Press conference

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

30 November 2012

BOB CARR: Well ladies and gentlemen thank you for coming. It's an opportunity for me to say something about the vote in New York. The vote at the United Nations is a message of hope to people without a state of their own, living on the West Bank but committed to a peaceful way of getting a state. But it's also an opportunity; an opportunity for them to step up the negotiations towards a two-state solution which is the only way this conflict between Israel and Palestine is going to be resolved. The only way.

We abstained. We did it as a friend of Israel more than a little impatient with the settlement activity that is making a two-state solution more difficult, more complex. As a nation committed absolutely to the right of Israel to survive and the right of Israel to defend itself.

We did so as a nation that urges both sides not to exploit or overreact to this vote at the UN.

Specifically, I repeat my call for no resumption of rocket attacks from Hamas-controlled Gaza on Israel. I repeat my call for an end to Israeli settlement activity on the West Bank. No further action in the UN system. Let's allow this decision to be absorbed, for this decision to be reacted to by the Palestinian authority going for a negotiated outcome, and Israel accepting that opportunity.

A two-state solution – a thriving Palestinian state, adjacent and a good neighbour to Israel, living with the security guarantees it will need to concede in exchange for peace.

Thank you.

QUESTION: If it was such a positive thing why shouldn't Australia up the ante and voted for instead of abstaining.

BOB CARR: Well it's very common at the UN for nations to abstain if they're not satisfied with either option. And while this option underlines the fact that we support a Palestinian state – because it became a referendum on whether you do or not – it's still falling short of the solution to this conflict through a two-state solution negotiated by Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

So we wanted to send a reminder to the Palestinian Authority that the real game is negotiations with Israel, the creation of a Palestinian state with the security guarantee that Israel should enjoy.

QUESTION: Hillary Clinton has called this a counter-productive move. How confident are you that the two-state solution hasn't taken a backward step?

BOB CARR: We had to offer hope to Palestinians committed to moderation, committed to the peace, the peaceful path. If after Gaza we could offer nothing to the moderate leadership, the moderate wing of Palestinian opinion, we'd be seeing their authority diminished. That was one big factor in our approach.

Here we respectfully disagree with our American ally. We have a separate foreign policy. We make these decisions on our own.

And from time to time as a friend and an ally of the United States we are able to disagree with them. And this is one example.

QUESTION: How significant was the margin of the vote itself, it was obviously overwhelmingly more than half voted for as opposed to against where we stand.

BOB CARR: It was a striking confirmation that world opinion is growing impatient and wants the two sides to negotiate a two state solution, and, as well, wants to offer the Palestinian people, the moderates in the West Bank in particular, some promise and some hope.

The challenge for the Palestinian leadership is not to miss this opportunity, not to overreact, not to attempt to exploit it, not to launch other UN-based activity, but to commit itself to a negotiated agreement with Israel.

That's the challenge.

QUESTION: Minister, this is a highly emotional issue for many Australians.


QUESTION: For those who don't understand why we failed to vote, what do you have to say to them?

BOB CARR: On a dozen occasions on Middle Eastern questions the Howard Government cast an abstention. We were there in good company – the United Kingdom for example, and Germany. And we did so precisely because it is sensitive and we wanted to offer hope to Palestinians but at the same time move them – to the extent that we can – towards negotiations with Israel which is the only way this is going to be resolved.

QUESTION: So the UN now is not part of the solutions in the [indistinct].

BOB CARR: Direct negotiations between the two sides, direct negotiations between the two sides. And in practical terms it's an opportunity for America to recommit, despite all the disappointments of the past, to getting those two sides together.

In the end it's American good will and leadership that will deliver it.

And I'm convinced President Obama wants to do this and achieve this legacy in his second term.

QUESTION: Clearly those two sides need oversight. What, where do you see this going?

BOB CARR: It's too early to tell. The negotiations towards a two-state solution are stalled. They're not extant at this time.

We want to see them reborn.

QUESTION: Surely the US though is even more isolated since [indistinct] vote the small number of countries that voted with it.

BOB CARR: The US is committed to a two-state solution. The US is committed to a Palestinian state living side by side with an Israel that enjoys security guarantees adequate for its needs, adequate to convince it that a Palestinian state next door is something it can live with.

And it's only US sponsorship that is going to see such negotiations.

QUESTION: Israel's Ambassador to the UN this morning said our leadership have never recognised that Israel is a nation-state for Jewish people. And President Abbas had never said two states for two people.

Do you believe that the context [indistinct]?

BOB CARR: Yeah, I'd cast it differently. I'd say we recognise that the Palestinian authority has said it will accept Israel, and provide Israel with security guarantees. The point is to lock the two sides together and have them agree on the final status issues.

There's got to be agreement on those final status issues.

We've all got a pretty close idea of what the final settlement will look like. We've all got a pretty good idea of that. Both sides will talk privately about how they could live with various compromises. The point is to get them together and have that finally sealed.

Both sides have missed opportunities to lock this into place, and both sides must respond to the impatience the world feels that at a risk to all nations of the world, this dispute keeps going on.

The Australian people strongly support the position this Government has taken.

They want a two-state solution, they're tired of the obstinacy that they can see on both sides. They want progress towards what is the inevitable settlement here which is a two-state solution.

It's possible to point to things on the Palestinian side that frustrate us, to point to things on the Israeli side that frustrate us. The point is to get things going towards negotiations that produce the outcome we all know is inevitable.

QUESTION: Minister, do you think the US is doing enough, or do they need to call in someone with perhaps a bit more charisma to help them [indistinct].

BOB CARR: President Obama, as President Clinton, will do anything in his second term, within reason, to have this resolved, and to be part of his legacy. I'm convinced of that. Without American sponsorship you won't see a revival of the process that has been there with the Oslo Accords.

We've just got to hope they get back to that.

Australian people overwhelmingly support the position I and the Government have taken on this. I've rarely had as much feedback. They're sick of the squabbling and the lapse into belligerency that they witness on both sides.

And when Australia said it would take principled position of abstaining, passed every test of enjoying public support.

QUESTION: Senator, do you have a firm figure yet on how much extra it's going to cost Australia to maintain its seat at the UN Security Council?

BOB CARR: Yeah, the figure that's already in the news. We said we spent $25 million over five years on securing the bid – that's out there. That's an agreed figure.

QUESTION: But to actually maintain to support the seat that we have. I don't mean [indistinct]…

BOB CARR: No we're still working on that. We'll need a boost in the DFAT budget and that's being negotiated with Treasury.

QUESTION: So when do you think you will have that figure bedded down?

BOB CARR: It won't be long.

QUESTION: Would you like to see someone like Bill Clinton get back in the game and try to sort this out [indistinct]? Do you think Obama is – do you think he's going to rule that out as an opportunity to resolve [indistinct]?

BOB CARR: No, it's not up to me to tell Washington how to do this. There is a lot of experience in Washington on what works and what doesn't work in bringing the two sides together. One thing I know, among the Palestinians, among the Israeli people is a deep yearning for peace. And we believe the position we've taken on this tells both of them it's time to get on with it.

QUESTION: Mr Carr, sorry, if I could [indistinct]. Opposition have called for a judicial inquiry into the AWU [indistinct] scandal.


QUESTION: But if they were in Government they wouldn't have an inquiry. What do you say to that?

BOB CARR: This shows how insincere Tony Abbott is. He's just being negative and extremist and aggro again. He says he wants an inquiry, but he doesn't commit to setting it up where he to be Prime Minister.


QUESTION: Two quick questions.

John Howard was honoured last night [indistinct] great friend of Israel. I'm wondering if a) will you meet with the Jewish leaders that are seeking [indistinct] with you?

BOB CARR: I'd meet them any time. Last time I was in touch with my office I hadn't received a request but I'd meet with them any time.

I just posit a little cautionary note with them. And that is I think there's a danger – I'm not telling them how to press their case – but there is a danger with over-reacting to everything. And I think that being a little cool-headed about gradations in Government policy is probably advisable. But I will meet them as I've done in the past, and at their request and talk this through with them.

I've been very balanced in being open to meetings with them and with supporters of the Palestinians.

I do say this about friendship with Israel – a good friend will share with his friend reservations about that friend's behaviour. And the spirit of settlement activity really is something where we're obliged, as a friend of Israel to say "this is not in your interest." It's making a two state solution more difficult – all these settlements over land that's going to have to be [indistinct].

Half-a-million settlers – Israeli settlers living on the West Bank. And if this goes on and there's no two state solution, Israel's going to exist with a burgeoning Arab population. And at that point the world will say, give those Arabs a vote. And what remains of Prime Minister Netanyahu's concept of a Jewish state at that point?

There's got to be a two state solution, otherwise Israel will have to accommodate all the Arab population on the West Bank with a vote in Israeli elections. That's the warning here. The world will simply insist on it.

So the spirit of settlements preventing a two state solution – among other factors, not all of them by any means entirely Israel's responsibility – but the spread of

settlements as so many Israelis themselves say, as Israeli cabinet ministers say, the spread of settlements will impede a two state solution. And then the world will say to Israel, you won't agree to a Palestinian state. It's now impossible because of these settlements on every outcrop – the big build-up in the Jewish population in Jerusalem. Well give those people – give the Arabs on the West Bank a vote. And that will be irresistible.

So a friend of Israel has got to speak up and make cautionary warnings in the way we've done by the way we got it.

Thank you.

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