the Ten Network’s Meet the Press program yesterday, terrorism expert Clive Williams said he had little doubt Mossad was responsible for the Dubai assassination. “I don’t think there is much doubt Israel was responsible for the simple reason they haven’t denied it,” Professor Williams said.

Opposition defence spokesman Bob Baldwin said Israel owed Australia a “deep apology” if Mossad was responsible.

NOTE: Australia’s representative at the UN Gary Quinlan said he had voted against resolution 64/10 last November because of reservations about the text and the flawed nature of the Goldstone Report.  He had abstained from voting on today’s vote resolution, which pointed to genuine efforts.  While Australia’s vote did not change its concerns about the Goldstone Report, or its preference for allowing the parties sufficient time to study the investigations, it was not helpful to drive them apart.  Now was not the time to convene a Conference of the High Contracting Parties as doing so would involve a counter-productive political debate, he said, adding that the prevailing political situation was neither acceptable nor in the interests of Israel, the Palestinian Authority or its neighbours. [UN Press Release]

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