Palestine: Rudd takes two steps forward and two back

By Kim Bullimore

On November 7, the UN General Assembly conducted its annual vote on a range of resolutions relating to the Middle East “peace process”. In a minor break with the Howard government’s stance on Israel, Australian PM Kevin Rudd’s Labor government voted in favour of two UN General Assembly resolutions calling for the ceasation of illegal settlement building by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and for the Geneva Conventions to be applied to the region.

From 1996 to 2002, the Howard government had voted in favour of similar resolutions put by the Special Political and Decolonisation Committee (the “Fourth Committee”) of the UN General Assembly. However, from 2003 until 2007, it either voted against or abstained on the vote.

While the Rudd government voted in favour of two resolutions, it also cast a negative vote in relation to two other crucial resolutions. Along with the US, Canada, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau, Australia voted against a resolution relating to “Israeli practices affecting human rights of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem”, as well as a resolution relating to the “work of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories”.

The negative vote was taken in the context of a UN report on Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people in the OPT written by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).The OHCHR report covered a nine-month period from January to August 2008, documenting in particular, the Israeli occupation policies of closures and severe restriction and their impacts on the socio-economic situation in both Gaza and the West Bank. It documented the impact of the illegal wall built by Israel, the destruction of Palestinian property by the Israeli occupation forces and the conditions affecting Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails.

According to the media release issued by the UN Department of Public Information, the OHCHR report noted that Israeli policy of closure had “a severe and detrimental impact on the rights of Palestinians, as guaranteed in article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and, more specifically, the individual’s right to freedom of movement, to choose a residence and to leave and re-enter the Occupied Palestinian Territory. These restrictions also have had serious consequences for Palestinians, including in the economic sphere. They also undermine the exercise of other rights guaranteed under international human rights law, by effectively impeding access to health care, education and employment”.

In voting against the resolution, Australia opposed holding Israel to account as an occupying power and demanding that it cooperate with the Fourth Committee “in accordance with its obligations as a member state of the United Nations”.