BRULL: Australia’s U-turn on Israeli settlements in occupied territories is shameful 27Nov13 November 27, 2013


APTOPIX Mideast Israel Palestinians
A man works at a new housing development in the Jewish West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim, near Jerusalem. Photograph: Ariel Schalit/AP

by Michael Brull   -   The Guardian   -   27 November 2013

Just as Abbott excused human rights violations in Sri Lanka. so he does in Palestine. As such, Australia is complicit in breaches of international law which causes severe and ongoing suffering.


The Australian government was this week among the eight nations which abstained from voting on a United Nations general assembly resolution which called for an end to Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. 158 countries voted in favour of the UN resolution, which called for the “prevention of all acts of violence, destruction, harassment and provocation by Israeli settlers”. Another draft resolution demanded that Israel accept the requirements of the Geneva conventions, and “comply scrupulously” with relevant provisions. 160 were in favour, six against. Australia was one of the few abstainers.

From the perspective of the Israeli government, perhaps Australia is not the perfect friend (on a few votes, Australia voted against Israel). But from the perspective of international law, we are complicit in many breaches of international law – breaches which cause severe and ongoing suffering.

Australian complicity in such breaches are hardly anomalous. For example, the Abbott government recently explained that, when it comes to allegations of torture against Sri Lanka, “difficult things happen”. Just as Abbott excused human rights violations in Sri Lanka, so his government does in Palestine.

There is little controversy about the status of settlements under international law. The international court of justice, in its 2004 advisory opinion on the wall being constructed by Israel in the West Bank, concluded that “the Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories (including East Jerusalem) have been established in breach of international law.”

Indeed, as former Australian Labor party foreign minister Bob Carr recently noted, in 1967 the Israeli prime minister was informed by his chief law officer that settlements were illegal under international law. Nevertheless, Israel almost immediately began building settlements – a process that increased exponentially as the decades progressed.

In November 2007, during negotiations with the Palestinians, Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, from the Israeli centrist party Kadima, said “I am a lawyer … but I am against law – international law in particular. Law in general. If we want to make the agreement smaller, can we just drop some of these issues? Like international law, this will make the agreements easier.”

In private, this was not a stupid thing to say. Livni knows perfectly well that international law is working against the Israeli government in this context. And she knows perfectly well why Israel builds settlements. In another candid moment in 2007, she explained: “I understand the sentiments of the Palestinians when they see the settlements being built. The meaning from the Palestinian perspective is that … the Israel policy is to take more and more land day after day and that at the end of the day we’ll say that it is impossible, we already have the land and cannot create the state.” Livni admitted that this was “the policy of the government for a really long time”. She claimed that whilst it was “still the policy of some of the parties”, the government policy had changed. That was a less candid moment.

According to the Israeli human rights group, there are about 325,000 settlers in the West Bank and an additional 190,000 in East Jerusalem. That is a lot of Palestinian land taken, and a long way towards preventing the creation of a Palestinian state.

Australia has been fully complicit in such efforts for years. Norman Finkelstein chronicled UN general assembly votes on the annual resolution called Peaceful Settlement of the Question of Palestine. It affirms the three principles for achieving a “two state solution of Israel and Palestine”: that land can’t be acquired by war, that all settlements in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, are illegal, and finally, that Israel must withdraw from these occupied territories, grant the Palestinians their right to self-determination, and resolve the Palestinian refugee problem in accord with UN general assembly resolution 194.

The votes were 155 in favour, two against (US and Israel) in 1997. They were 154-2 in 1998. It proceeded in similar manner, eventually becoming 161-7 in 2004: Australia joined the againsts under prime minister John Howard. Finkelstein documents the record through to 2009: for those six years, Australia voted against a two-state solution, with Israel, the US, and a few other rejectionists.

Why is Australia so uniquely supportive of the Israeli government? Part of the answer lies in the fact that we are a loyal client state of the US, and supporting Israel is one way to show our devotion. Another part lies in our heavily concentrated corporate media, with the Murdoch press dominating the print media with uncritical support for Israel, and the Fairfax media largely abstaining from such issues. This gives the pro-Israeli lobbies a largely free run in advocating their point of view, helped by a largely parochial and uncourageous intelligentsia.

This partly explains Australia’s shameful record under both Coalition and ALP governments. The Abbott government has deviated slightly from previous ALP policy, but both have long sided with Israel and a few other rejectionist countries, in opposition to the entire world, in helping block a two state solution. This fact that should cause us a great deal of shame.

• This article was amended on 26 November 2013. An earlier version omitted the following words from the start of a quote from Tzipi Livni: “I understand the sentiments of the Palestinians when they see the settlements being built. The meaning from the Palestinian perspective is that …”

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