Interview with Sabra Lane, ABC AM

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister, Australia’s vote at UNGA.

Sabra Lane: Tim Watts is the Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs. He's recently been in Qatar and Egypt and is now in the Israeli city of Jerusalem before heading to the West Bank tomorrow.

Tim Watts, you've met Israel's Foreign Minister Eli Cohen. What has he told you directly about Australia voting in favour of the UN resolution demanding a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well look, Sabra, obviously I won't go into private discussions between ministers, but I can say that Israel is well aware of Australia's support for its right of self-defence and appreciative of that support.

Similarly appreciative of Australia's support for amendments at the United Nations to specify that this is a conflict that was initiated by Hamas and that Hamas is responsible for initiating this conflict.

This Israel visit is the third leg of my visit to the Middle East. I've been in Qatar, Egypt and now Israel, and the really consistent message that we've had is that, you know, the status quo has been failing everyone. There's an imperative that all parties get back on track for a long-term political resolution to this conflict.

Sabra Lane: That resolution didn't name Hamas and it didn't mention the October the 7th attacks. Did Mr Cohen say anything to you about that?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well look, as I say, I'm not going to go into private discussions, but Australia's position is clear on the record. We thought that while the humanitarian situation is dire there and we want to see a return to the humanitarian pause that we saw recently, the seven-day pause that allowed for the release of 105 hostages and for much-needed humanitarian assistance to get into Gaza, we did think that that resolution could have been improved by specifying that this is a conflict initiated by Hamas.

Sabra Lane: If it could have been improved why did we back it then? Why did we not abstain or vote no?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, we take every resolution on its merits, and we think that the humanitarian situation is dire in Gaza. We thought that the recent pause, the seven-day pause was constructive, and we think it's a useful step on the pathway to a sustainable and permanent ceasefire that we'd like the parties to step towards.

We know that that can't be one-sided though, in that we need to see Hamas immediately and unconditionally releasing prisoners, stopping using civilian infrastructure as to launch attacks and using civilians as human shields.

Sabra Lane: Israel's ambassador to Australia has questioned how Australia could vote for this. In his words he says, 'This resolution emboldens Hamas', while some Arab Australians say that Australia's support for it is too little too late. What is your response?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, we obviously would have preferred that the resolution also made reference to the October 7 attack perpetrated by Hamas on innocent civilians. We supported amendments to that effect. Because we believe that the resolution should have gone further by unequivocally condemning Hamas.

Now, that said ‑‑

Sabra Lane: Still, many people will be confused by that. If you think the resolution could be improved and Australia voted for it, that will cause many people here to think, 'Hang on, what's going on?'

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, we take every resolution on its merits, Sabra. We welcomed the humanitarian pause agreed by the parties recently. And this resolution was the world, 152 countries coming together, to argue for a continuation of those pauses, for those pauses to be resumed so that civilians can get the humanitarian aid that they desperately need. So, that's why we've supported that. And it's consistent with the position, I should say, that we've advocated since the start of this conflict.

Sabra Lane: Is it ‑‑

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: We recognise Israel's right to self-defence, but the way that it exercised that right matters.

Sabra Lane: Did the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister talk or take the Labor caucus by surprise with this decision?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Sabra, no, I'm not going to go into internal party processes, but the party is fully united behind this position. Our position has been clear and consistent since the outset of this conflict. We've been arguing for humanitarian pauses to ensure that sustained, consistent and safe humanitarian supplies can reach the people who need it since very early on in this conflict. And that resolution supports that.

Sabra Lane: Liberal MP Julian Leeser says supporting this resolution is a tawdry political move by Labor to shore up seats like the Prime Minister's electorate of Grayndler from the Greens. Another Liberal, Andrew Hastie, says a ceasefire would give Hamas time to regroup and that it's weak leadership from the Prime Minister. What's your response?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well look, unlike the Liberal Party, we do not view this very serious international conflict through the prism of domestic party-political politics. We've been clear that Hamas must be defeated and dismantled. We've also been clear though that the price of that cannot be the continuous suffering of Palestinian civilians.

You know, ultimately what we all need to be doing is working towards a long-term just and enduring peace, and we can't realise Israeli aspirations without also realising Palestinian aspirations. The only way to resolve this conflict is by getting them back on track to a political solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live side‑by‑side in peace and prosperity in Internationally-recognised borders.

Sabra Lane: Tim Watts, thanks for talking to AM.

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Thank you, Sabra.

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