THE AUSTRALIAN: “Bob Carr in joint plea to US on Mid-East” 19Jan13 January 19, 2013

by Cameron Stewart    -    The Australian    -    19 January 2013

AUSTRALIA and Britain have issued an urgent plea to US President Barack Obama to kickstart the Middle-East peace process, condemning the expanding Israeli settlements in the occupied territories as “illegal” under international law.

The strongly worded surprise declaration, released after the Australia-Britain ministerial talks in Perth yesterday, reflects a belief that time is running out for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians without dramatic intervention from the Obama administration.

“We believe this is not business as usual when it comes to the Middle-East peace process,” Foreign Minister Bob Carr said.

“The US is the only country with the authority and influence to lead a major effort to get negotiations which lead to an outcome.”

The AUKMIN communique said there was now a “particularly urgent need” for progress in the stalled peace process and Washington must take the lead.

“The UK and Australia call on the US to lead a major effort in 2013 for a negotiated two-state solution with a secure Israel alongside a Palestinian state.

“History has shown that only the US has the influence and capability to bring both sides together. Past progress has only been achieved through US leadership.”

It said neither the Israeli government nor the Palestinian Authority should create obstacles to serious discussions.

“We call on Israel to stop settlement activity. All settlements are illegal under international law and settlement activity undermines the prospects for peace. Australia and Britain expressed particular concern regarding the recent settlement announcements of the Israel government, including the proposed (E1) development.”

Senator Carr said the description of Israeli settlements as illegal did not represent a toughening of Australia’s stance but was a consistent position which “goes back to the Fraser government”.

He said it was based on the Geneva Convention, which bans occupying powers from settling people on conquered territory. “We say all settlements are illegal under international law,” Senator Carr said. “It won’t be lost that a Labor government in Australia and a conservative government in the UK are settling on this language: time is running out.”

Israel announced last month an expansion of its settlements in the West Bank after the UN voted to upgrade Palestinian status. Britain and Australia abstained from the vote, angering Israel. Julia Gillard wanted to vote against the UN resolution but was rolled by cabinet colleagues, including Senator Carr.

When asked whether the Prime Minister supported her Foreign Minister’s stance on settlements, a spokesman for Ms Gillard said: “The government’s position is reflected in the communique.”

The statement yesterday was unusual in the context of an AUKMIN meeting and represents a clear plan by both countries to elevate the issue of the Middle-East peace process this year. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the US needed now to make the greatest effort since the Oslo peace accord in the 1990s to achieve a breakthrough.

He said the imminent holding of Israeli elections and the passing of the US presidential election presented a rare window of opportunity. “The prospect of a two-state solution is steadily slipping away and we don’t have much longer to bring it about,” Mr Hague said.

Labor MP Michael Danby said Australian government policy – in contrast to the British Conservatives – was for all parties to resume face to face negotiations “without preconditions”.

“If Senator Carr has changed Australian government policy the rest of us don’t know about it.”

Australia-Israel & Jewish Affairs Council executive director Colin Rubenstein said he did not agree with the comments made about Israeli settlements but welcomed the call for Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.

“Their claims of the illegality of settlements are dubious and have been disputed, not only by Israel but by some of the world’s top lawyers,” he said.

“Senator Carr and Foreign Secretary Hague should take into account that Israeli policies since 2004 have prevented any new settlements or the expansion of the boundaries of existing settlements, which take up less than 2 per cent of the West Bank.”

Zionist Federation of Australia president Philip Chester said the language of the communique was worrying.

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