Australia changes position on Israeli settlements

An Israeli settlement in Palestinian territory.

The Abbott government has sunk to a new diplomatic low, with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop suggesting Israeli settlements should not be considered illegal.

Bishop made the comments during a visit to Israel. In a January 15 interview with the Times of Israel, she argued “the issue of settlements is absolutely and utterly fundamental to the negotiations that are under way and I think it’s appropriate that we give those negotiations every chance of succeeding”.

When asked if Israeli settlements inside Palestinian territory should be considered illegal, she replied: "I would like to see which international law has declared them illegal.”

If Bishop were interested in an answer, she would have to look no further than the 49th article of the Geneva convention, which says: "[An] Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that the convention does apply to the West Bank — occupied by Israel during the 1967 war — and that settlement building and the construction of the apartheid wall that protects the settlements are in violation of the convention.

The Obama administration reaffirmed in November they "do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity" after negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government broke down.

However, the truth is Israel's allies, such as Australia and the US, have never exerted any real pressure to stop the expansion of settlements or insist on their removal from Palestinian territory in the West Bank.

The US continues to guarantee Israel's "qualitative military edge" over its neighbours. A 2007 memorandum of understanding guarantees $30 billion of military aid over 10 years.

Since the election of Tony Abbott’s government, Australia's pretence of diplomatic neutrality on the issue has been shed in favour of bold-faced support for Israel. As negotiations were breaking down, Australia abstained from a UN resolution calling on Israel to "stop all settlement activities”.

But global pressure on the apartheid state is growing, despite the blind eye turned by Western governments to the crimes and atrocities committed by Israel.

The latest wave of activism has targeted actress Scarlett Johansson for becoming the new face of Israeli company SodaStream, which makes its products in the settlement of Ma'ale Adumim.

In a recent interview with Channel 2, Israel's Minister of Justice ,Tzipi Livni, said Israel was facing "South-Africa style isolation" due to the settlements, and that they were "bricks in the wall of isolation around us”.

It is a position in stark contrast to that of Bishop, who said in the Times of Israel that the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is “anti-Semitic”.

She said: “It identifies Israel out of all other nations as being worthy of a boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign? Hypocritical beyond belief.”

Her comments were criticised by the Australian Jewish Democratic Society, which said: "It is time for Australia to speak plainly to Israel about the urgent need to end the settlements, eliminate settler violence and set in place an internationally-supported process that results in withdrawal from the territories and a final resolution of the conflict.”

Bishop's comments have brought Australia's unilateral support for Israeli settlements back into the media. But the movement for BDS is not concerned only with settlements or settler violence.

The three fundamental demands of the BDS movement are for ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and dismantling the apartheid wall; recognising the right of Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respecting the right of return of Palestinian refugees abroad.

The movement stands for justice for all Palestinians — those exiled or assimilated by Israel as well as those in the West Bank. That is what makes BDS so threatening and terrifying to apologists for Israeli apartheid like Bishop.