On Friday January 18 at the close of the Australia-UK Ministerial Consultations (AUKMIN) conference in Perth, Foreign Minister Senator the Hon Bob Carr and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague released a joint statement on the Middle East peace process, condemning Israel’s settlements as “illegal under international law”. This was reiterated at a joint press conference the same day. The Australian reported on the story on Saturday, quoting AIJAC Executive Director Colin Rubenstein, who released the following media statement on Friday 18 January:
“We welcome Foreign Minister Carr’s and Foreign Secretary Hague’s call for the Palestinians to return to negotiations without preconditions.
Indeed, the Palestinian leadership has refused to engage in any constructive negotiations with their Israeli counterparts over the last four years, despite repeated, ongoing pleas from Jerusalem to do so.
However, their 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.
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 percent of the West Bank. Proposed construction in the area known as E1, which falls within the municipal boundary of a settlement, does not violate those policies.
Furthermore, population and internal growth within these existing settlements would not substantially affect the size, contiguity or viability of a future Palestinian state.
We believe that excessive and misplaced focus on this issue has been at the expense of speaking out on other issues of much greater import.
Besides the Palestinian refusal to engage in any constructive negotiations with their Israeli counterparts, other issues include continued incitement in Palestinian schools and official media, the ongoing rejectionism of elements of the PLO, and the crippling inability of the Palestinian Authority to speak for all of the Palestinian people, with a resurgent Hamas in control of Gaza, unreconstructed in its determination to destroy Israel.”
We also welcome their call for the Palestinians to abide by the terms of the Gaza ceasefire and to stop all rocket attacks.
The Australian editorialised on January 21 that Senator Carr and Mr Hague’s grandstanding on this issue undermines Israel’s sovereignty and reduces the complexity of Palestinian intransigence to simply blaming Israel. The same day, The Australian reported the strong comments of the Hon Christopher Pyne MP, Manager of Opposition Business, who labeled Carr as a “dangerous amateur” who ended Australian bipartisanship on the approach to Israel. Senator Carr subsequently commented on the comments as an extreme-Right attack of an Abbott Liberal opposition.