Independent federal Senator Nick Xenophon has delivered a comprehensive – and at times stunning – dismantling of the Abbott Government’s apparent decision to no longer refer to areas of Palestine as “occupied” by Israel, describing the Commonwealth’s actions as “factually untrue, legally ignorant and most unhelpful”.
Senator Xenophon, an independent from South Australia, delivered the speech to the federal Senate yesterday evening. It followed Attorney General George Brandis ‘freestyling’ during a Senate Estimates hearing on June 5 over disputed territories in the Middle East.
Brandis’ latest brain snap was sparked by a late night question from Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, to the secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Peter Varghese: "Why did the Australian ambassador to Israel attend a meeting in occupied East Jerusalem with the Israeli minister for housing and construction, the same minister who is forecasting a 50 per cent increase in settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories in the next five years?"
Varghese never got to answer. Brandis interrupted him and decided, on the fly, to single-handedly rewrite Australian Government policy on Israel-Palestine.
“The Australian government does not refer to East Jerusalem by the descriptor 'occupied East Jerusalem'. We speak of East Jerusalem,” Brandis replied.
The following morning, Brandis poured fuel on a growing fire by reading from a written statement: “The description of East Jerusalem as 'occupied …' is freighted with pejorative implications, which is neither appropriate nor useful.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott tried to dig his party out of the hole, referring Brandis’ comments as a "terminological clarification", but in the process introducing the phrase “disputed territories".
The ‘policy on the fly’ approach to Middle East relations, not surprisingly, sparked widespread outrage, with Arab threats of sanctions worth $2 billion against Australia’s live cattle trade, and more internal party rumblings at yet another stuff up from senior Liberals.
Yesterday evening, Xenophon set the record straight with a point-by-point decimation of Abbott’s and Brandis’ and claims, which he described as “false and actually most unhelpful to the process of achieving a lasting peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict”.
“According to the 1949 Geneva conventions and the 1907 Hague regulations, territory is considered occupied when it comes under the actual authority of the invading military.
“There are certain objective tests.
“One – has the occupying power substituted its own authority for that of the occupied authorities? Yes. It is a matter of fact that Israel's authority prevails in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
“Two – Have the enemy forces been defeated, regardless of whether sporadic local resistance continues? Yes. It is a matter of fact that Israel defeated its military adversaries in the June 1967 war.
“Three – Does the occupying power have a sufficient force present to make its authority felt? Yes. It is a fact that Israel has sufficient force to make its authority felt.
“Four – Has an administration been established over the territory? Yes. It is a fact — a poignant fact — that even the Palestinian leaders who wish to enter or leave the occupied Palestinian territories cannot do so without permission from Israel. Even the Palestinian president cannot go to the United Nations in New York, or indeed to anywhere else in the world, without permission from Israel.
“Five – Has the occupying power issued and enforced directions to the civilian population? Yes. It is a fact that Israel has issued and enforced such directions.
“Indeed, Israel's highest court — the High Court of Justice — stated in paragraph 23 of its verdict in the case of Beit Sourik Village Council v The Government of Israel on 30 June 2004 that ‘Israel holds the area in belligerent occupation’.
“I concede that here the word 'occupied' is 'freighted with implications', but to say they are pejorative is factually untrue and legally ignorant.”
Senator Xenophon also pointed to a landmark opinion handed down by the International Court of Justice in 2004 around the illegal establishment of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, and the construction of a wall by Israel to separate it from parts of Palestine, and to regulate the movements of Palestinians.
That judgment repeatedly refers to ‘occupied’ territory in East Jerusalem.
“Australia is quite happy to accept the wisdom of the International Court of Justice when it comes to whales,” Xenophon said, “but not, it seems, the Palestinians.”
“We already know, thanks to the so-called Palestine Papers — which are the biggest leak of secret documents in the history of the Middle East conflict — that a solution is already available.
“The Palestinian negotiating team in 2008 offered a formula where Israel would annex 1.9 per cent of the West Bank in the context of a land swap, allowing Israel to retain within its borders 63 per cent of the illegal settler population.
“We also know, according to the same leaks, that Israel's negotiating team turned down this offer.
“Australia, by adopting these rejectionist statements, has given comfort to the extremists and has weakened the position of the moderate and reasonable Israelis and Palestinians.
“We should instead encourage our great friend Israel to accept the generous offer made in 2008 so that we can have a real, lasting and durable peace in the Middle East.
“The statement made by the Australian government on 5 June this year is not only wrong; it is factually untrue, legally ignorant and most unhelpful.”
For his part, Brandis reportedly blamed the ‘misunderstanding’ on "journalist-led confusion of an innocuous statement".