Day before Netanyahu arrives, Australia backs 2-state solution

Turnbull says both sides must return to negotiations, voices support for Palestinian statehood, Israeli security

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in New York, on September 21, 2016 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in New York, on September 21, 2016 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

A day before Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to land in Sydney for the first-ever visit to Australia by a sitting Israeli prime minister, Canberra on Tuesday restated its support for the two-state solution.

“Israel and the Palestinians need to come to a settlement and we support a directly negotiated two-state solution so that Palestinians will have their own state and the people of Israel can be secure within agreed borders,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wrote in The Australian newspaper, amid suggestions that the Israeli leader was no longer backing the two-state formula.

In a time of deep and intractable conflicts in the Middle East, Israeli and Palestinian leaders “should return to the negotiating table and work towards a solution that upholds the rights of both peoples to live side by side in peace and security,” he wrote.

Australia’s foreign minister had indicated last week that Canberra could be open to a one-state agreement as well if that was what the sides desired, echoing US President Donald Trump’s statement last Wednesday that he would accept whatever Israelis and Palestinians agreed on.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, August 4, 2016. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, August 4, 2016. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Turnbull also warmly welcomed his Israeli counterpart, called the Jewish state a “miraculous nation” and stated unequivocally that his government rejected UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which in December harshly criticized Israel’s settlement enterprise.

“My government will not support one-sided resolutions criticizing Israel of the kind recently adopted by the UN Security Council and we deplore the boycott campaigns designed to delegitimize the Jewish state,” Turnbull said.

After a two-day visit to Singapore, Netanyahu and his delegation will on Wednesday make their way to Sydney, where the premier will stay until Sunday, meeting with top government officials and senior leaders of the Jewish community.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had said Thursday that if there was “another solution” besides two states “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.

Netanyahu is expected to face a series of protests during the state visit. Over 60 prominent Australians signed an open letter opposing his visit, citing the Israeli government’s policies toward the Palestinians, and demonstrations are planned for Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra.

“It is time for the suffering of the Palestinian people to stop and for Australia to take a more balanced role in supporting the application of international law and not supporting Mr Netanyahu and his policies,” the signatories — including former politicians, legal professionals and clergy — wrote. “Mr Netanyahu’s policies consistently aim to provoke, intimidate and oppress the Palestinian population which increase that imbalance [of power], thus taking Israel irretrievably further from peace. These policies are inconsistent with Australian values and beliefs and we should not welcome him here,” they added.

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