Meeting PM, Australia Labor head pushes Palestinian state
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Meeting PM, Australia Labor head pushes Palestinian state

Opposition leader Bill Shorten says he told Netanyahu ‘clearly and unambiguously’ that West Bank settlements hindering peace deal

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meets with the Australian Federal opposition leader Bill Shorten in Sydney, Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. (William West/Pool Photo via AP)
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meets with the Australian Federal opposition leader Bill Shorten in Sydney, Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. (William West/Pool Photo via AP)

Australia’s opposition leader Bill Shorten said he raised his Labor Party’s concerns about Israel’s settlements during discussions with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday.

The pair talked for almost an hour in Sydney on the third day of the first Australian visit by a serving Israeli prime minister.

Shorten and three Labor colleagues reiterated the center-left party’s support for a two-state solution to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians.

“We want to see Israel safe and secure of its borders; we support the rights of the Palestinians people to have their own state,” Shorten told reporters after the meeting.

“We expressed the view very clearly and unambiguously that where settlements and their expansion are a road block to peace, that’s damaging to the peace process,” he said.

A statement from Netanyahu’s office said the two “discussed diplomatic and regional issues such as Iran, Syria and the Palestinians,” without elaborating. It said the prime minister “stressed the problematic nature of the nuclear agreement with Iran, Iran’s regional aggression and its expansionist aspirations.”

“MP Shorten emphasized the bipartisan nature of admiration for Israel in Australia and reiterated his support for Israel,” it added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, walks with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, right, upon their arrival at Admiralty House in Sydney, Australia, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017 (Jason Reed/Pool Photo via AP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, walks with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, right, upon their arrival at Admiralty House in Sydney, Australia, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017 (Jason Reed/Pool Photo via AP)

Labor elders frustrated by the lack of progress in finding a two-party solution have called on the party to adopt a policy of recognizing the state of Palestine.

Former Labor prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Bob Hawke, as well as former foreign ministers Gareth Evans and Bob Carr, want Australia to join 137 countries in giving diplomatic recognition to an independent Palestine.

On his first day in Australia on Wednesday, Netanyahu challenged Rudd and Hawke to explain whether they would support a Palestinian state that did not recognize Israel’s right to exist.

“I ask both former prime ministers to ask a simple question: What kind of state will it be that they are advocating? A state that calls for Israel’s destruction? A state whose territory will be used immediately for radical Islam?” Netanyahu said.

Rudd, who was prime minister until a conservative coalition was elected in 2013, replied that the boundaries, internal security, external security, public finance and governance of a Palestinian state have been elaborated in detail in multiple negotiations with US administrations.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also supports a two-state solution, but said the Palestinians must also be prepared to come to the negotiating table.

Netanyahu omitted a reference to the two-state solution in a joint declaration Thursday with his Australian counterpart. It appeared to be the first formal manifestation of a dramatic scaling back of Israeli support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an idea that for years has been promoted by the international community.

Netanyahu was set to attend a Shabbat dinner on Friday evening hosted by Turnbull. On Sunday, he will meet with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop before returning to Israel.

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