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Estimates: Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee: Foreign Affairs and Trade Portfolio: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 23 Mar 2018

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Palestinian peace process

Senator RHIANNON: I want to move on to the issue about the US decision to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem. There was a vote in the United Nations General Assembly last year condemning the US for its decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital. We abstained on that vote and I noted at the time that our Ambassador to the UN Gillian Bird said that 'there was much in the resolution that we agreed with, but we abstained'. Can you elaborate on what was meant by that comment, please?

Mr Neuhaus : Our position on Jerusalem, as you know, is that it that needs to be left in the final negotiations for what we hope will be the two-state solution, which Australia has supported over the years and continues to support. In terms of the resolution referring to the two-state solution final negotiations, those are things that we would support in principle. However—and this is consistent with our long-standing policy—we did not feel it appropriate that this resolution be brought on in the UN General Assembly and so we abstained from the resolution.

Senator RHIANNON: You spoke about the peace process there. What is your response to the US decision and how it affects the peace process?

Mr Neuhaus : We're disappointed by the US decision. We think it complicates the peace process, but we still regard the US as playing a very important role and as a necessary player for any peace process.

Senator RHIANNON: I understand that in the Oslo agreements, and in other attempts to resolve these issues, it has been set out the final status of Jerusalem must be decided in direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Is that the position of Australia?

Mr Neuhaus : That remains the position of Australia.

Senator RHIANNON: Therefore we do have concerns about the US decision?

Mr Neuhaus : Yes. We do.

Senator RHIANNON: Has the government conveyed our concerns about President Trump's decision directly to the US?

Mr Neuhaus : We have indeed engaged the US on this. The minister herself has engaged the US on this matter, and around that resolution we had discussions with the US in explaining our position. And we explained our position both to Israel and to the Palestinian Authority in those discussions.

Senator RHIANNON: At what level was that, please? Was it a public statement or a press release? Or was it actually ambassador to ambassador, minister to minister.

Mr Neuhaus : Ambassador to ambassador, minister to minister is more appropriate. We try to avoid too many public statements, as we've already discussed on other issues today.

Senator RHIANNON: I imagine that the US urged us to vote with them?

Mr Neuhaus : Of course.

Senator RHIANNON: Or to at least abstain.

Mr Neuhaus : Yes, they urged us to vote against the resolution.

Senator RHIANNON: Did the US urge Australia to lobby countries in our region to also abstain or vote against the resolution?

Mr Neuhaus : No. As we made our position clear to them, it wasn't appropriate.

Senator RHIANNON: Australian embassy officials in the Pacific were not tasked with making representations on this issue?

Mr Neuhaus : No, but in New York, we did make it clear how we were going to vote.

Senator RHIANNON: So we are expected to believe that it's pure coincidence that not one Pacific Island country supported the resolution, when the vast majority of other states supported it. The trend in the voting of those Pacific countries on these issues was different from how they've voted in the past. We had nothing to do with that change?

Mr Neuhaus : No. I can actually say we did not have anything to do with that.

Senator RHIANNON: In your view, were they contacted by the US? Was there a threat to withdraw aid—considering that was being spoken about?

Mr Neuhaus : I'm sure they were contacted by the US—I mean, the US was lobbying on this issue. I'm unable to comment as to any threats with regard to aid. I'm not aware of them.

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