- Published on Tuesday, 07 August 2012 13:07
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr is today concluding a 3-day diplomatic visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Beginning in Jerusalem on Sunday Carr met with Israeli President Shimon Peres before meeting with PA officials in Ramallah and Israeli officials in Jerusalem.
They two reportedly discussed security and strengthening trade relations between the two countries. Trade relations between Australia and Israel are already worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce. The AICC, which fosters economic ties between the two nations, is described as the pre-eminent chamber of commerce in the country.
Security talks focused on regional events. The Jerusalem post reported that a spokesman for President Peres has said that Syria and Iran had come up for discussion and that Carr had shown deep sensitivity for Israel’s security needs.
The crisis in Syria has been an issue that Carr addressed when he visited Jordan on Saturday and met with King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Nasser Judah. Carr stressed that the world must not just pay attention to the crisis in Syria but also to the immense burden that the movement of refugees into Jordan is having on what is one of the most water-poor countries in the world.
“This is a humanitarian disaster,” said Carr and that “Australia has taken a lead in calling for a unified international response to end the bloodshed.”
Carr has visited the Occupied Territories before but yesterday was his first visit as Foreign Minister. He met in the morning with PA Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki before having lunch with the head of the PLO’s Media Department Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, to whom he had previously presented to Sydney Peace Prize in 2003 amidst a storm of controversy.
Carr released a statement to the press late last night in which he said that he is proud to have attended every Palestinian national day in Australia going back to the early 1990s and that he was concerned with the lack of progress of peace negotiations.
In his meeting with Ashrawi, the two discussed the PA’s ongoing efforts to bring negotiations closer. Ashrawi said “we, Palestinians, want to partner with Australia and its people in our quest for peace by ending Israel's illegal and immoral occupation, and creating an independent Palestinian state” and that “freedom and dignity are values we all share, and this can only be achieved with the application of international law and universal human rights. We hope this Australian government will undo some of the damage of the past and that it will contribute to Palestinian rights and the establishment of a just peace."
Ashrawi reiterated that it is her hope that Australia and other members of the community will support the Palestinians as they exercise their ‘inalienable rights of self-determination and freedom”
Later in the afternoon he met with President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to discuss Australian’s ongoing relationship with the PA. The meeting concluded with Carr committing 300 million dollars over 5 years to help sustain the Palestinian Authority, which is suffering a fiscal crisis and has not been able to consistently pay its on employees or the employees of agencies related to it for several months now
Earlier this year Carr drew fierce criticism from sections of the Australian press after his announcement to donate $90 million to UNRWA, the United Nations agency that provides social services such as education and health services to Palestinian refugees in the Occupied Territories, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. It remains to be seen what response his most recent announcement will draw.
Today Carr proceeded to Jerusalem for meetings scheduled with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman where discussions centred on Iran and the Syrian crisis as well as the recent violence in the Sinai.
Bob Carr also reportedly raised the issue of Palestinian children being detained in Israeli prisons, a detention that contravenes international law, but there is no word yet on what outcomes were reached.
Both Carr and his predecessor Kevin Rudd have raised the issue previously with the Israelis. Late last month Bob Carr’s office issued a statement expressing concern for the rights of Palestinian children who are detained in Israeli jails – illegally – and face torrents of abuse, including and not limited to electric shock torture, beatings, being attacked by the army’s dogs, and threats of rape, all of which have been documented by Defence of Children International.
Previously Carr has voice his concern over the ongoing construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which he sees as an obstacle to peace. It is unclear how he intends to pressure Prime Minister Netanyahu to alter his existing stance though.
He reasserted that the construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank is ‘unhelpful’ and ‘counter-productive’ to achieving peace but said in a meeting with Quarter member Tony Blair this afternoon that he is “cautiously optimistic that progress can be made” and that “Israeli and Palestinian leaders have expressed in principle support for negotiations, in my discussions and in their talks with Mr Blair.”