Australia’s former foreign minister Bob Carr on Monday criticized his successor’s disinclination to condemn Israeli settlements as illegal, saying that holding such a position “was to show an ignorance of international law.”
In an interview with The Times of Israel last week, Julie Bishop (Liberal Party), who succeeded Carr (Labor) in September 2013, said the settlements may not be illegal under international law and warned against proclaiming them illegal until their status is formally negotiated as part of the ongoing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
But Carr said Bishop’s stance was mistaken and beyond the pale of standard opinions.
“Julie Bishop should speak to [UK Foreign Secretary] William Hague or to the foreign minister of any conservative government in Europe, who will simply repeat what is a commonplace and commonsense opinion,” Carr told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Bishop was traveling in the US on Monday and unavailable for comment, the paper reported.
The paper also quoted the head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia, Izzat Abdulhadi, saying he asked for “urgent meetings” with senior Australian Foreign Ministry officials after Ms. Bishop’s interview was published.
PLO Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi on Sunday called Bishop’s comments “willful defiance of international consensus.”
Bishop had told The Times of Israel in an exclusive interview that settlements should be decided via negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
“I don’t want to prejudge the fundamental issues in the peace negotiations,” she said. “The issue of settlements is absolutely and utterly fundamental to the negotiations that are under way and I think it’s appropriate that we give those negotiations every chance of succeeding.”
Asked whether she agrees or disagrees with the near-universal view that Israeli settlements anywhere beyond the 1967 lines are illegal under international law, she replied: “I would like to see which international law has declared them illegal.”
Ashrawi panned Bishop’s comments, saying they represented “dangerous shifts in Australian foreign policy” and called for an official clarification of Australian policy on the issue.
“I would like to remind the Australian government that, in accordance with international human rights law and international humanitarian law, all settlements are illegal,” Ashrawi wrote in a statement on Sunday, citing Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and Article 43 of the Hague Regulations.
The position that settlements breach international law — adopted by the United Nations Security Council, the European Union and many other states and international bodies, but rejected by Israel — is based on an interpretation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Article 49, paragraph 6, states that an occupying power “shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Violations of the convention are considered war crimes under international law. Israel is a party to the convention and therefore bound by it.
However, Bishop said it was not helpful to “prejudge the settlement issue if you’re going to get a negotiated solution.”
Rather than supporting a peace agreement with the Palestinians, Ashrawi said, Bishop backs continued Israeli governance of the West Bank.
Her remarks “send a clear message to both the international community and to the Palestinians that Australia is more committed to supporting Israel’s annexation of Palestinian land than backing any peace resolution that ends the military occupation of Palestine and calls for the creation of an independent Palestinian state on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital,” Ashrawi wrote.
Ashrawi also issued a call to Australia to clarify their position vis-à-vis Israel and the Palestinians.
In a vote on a resolution demanding that Israel cease “all Israeli settlement activities in all of the occupied territories” last November, Australia was one of eight countries to abstain while nearly 160 nations supported the resolution. In December, Australia was one of 13 countries that did not vote in favor of a resolution calling on Israel to “comply scrupulously” with the Geneva Convention. 169 countries voted yes on the measure.
Marissa Newman contributed to this report.