Britain called in Israel’s envoy last week to protest against Jerusalem’s intention to build more settlements in the West Bank. In stark contrast, Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, in Israel last week for Ariel Sharon’s funeral, urged the international community to refrain from branding the settlements “illegal”.
“I would like to see which international law has declared them illegal,” Ms Bishop declared in an interview with the Times of Israel last week.
Australia’s strident stance under the new Liberal government of Tony Abbott is at odds not just with Britain and most of the world, but with Israel’s staunchest allies. Canada has branded settlements a “violation” of the Fourth Geneva Convention while US Secretary of State John Kerry has described them as “illegitimate”.
The fourth article of the Geneva Convention states that an occupying power shall not “deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”. Violations of the convention are considered war crimes, but Israel claims it does not apply to the territories it captured in 1967.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior PLO official, called on Canberra to clarify its position. “I would like to remind the Australian government that in accordance with international human rights law and international humanitarian law, all settlements are illegal,” she said.
Her claim, however, was dismissed by Peter Wertheim, of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry: “The PLO statement is a disingenuous way of making a contentious claim about the legality of the settlements appear to be an incontrovertible truth.”
But Larry Stillman and Jordy Silverstein of the left-wing Australian Jewish Democratic Society, said: “For Australia to cast doubt on the agreement … that the occupation is illegal and cruel is a highly irresponsible and damaging act by this country.