Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer
Wednesday, 23 August 2000
Australian Representative Office, Ramallah
In a major step forward in its dealings with the Palestinian Authority, I have today announced that Australia is to open a Representative Office in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
At this critical moment in the history of the contemporary Middle East, it is important for Australia to be closely informed of developments, to strengthen its relations with all key parties, and to play a positive and constructive part in support of negotiations to secure a just and comprehensive peace.
The decision to establish the Australian Representative Office represents a significant step toward meeting that need. It will make a substantial contribution to facilitating Australia's dealings with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinian Authority has several of its Ministries in Ramallah, which is approximately 20 minutes drive north of Jerusalem.
The Australian Representative Office will have responsibility for our development assistance program, which at $7.4 million per annum places us among the major donors to the Palestinians. The Office will have full access to the Palestinian Authority for coordination for our aid activities.
The Office will enable Australia to promote other objectives in the region more effectively, including support for democracy and good governance. It will also facilitate expansion of our commercial contacts.
The Office will open within the next few weeks.
The decision to open the Office is of course without prejudice to the outcome of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on important issues in the Middle East peace process. Australia is firmly opposed to any unilateral steps that could jeopardise the success of those negotiations.