By Dr. Saeb Erekat
While some people were dismayed by the latest decision by the Australian government to cease its financial contributions to the Palestinian government, we weren’t. It was not a complete surprise following Australia’s alignment with the current US administration during the latest United Nations vote, whereby Australia and the US voted against the Palestinian right of self-determination, an international commission of inquiry following the killings of over 100 civilians, and a call for international protection of the Palestinian people. We believe it is time for the Australian government to be sincere about their goals in Israel/Palestine and clearly state what their actions are doing: endorsing Israeli attempts at burying the Palestinian cause.
Indeed, the recent decision by the Australian government to stop its annual financial contribution to the Palestinian government is nothing but an appeasement to extremists. The claim that the funds are used for “activities that Australia would never support” are baseless. Even Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, confirmed that the previous funds have been used as intended. In fact, Australia would contribute to a fund among other donors such as France, Finland, Kuwait, Norway, and the United Kingdom.
The implication of Bishop’s decision that funds used to provide Palestinians with health and education services are being diverted in a way that contradicts “Australian values” is quite a shame. She was referring to the welfare system of payments to the families of victims of the Israeli occupation, in their vast majority civilians with no political affiliation, that are relatives of people that have been either killed or imprisoned by the Israeli occupation. This has been the case of more than 800,000 Palestinians since 1967 having to confront Israeli military courts, which present a record of 99,74% of conviction rate, including thousands of minors such as Ahed Tamimi or prisoners jailed without any charges. This is not a “pay-for-slain” mechanism, rather it is a social responsibility that we will continue to honour and to which Australian money has been never used.
While Israel continues its settler colonial expansion and extrajudicial killing of unarmed civilians, including 21-year-old medic Razan Najjar in Gaza, the Australian government has taken a position in actual contradiction to Australian values, including “respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual”.
In 2014 Australia’s former attorney general George Brandis stated the term “occupied” to describe East Jerusalem, including illegal Israeli settlements, was “unhelpful”. However, occupation is not a political term, rather it is the legal status of Palestine, including East Jerusalem. Around the same period of time, the Australian ambassador to Israel met Israeli officials in occupied East Jerusalem, an action tantamount to acceptance of Israel’s illegal annexation of the occupied city. It is clear that rather than isolated events, we are witnessing a change of Australian policy vis-à-vis the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine.
The Australian government message to Israel is that systematic violations of UN resolutions and international law will be met with impunity. While it may still verbally endorse the “two-state solution”, Australia’s government actions say otherwise.
At a time when Israel has announced thousands of new colonial-settlement units in occupied Palestine, and is currently forcibly transferring Palestinian communities such as Khan Al Ahmar, Abu Nuwar and Jabal al Baba in the eastern Jerusalem area, the Australian government could not find a single word of condemnation. In fact, Australia has ignored calls from human rights organisations such as Amnesty International to take action. While the Israel/Palestine director of Human Rights Watch, Omar Shakir, is being threatened with expulsion by the Israeli occupation, the Australian government continues to praise the “only democracy in the Middle East”.
It is for these reasons that we were not surprised at the current Australian government aligning with the Trump administration and Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightwing government against the human and civil rights of the Palestinian people. We hope that the Australian government will reconsider its position and support the two state solution by recognising the state of Palestine on the 1967 border with East Jerusalem as its capital.
We are looking forward to the day that Australian foreign policy will once again be aligned with international law, UN resolutions and the values of justice, freedom and peace, rather than being used to blame the victims and reward the systematic violations of international humanitarian law committed by Israel, the occupying power.
Saeb Erekat is the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization