Op-Ed: Wooing Moslems: Australian Lakmba Mosque Declaration
Background: The two major political parties in Australia are the Liberal- Nationals Coalition and the Labor Party. There has been a hung Parliament for the last three years in which the Labor Party with the support of the Greens and some independents has held the balance of power.
Kevin Rudd - the current Prime Minister - was elected in 2007 but resigned in 2010 after losing the confidence of his colleagues and replaced with Julia Gillard - the first female Prime Minister of Australia. She was removed by her colleagues and replaced by Mr Rudd in June 2013.
Elections will be held on 7 September 2013 with the Liberals-Nationals coalition likely to win power in its own right. The Liberal-Nationals Coalition has generally always adopted a pro-Israel policy.
The Labor Party has been progressively adopting a less favourable Israeli policy with the rapidly increasing number of Moslem immigrants arriving in Australia.
There are now about 400000 Moslems and 120000 Jews in Australia.
Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr's announcement in the heat of the current election campaign that Labor Party policy does not recognize the legal right of Jews to live in the "West Bank" - seems to have been hastily clobbered together without any serious discussion or consideration by the Labor Party.
Speaking at the Lakemba Mosque in Sydney on 8 August at celebrations marking the end of Ramadan - Carr reportedly stated:
"I've been to Ramallah, I've spoken to the Palestinian leadership, and we support their aspirations to have a Palestinian state in the context of a Middle East of peace. And that means respect for the right of Israel to exist. But we want that Palestinian state to exist, in the context of a peace in the Middle East, and that's why we say, unequivocally, all settlements on Palestinian land are illegal under international law and should cease. That is the position, of Kevin Rudd, the position of the Federal Labor Government, and we don't make apologies for it."
Carr's shock announcement has brought forth sharp criticism from peak Jewish organisations in Australia including the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) and the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) - as well as a blistering attack by Opposition Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop.
Ms Bishop has released correspondence disclosing that Senator Carr did not seek any advice from the International Law Office within the Attorney General's Department - relying instead only on legal advice supplied by his own Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) - before committing Prime Minister Rudd and the Labor Party to the policy enunciated at the Lakemba Mosque.
DFAT legal advice had only looked at the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention and their applicability in Judea and Samaria, named the West Bank by Jordan.It had failed to consider the relevance and applicability of article 6 of the Mandate for Palestine and article 80 of the United Nations Charter which preserves the right of Jews to live in the "West Bank" conferred on them by the Mandate.
If you only consider half the law - you can only provide the Minister with half an answer that can turn out to be totally unreliable - as has happened in this case.
DFAT, Senator Carr, Prime Minister Rudd and the Labor Party were obviously unaware of a letter signed on 22 July by more than 1000 prominent international lawyers and politicians addressed to Baroness Catherine Ashton - High Representative of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission (EC).
In their letter the signatories asserted that Jews are legally entitled to live in the "West Bank" and questioned the relevance and the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to Israel's alleged occupation of the "West Bank".
The signatories stated:
"The long-held view of the EU as to the illegality of Israel’s settlements is a misreading of the relevant provisions of international law, and specifically Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which is neither relevant to the unique circumstances of Israel’s status in the area, nor was it ever applicable, or intended to apply to Israel’s circumstances in Judea and Samaria (The "West Bank" - ed)"
Senator Carr needs to explain how he could "unequivocally " commit the Labor Party to a policy based on the Fourth Geneva Convention when its applicability had been thrown into grave doubt by the Ashton letter - and especially as no binding legal decision exists that supports the DFAT advice given to Carr.
But the signatories went even further in making it very clear that Jews had the legal right to live in Judea and Samaria:
"The legality of Israel’s presence in the area stems from the historic, indigenous and legal rights of the Jewish people to settle in the area, as granted in valid and binding international legal instruments recognized and accepted by the international community. These rights cannot be denied or placed in question. This includes the 1922 San Remo Declaration unanimously adopted by the League of Nations, affirming the establishment of a national home for the Jewish People in the historical area of the Land of Israel (including the areas of Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem) as well as close Jewish settlement throughout.
"This was subsequently affirmed internationally in the League of Nations Mandate Instrument, and accorded continued validity, up to the present day, by Article 80 of the UN Charter which reaffirmed the validity of the rights granted to all states or peoples, or already existing international instruments (including those adopted by the League of Nations). "
Who in DFAT provided Senator Carr with legal advice that failed to even consider these highly relevant international legal instruments?
Both Senator Carr and Mr Rudd have so far failed to disclose when the Labor Party adopted this contentious and controversial policy before it was announced at the Lakemba mosque.
While Senator Carr makes no apologies for this policy - the Labor Party has clearly not made its decision after carefully considering all the relevant international law dealing with the issue.
Repeating the mantra that Jewish settlements in the "West Bank" are illegal in international law may bring the Labor Party crucial votes - especially in tightly held Labor marginal seats where large Moslem populations reside.
But this policy could also prove electorally damaging if it was made on the run without any detailed policy formulation to enable it to stand up to the intense scrutiny that every piece of policy announced by any party must inevitably be subjected to from the media, the voters and affected interest groups.
The Lakemba Mosque Declaration smacks of political opportunism thrust onto an unwitting and unprepared Labor Party on the steps of the mosque.
Senator Carr and Mr Rudd now need to answer four questions well before voting day:
1. On what date was the Lakemba Mosque Declaration adopted as Labor Party policy?
2. Who were the persons present when such policy was adopted?
3. What international law was relied on to enable the Labor Party to "say unequivocally" that Jews had no legal right to live in the "West Bank"?
4. Is the Labor Party prepared to review its policy in view of the flawed advice given to it by DFAT?
The ECAJ, ZFA, AIJAC, the Opposition and the media should all be demanding those answers.
Senator Carr's controversial Lakemba Mosque Declaration has clearly upset many voters - who find it abhorrent that the Labor Party should unapologetically espouse a policy that denies Jews have the legal right to live in their biblical, historic and legally sanctioned homeland.
Policy on the run is certainly a recipe for electoral disaster.