COMMUNAL leaders have condemned comments by senior Labor frontbencher Tony Burke, who accused Israel of preventing a two-state solution by building settlements and trashing Palestinians’ drinking water.
The shadow minister for finance made the controversial remarks at an Australia Palestine Advocacy Network fundraising dinner in Sydney late last month.
Referring to UN compounds in Gaza, Burke said those who justified Israel’s “bombing of people who were told ‘this was safe’” are “on the wrong side of that argument”.
“When you see people who have had their drinking water trashed by a settlement upstream, you get a sense very quickly of proportion,” he said, after meeting with the Friends of Palestine group.
“Israel’s actions have changed. It is one thing for them to have been supporting the 1967 resolution and to have said for years, ‘well, it’s a negotiated outcome and we just haven’t got there yet’.
“But when settlements are being built between Bethlehem and Ramallah, all the way south of Jericho, that’s about preventing a two-state solution. It cannot be about anything else. It’s about dividing territory to prevent there from being a workable state.”
He also restated Bob Carr’s position that “all Israeli settlements on Palestinian land are illegal”.
Asked if Burke’s comments reflected the ALP position, shadow minister for foreign affairs Tanya Plibersek told The AJN this week that “the settlements are frankly a very difficult question.
“I think most people understand that peace will be achieved on the basis of 1967 borders with some land swaps that will include settlements,” she said, adding, “I don’t think that the building of settlements is helping the peace process along.”
Labelling Burke’s comments as “ill-informed”, Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Robert Goot said, “Mr Burke has made pronouncements about the Israel–Hamas war, without making any reference to the crimes of Hamas or addressing Hamas’s responsibility for the bloodshed.
“His reference to disputed territory as Palestinian land, prejudges the outcome of the current peace talks. One would not have expected a senior and respected figure in the Labor Party to make so basic an error as to treat all the settlements alike when commenting on their international legality.
“History also shows that Mr Burke’s statement that ‘settlements [are] about preventing a two-state solution’ is patently untrue. Israel unilaterally relinquished its settlements in Gaza, but that did not temper Hamas’s genocidal agenda, as specified in its charter and in numerous public statements by its leaders.”
Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council executive director Colin Rubenstein said, “Burke may believe his comments are not inconsistent with ALP policy calling for the establishment of a Palestinian State alongside a secure Israel, but if he feels strongly enough to make public interventions the least he should do is inform himself about the real barriers to it – such as Hamas ideology and the war crimes it commits, Palestinian extremism and rejectionism, and the unwillingness or inability of the Palestinian leadership to accept repeated, reasonable offers of statehood made by Israel.”
Burke was unavailable for comment when contacted by The AJN.
Tony Burke made controversial comments about Israel at a pro-Palestinian fundraiser in Sydney late last month.