Speech to the Senate on the Australian and Israeli relationship

The announcement by the Prime Minister to investigate the possibility of relocating the Australian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv is to be applauded. Every sovereign nation has the right to determine the capital and its seat of government. Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East that abides by the rule of law, is slighted by elements of the world community not recognising its designated capital. It would be like countries saying to Australia, 'We don't recognise Canberra—for whatever reason—and, therefore, we will place our embassy in Goulburn.' No slight on Goulburn. I'm sure it's a great city and town in the state of New South Wales—Senator Molan agrees, so I'm glad I have that support in this debate. It is important to recognise that a sovereign nation has the right to determine where its national capital will be. So I'm delighted that there is now a move within the world community to right this wrong. It is a move that has been discussed for a long time, and countries as diverse as Guatemala, Paraguay, the Czech Republic, Romania, Honduras and, indeed, the United States have engaged in this discussion.

In relation to the United States it is very informative to look at the history. The history is that former President Bill Clinton made the promise that he would move US embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel. President George W Bush, through his two terms, also made that promise. And guess who else made that promise? None other than President Barack Obama through his two terms. The two houses of Congress have passed motion after motion for over two decades supporting this move. And, yet, interestingly, when a United States President, the fourth in a row making this promise, actually delivers on the promise it is somehow to be condemned. I for one support the United States' stance in relation to this issue in delivering on a very clearly enunciated election promise by President Trump, and an election promise clearly enunciated on the basis of a fundamental principle as to what is right in all the circumstances.

In moving the embassy to Jerusalem the false assertion is made that somehow this might prejudice the peace process. Let's be very clear that the move of the embassy and any consideration by Australia, and I stress it's only a consideration at this stage, would be to move the embassy to West Jerusalem, which is not disputed territory in relation to the peace process between Israel and Palestine. West Jerusalem was part and parcel of the borders, or within the borders, of Israel prior to the 1967 war and, therefore, it is not disputed territory. I think that is something that is very important to recognise.

I do note that the Labor Party yesterday tried to use question time to argue against the investigation. Why you would argue against an investigation must simply be motivated by politics, pure and simple, unless there is another agenda.

And whilst the Liberal Party, at both a federal council level and state council levels, has overwhelmingly passed motions supporting the move of the Australian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to West Jerusalem, I note that the Labor Party has listed at its conference later this year a debate on whether a future Labor government would recognise 'the Palestinian state'. Let's be clear: if you want to recognise 'the Palestinian state', you have a choice. The choice is to recognise the Hamas-run Gaza Strip—and Hamas something that we in this country recognise as a terrorist organisation—or to recognise the Palestinian authority, which, if my memory serves me correctly, is currently in the 14th year of its three-year term of parliament. What a great beacon of democracy: in its 14th year, after having been elected for only a three-year term.

The other element for a peace process is that whoever might form the Palestinian government in the future has to recognise the right of Israel's existence, and that is something that those on the Palestinian side have continued to refuse to dedicate themselves to. Until such time as the Palestinian community is willing to recognise Israel's right to exist, there is an existential threat to Israel for its ongoing maintenance and existence. That is why, with a peace process, the very sensitive and sensible suggestion by the United States of moving its embassy to West Jerusalem, which is not in disputed territory, actually allows the peace process to continue. Whilst these acts of terrorism are emanating out of the Palestinian area, it is very important to recognise that Israel has a right to exist, that Israel is a state that is under severe threat on an ongoing basis. But here we have the Labor Party wanting to recognise the Palestinian state. Let them say whether they would want the Palestinian state to be run by the terrorist organisation Hamas or the Palestinian authority that has remained in power for 14 years after having been elected for a three-year term. And let them condemn, as indeed the Greens should condemn, the anti-Semitic—indeed, the racist—campaign of BDS, or 'boycott, divestment and sanctions', against Israel and the businesses that operate from Israel.

So, the announcement by the Prime Minister in recent days that Australia would have a look at moving its embassy is a very welcome move. It is based on the views of many countries around the world that this should happen. Countries are actually doing it as we speak. Within the Australian body politic there have been moves within the Liberal Party. And indeed Australia's most recent Ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, has seen the benefits of investigating this as well. You may know that Dave Sharma is the endorsed Liberal candidate for the seat of Wentworth—a man who was appointed as the youngest-ever ambassador for Australia under the previous Labor government. That is the high regard in which he is held on both sides of politics for his capacity.

That is why I am delighted that the Prime Minister, having listened to the wisdom and experience of such a wonderful former ambassador as Dave Sharma and to the Liberal Party councils and to other countries around the world, is now giving serious consideration to moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to West Jerusalem, which would right a wrong that has continued for far too long. I look forward to the outcomes of the investigation and trust that West Jerusalem will be chosen in due course to be the site of the Australian embassy in Israel.

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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