Why did Australia oppose an ICJ advisory opinion on Israeli settlements?

Feb 15, 2023
Jerusalem view from the Olive mountain, Israel.

Surely the Australian people are entitled to an explanation as to why in December last year the government voted against an International Court of Justice advisory opinion on the legality of Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

On 30 December a vote was taken in the UN General Assembly whereby the International Court of Justice (ICJ) was requested to give an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s “occupation, settlement and annexation … including measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and from its adoption of related discriminatory legislation and measures”. Why did Australia vote against it?

The resolution was passed by 87 votes in favour to 26 against. There were 53 abstentions. Western nations split, the US, UK, Germany, Canada, and Australia, voted against, whilst Western nations which voted in favour included Ireland, Belgium, Portugal and Slovenia. The list of countries which abstained included Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

There was virtually unanimous support for the vote in the Islamic world, including among Arab states that have normalised relations with Israel. Russia and China voted in favour of the resolution.

As noted, Australia voted against. As far as I am aware there was no airing of the issue, nor explanation by the Australian government as to the reason for its opposition. There was no public debate. Surely the Australian people are entitled to an explanation as to why the government has so acted in their name, and why we would differ from friends such as New Zealand, France, and Ireland.

Why does Australia vote in this way? Our Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, has, in recent correspondence with the Australian Friends of Palestine Association (AFOPA), (to which correspondence I am privy), when pressed on the vote, stressed that the government is “guided by the principle of advancing the cause of peace and progress toward a just and enduring two-state solution”. She also asserts that “the conflict … must be resolved through negotiations”, and that “Australia will continue to call for parties to refrain from unilateral actions which undermine the prospects for peace”.

I hasten to add that both major Australian political parties sing from the same song book. Senator Simon Birmingham, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, in similar correspondence with AFOPA, wherein his party’s position on the vote was sought, asserts that the Coalition’s position remains that Australia “should strongly support a two-state solution”, and urged “all parties to refrain from violent or provocative acts”.

On this issue I draw attention to the following:

  • Israel’s participation in the establishment of illegal settlements, contrary to UN Security Council Resolution 2334, including increasing Israeli government subsidies for such settlements;
  • Israel’s (the new government’s) assertion that it proposes to annex the West Bank and expel Palestinians who don’t accept permanent subjugation under Israel’s apartheid rule;
  • Israel’s destruction of Palestinian structures in East Jerusalem;
  • Israel’s forcible transfer (in January) of up to 1,000 people from areas of the southern West Bank; and
  • Middle East Eye has compiled data that shows that Israeli Forces killed more Palestinians in the OT in 2022 than in any other year since 2000: 278 Palestinians died in 2022 and UN data informs that nearly 9000 were wounded in the same period: home demolitions by Israeli authorities and the destruction of farms and olive groves by Jewish settlers reached unprecedented levels.

I turn to the issue of the ‘two state solution’. I note the following statements by the Israeli government or current members of it:

  • Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett admitted, which admission was widely publicised, that Israel will never agree to a Palestinian state;
  • Netanyahu’s firm stance has been, “there will never be a Palestinian state”;
  • From the new government, “the occupation is permanent”: Zvika Fogel, a member of the Jewish Power party, coalition party member, headed by Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s new National Security minister;
  • That the new government has promised to expand settlements;
  • That the new government has released policy guidelines announcing the Jewish people’s ‘exclusive and inalienable right to all parts of the land of Israel’;
  • Jewish Power; another party in the new coalition government, calls for the expulsion of Palestinians, in other words, ethnic cleansing; and finally,
  • The new government is united in its intent to kill the two-state solution, and openly says so.

The effect of all that is to put the final nail in the coffin of the ‘two-state solution’.

The result is that our major parties’ assertion that Australia looks to a two-state solution resolved through negotiations is little more than a mantra, a political fantasy that died years ago. The two state solution is definitely a dead horse.

It is time for our government to get real on this issue. To do so it must come out strongly in condemnation of the fact that Israel is an apartheid state, and it must recognise the state of Palestine on the 1967 borders. In parenthesis, I note that recent ALP National conferences have called for such recognition.

It must then consider what sanctions are appropriate for the Australian government to impose on Israel until Israel ends the occupation of all lands east of the Green Line (the 1967 borders).

I am pleased to note that what I have just called for is consistent with the Statement issued on 3 February last by the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian people. I quote:

The Bureau firmly believes in supporting an immediate and unconditional end to Israel’s illegal, half-century-old occupation and establishing a two-State solution, with the achievement of the independence and sovereignty of the Palestinian State based on the 1967 lines, and the realisation of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including self-determination, and a just solution for the plight of the Palestinian refugees, in line with UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements.

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