Australia hints at openness to two-state solution alternatives

Tentatively backing Trump, FM says Canberra wants Palestinian statehood but will support any new idea both sides embrace

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 4, 2016. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 4, 2016. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Australia’s foreign minister expressed tentative support for US President Donald Trump’s rollback of Washington’s commitment to the two-state solution, even as her country and the international community vowed to keep pushing for the Palestinian statehood formula.

Julie Bishop said that while her country still supports the two-state idea, she would be open to a one-state agreement as well if that is what the sides desired, echoing Trump’s Wednesday statement of amenability to whatever Israelis and Palestinians decided on.

“The two sides need to sit down and negotiate a resolution – it can’t be imposed from outside,” Bishop told Sky News Australia on Thursday.

Asked her view on the one-state versus two-state ideas, Bishop said if there was “another solution that they were prepared to live with, that ensured the Israelis and Palestinians could live side by side, together, between internationally recognized boundaries, then of course the world should support that.”

When challenged that the one-state scheme is rejected by the Palestinians, Bishop responded that “what we need is for the Palestinians to recognize that the State of Israel exists and will continue to exist.”

On Wednesday, in a White House press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump bucked America’s longstanding commitment to a two-state solution, saying it didn’t need to be the only path forward.

“I’m looking at two states and one state, and I like the one that both parties like,” he said, showing enthusiasm for Netanyahu’s call for a regional initiative that relied on Israel’s improving relationships with Arab countries.

In a statement to the Guardian Australia, Bishop stressed that it was still her government’s policy to work on the two-state solution for resolving the conflict.

“We encourage both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to negotiate an outcome that would see Israelis and Palestinians living side by side, within internationally recognized borders, in a peaceful and stable environment,” she said.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, speaking to Sky News on Thursday, said his country still supports a two-state solution.

“Our position has not changed: There should be a two-state solution negotiated with Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” he said.

Netanyahu is scheduled to make an official visit to Australia next week. Bishop extended the invitation to visit during a September 2016 trip to Israel, during which she met with Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and Defense Minster Avigdor Liberman.

Last month Bishop delivered a rare rebuke of Israel’s settlement enterprise, expressing “concern” over an announcement of planned expansion of West Bank settlements and calling on Israel to cease unilateral steps that she said undermine the peace process.

“The Australian Government is concerned about the significant recent settlement announcement in the West Bank,” Bishop told ABC News. “We continue to call on both sides to avoid unilateral action that diminish the prospects of a negotiated two-state solution.”

Australia’s stance was notable because Canberra has long been an unconditional friend of Israel, unafraid to defy international consensus to shield the Jewish state from criticism of its settlement policy.

In 2014, Bishop told The Times of Israel that, contrary to conventional diplomatic wisdom, the settlements may not be illegal under international law. She refrained from condemning Israeli initiatives to build additional housing units beyond the Green Line or from calling on Israel to freeze such plans, merely saying the fact that settlements were being expanded showed the need for the sides to quickly reach a peace agreement.

“I don’t want to prejudge the fundamental issues in the peace negotiations,” Bishop said at the time. “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.”

Raphael Ahren and Eric Cortellessa contributed to this report.

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