Not Happy, Stephen

November 18, 2009 Agencies
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Australian Jewish leaders are irked that the government voted in favor of a “one-sided” and “unbalanced” United Nations resolution on Palestinian self-determination.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith

Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Robert Goot and Zionist Federation of Australian president Philip Chester wrote to Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith Tuesday, saying they were “disappointed” because Australia’s vote in favor of the resolution was a departure for the government’s normal policy of abstaining.

“We were even more disappointed,” they wrote, “that our community was not given advance notice that the change of vote was being contemplated.”

Mark Leibler and Colin Rubenstein, of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, went a step further, writing to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

In their letter Tuesday, the pair argued that the resolution – adopted by the UN Third Committee on November 12 – omitted any reference to Palestinian obligations, and thus “perpetuates the counter-productive narrative that Israel’s policies are the sole obstacle to peace.”

They were similarly nonplussed last year when the Labor government voted in favor of a motion condemning all West Bank settlements and a motion to apply the Fourth Geneva Convention to the West Bank and Gaza.

For the previous decade, under the conservative government of John Howard, Australia backed Israel at the UN on virtually every occasion.

Meanwhile, a report in the Solomon Star claims that Israel is sending a foreign ministry official to the Solomon Islands next week to find out why it was the only country in the Oceania region to vote in favor of adopting the Goldstone report.

The island nation’s recent diplomatic engagement with Iran was cited as a possible reason, according to the newspaper.

The Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Australia voted against the resolution while Fiji, PNG, Samoa, Tonga and New Zealand abstained.

The complete text of the letter  written by AIJAC’s Mark Leibler and Colin Rubenstein reads:-

Dear Prime Minister,

Mark Leibler

Mark Leibler

We would like to express our sincere appreciation for the principled stance Australia demonstrated recently in voting against the biased United Nations resolution endorsing the highly flawed Goldstone Report. We certainly share the perspective that both the process and impact of that report will retard rather than advance prospects for Middle East peace and reconciliation.

At the same time, we wish to bring to your attention our views with regard to the current  annual round of United Nations General Assembly resolutions on Israel and the Palestinians. As a whole, they adopt the Palestinian narrative, blaming lack of peace on  Israel, and perpetuating the UN’s counter-productive but endemic anti-Israel bureaucracy. This basically continues the UN’s ongoing anti-Israel bias – which in turn reduces the UN’s capacity to play a moderating or peacekeeping role in the Middle East.

As you will be aware, we very much appreciated Australia’s general voting pattern last year on these resolutions which we trust Australia will maintain again this year.

Dr Colin Rubenstein

Dr Colin Rubenstein

We are, however, disappointed with Australia’s change of vote last week in support of the one-sided, unbalanced resolution on Palestinian self-determination. While we share the Australian Government’s desire to progress a two-state solution that would see a Palestinian state created alongside Israel and for the UN to play a more constructive role in that process, we cannot see that this resolution does in fact further those goals.  As you know, we were similarly disappointed last year when Australia voted both in favour of the motion condemning all West Bank settlements and for the motion applying the Fourth Geneva Convention to the West Bank and Gaza.

These resolutions may appear to be ostensibly reasonable and to advance peace and a two-state solution, but they omit any reference to Palestinian obligations, and, in so doing, perpetuate the counter-productive narrative that Israel’s policies are the sole obstacle to peace, and that no compromises or policy changes are required on the Arab and Palestinian side. We therefore sincerely hope that the Government will review these positions, especially in view of the Netanyahu Government’s unprecedented offer of restraint on building within existing settlements, its confirmation there will continue to be  no building beyond the current existing boundaries of settlements, the easing of security restrictions and considerable assistance for the Palestinian economy – which has been the major factor responsible for the estimated 7% rise in GDP for the West Bank this year.

Despite these specific reservations, we wish to re-iterate our gratitude for the continued, overriding consideration, understanding and warmth demonstrated by your Government in its strong support for Israel and in its responsiveness and sensitivity to the concerns of the Australian Jewish Community.

Yours sincerely

Mr. Mark Leibler AC                                     Dr Colin Rubenstein AM

National Chairman                                       Executive Director

Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC)

…and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry had this to say:

Dear Minister

ECAJ President Robert Goot

ECAJ President Robert Goot

We refer to Australia’s vote at the Sixty-fourth session of the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly on 3 November 2009 in respect of Agenda item 68 – the motion affirming “The Right of the Palestinian People to Self-Determination”.

We note that Australia voted in favour of the motion this year (Document A/C.3/64/L.56), whereas in the previous two years it had abstained.

The explanation given by Australia for its abstention in previous years was that while Australia recognizes the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination the text of the motion gratuitously “tacks on” other matters which are far more contentious.

In this respect we note in particular, that the motion:

(a) cites approvingly the advisory opinion rendered on 9 July 2004 by the International Court of Justice on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, aspects of which the Australian government has previously called into question.  (For example, Australia has disagreed with the Court’s opinion that widespread and systematic attacks directed at Israel’s civilian population and emanating from the West Bank do not constitute an “armed attack” in response to which Israel has the right of self-defence);

  1. (a) calls for “respect for and preservation of the territorial unity, contiguity and integrity of all of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem”, notwithstanding the fact that these areas have never constituted a sovereign State; and

ZFA President Philip Chester

ZFA President Philip Chester

(c) calls for “the specialized agencies and organizations of the United Nations system to continue to support and assist the Palestinian people in the early realization of their right to self-determination”, despite the evidence that these agencies have done more to perpetuate the problems faced by Palestinians than to solve them.

We believe that all of the above remain valid reasons for Australia to have continued to abstain.  We were therefore disappointed that Australia decided to change its vote on this particular motion and even more disappointed, given our verbal and written representations to you on these matters during last year’s Committee votes, that our community was not given advance notice that the change of vote was being contemplated.

The Australian Jewish community has been gratified by the principled and fair-minded approach of the Australian government this year in deciding not to attend the Durban II conference, in walking out of the General Assembly during Mahmoud Ahmidinejad’s address and in recently voting against the adoption of the Goldstone Report in the General Assembly.

We formally thanked the government on those occasions and reiterate our community’s appreciation of the stand taken by the Australian government in respect of those important issues.

May we assume that Australia’s changed vote in the Third Committee does not portend any shift in policy by the Government and that in the forthcoming annual resolutions concerning Israel and the Palestinians in the General Assembly and its Committees, Australia’s votes will remain unchanged from last year?

We look forward to hearing from you in this regard at an early opportunity.

Yours sincerely,

Robert M Goot AM SC Philip Chester

President ECAJ President ZFA

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