Australia has refused to sign up to a US-led statement condemning an open-ended UN inquiry into Israeli human rights abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories, in a policy shift by the Albanese government. The US statement, calling for an end to “disproportionate scrutiny” of Israel by the UN Human Rights Council, was backed by 22 nations, including Israel, Britain, Germany, Brazil, Hungary, The Netherlands and Guatemala. Australia issued its own statement, saying it was “deeply concerned about the ongoing conflict, loss of life and human rights abuses, and the lack of progress towards a just and enduring two-state solution”. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Ehud Yaari says Israel, in a way, has not managed over the past nine years of Liberal government to “cultivate sufficiently” its relations with the ALP. “A lot needs to be done now,” he told Sky News Australia.

Australia’s statement, issued by the nation’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Amanda Gorely, replicated elements of the US text. It said Australia, like the US, did not support the fact Israel was the only country subject to an open-ended commission of inquiry. “We agree we must work to counter impunity and promote accountability on a basis of consistent and universally applied standards,” it said. “Australia agrees that the Human Rights Council brings a disproportionate scrutiny to Israel.” The commission of inquiry was established after the two-week Israel-Palestine crisis last May in which hundreds of people were killed. Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the new government had “taken the opportunity to elaborate on our approach to the Middle East peace process” by issuing its own national statement.

“This approach demonstrates our concern for human rights in the Palestinian territories while maintaining our strong concerns about the commission of inquiry’s mandate and our view that the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) brings disproportionate scrutiny to Israel. Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham said the government had “created unnecessary ambiguity around Australia’s position and weakened the impact of a joint statement by some of our closest partners”. “Australia should expect the UNHRC to be even-handed in all of its dealings and we should have the courage to join like-minded nations in calling it out when they’re not,” Senator Birmingham said. “These actions will understandably escalate concerns about how much the Labor government will change Australia’s stance in relation to Israel. They should provide clarity on these matters to the many Australians who will be concerned.”

The pro-Israel lobby in Australia would have preferred Australia backed the US statement, seeing the move to issue a separate statement as a policy shift. But it welcomed the government’s rejection of the UNHRC’s “disproportionate” focus on Israel. Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler said the government had taken a “principled stand” against the idea that Israel should be a permanent UNHRC agenda item. “In doing so, the government has maintained the bipartisan consensus that Israel should be treated like all other countries,” he said. “We also welcome the government’s expression of its fundamental concerns with the commission of inquiry.” Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council executive director Colin Rubenstein said the government had “refused to accept the morally indefensible position” that Israel be the UNHRC’s only permanent agenda item.

Source: The Australian

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