SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG
LEADER OF THE GOVERNMENT IN THE SENATE
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Subjects: Visit to the Middle East; Hamas-Israel conflict; Australian aid to the Middle East; Australia-Jordan relations; International Criminal Court case.
Jordan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ayman Safadi delivers opening remarks in Arabic.
PENNY WONG, FOREIGN MINISTER: Thank you very much, Your Excellency. I'm very, very pleased to be here with you and to visit the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. I first met the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister not long after I first became Australia's Foreign Minister, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly and you invited me, Your Excellency, then to come to Amman. I'm pleased I can be here, as you said, the first Australian Foreign Minister in almost ten years. But I do obviously, we both wish it were under better circumstances.
This is a critical time for the world and this is a critical time for the region as the fighting continues and human suffering worsens. My visit is also an expression of the importance of the bilateral relationship and an expression of the importance of the role in which Jordan plays in our region. Jordan has been a regional leader, an anchor of stability, and I acknowledge the role you have played, your intensive diplomatic efforts and also His Majesty's continued leadership now and over many, many years.
Obviously, we face - there is a dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza. His Excellency mentioned the UN figures which show the number of people in Gaza who are starving and those at risk of starvation. So, we have a role to play as Australia, we're obviously not a party to the region, but I hope we are a respected voice and we can also continue to provide assistance from afar.
So, I am announcing today that we will contribute an additional $21.5 million in humanitarian assistance to the Middle East, including in response to the humanitarian needs resulting from the Hamas-Israel conflict. The funding will be directed to conflict-infected populations in the occupied Palestinian territories and also to address the protracted refugee crisis which Jordan plays such an important role in, with a focus on women and children, and will involve $4 million to the Red Cross and Red Crescent, $6 million to UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency, in response to the flash appeal, and then additional monies for refugees programmes in Lebanon and Jordan at a time of increasing regional instability.
I've spoken this morning with the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Sigrid Kaag, and I have also visited a health clinic run by UNRWA. I think those here in Jordan understand the importance of this organisation, the only organisation with a mandate to provide relief and social services to Palestinian refugees in the Middle East. They do critical work and there are millions, 1.4 million people in Gaza currently seeking shelter in those facilities.
As His Excellency has said, we have had a very open discussion, very deep discussion. I always appreciate the Deputy Prime Minister's insights and views about not only where we are, but where we must go. And we discussed the importance of efforts to restart a political process which leads to a future Palestinian state.
What I would say to all of us, we come from different parts of the world, there are some very different perspectives, but I hope that the international community can work towards a just and enduring peace. In which Israelis live in peace and security and Palestinians are able to achieve their legitimate aspirations for statehood.
I also want to publicly thank Jordan for enabling the departure of Australians from both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. We appreciated your friendship and your assistance to our people. This afternoon, I'm honoured to have an audience with His Majesty the King. And I know how deeply engaged His Majesty is, not only in the current situation, but in the strategic leadership that Jordan is known for in the region and worldwide. And I look forward to continuing the conversation about how our countries can work together, how we can coordinate, work together to support the international diplomatic efforts towards a durable peace in this region. Thank you very much.
JOURNALIST: Yoni Bashan, The Australian newspaper. Thank you to both. It's a question for both Foreign Ministers. Jordan is very supportive of South Africa's genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice. Was this a topic of discussion during the meeting today? And if so, Mr. Safadi, were you hoping Australia would show support for South Africa's case and for Senator Wong, more plainly, is Australia supportive of this legal action? The second part of the question was for Senator Wong whether Australia supports the case or not.
FOREIGN MINISTER WONG: Look, I would say first, and I appreciate the public comments that Foreign Minister has made. From Australia's perspective, I want to first say we respect the independence of the ICJ. We respect the critical role it plays in upholding international law and the rules-based order. And that has been a consistent position of this government and Australian governments over many decades. Throughout this crisis, our position has been clear and consistent. We have unequivocally condemned Hamas' terror attacks on Israel, the largest number of Jewish people killed in a single day since the Holocaust. Our support for the ICJ and respect for its independence does not mean we accept the premise of South Africa's case. We will continue to work for a just and enduring peace between Israelis and Palestinians. I would note Australia is not currently a party to the case and that at this stage the ICJ has not invited interventions from other parties.
AYMAN SAFADI, JORDAN DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER AND MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Thank you. We do support the case that South Africa presented to the ICJ and once the court invites member states for submissions, we will do submit. What I want to say as well is that courts, the legal system, whether the national legal system or the international legal system were made, were created so that individuals or countries can go and present case and seeking impartial and seeking justice.
So, I do not really see why Israel has a problem with South Africa going to the court. The court will examine the case, will issue the judgement, and again, that's what courts are for. And those who do not want to go to courts and those who do not believe in the roles of the legal system are usually those who have something to hide and who would not want to face justice. 66 countries world over have expressed support to the case in comparison to only eight countries that said they do not support the case.
Now, we respect everybody's decision that this is a sovereign decision for every country to make. And it doesn't mean that countries did not support, we did not support the case, do not support the rights of Palestinians to freedom and dignity. They just have a different approach and that's their decision.
But as far as we're concerned, we believe that South Africa has a right to make this case, we have a right to support this case, and everybody has an obligation to respect the ruling of the case. Otherwise, why do we have multilateral system and why do we have such global institutions.
That said, I think regardless of how the case goes, we're facing a reality in which Israel has killed over 30,000 people. Palestinians, 70 per cent of those killed are women and children. Israel has destroyed a complete community, health facilities, infrastructure has been destroyed by over 70 per cent, schools by over 50 per cent, houses by over 60 per cent.
This war has killed more journalists than any other conflict, has killed more medics than any other conflict, has killed more UN workers than any other conflict in decades. So, we're facing a reality in which we believe Israel has committed war crimes in Gaza and we believe that this aggression has to stop and has to stop now. Israel is taking 2.3 million Palestinians hostage in Gaza, in addition to the illegal unilateral measures that it is inflicting on Palestinians on the West Bank as well.
So, we're dealing with a catastrophe, we're dealing with a situation that has to end. We're dealing with a situation where the international community, probably for the first time after 102 days of war, has not even come out clearly and demanded a ceasefire.
So, this is the reality And this war is not just killing Palestinians, it's not just destroying their livelihoods, it is destroying faith in peace. The amount of dehumanisation that we see is something beyond what any human being should be able to accept. When an Israeli Minister says that Palestinians have no rights. When an Israeli sitting Minister says that Palestinians are human animals, when the Deputy Speaker of Knesset says Gaza needs to be burned down, how is this conducive to a future peace that we all want?
And again, our position in Jordan has always been that we want just, lasting peace which will ensure the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians. A peace that will fulfil Palestinian people's right to statehood and freedom and dignity, and will address Israeli legitimate concerns and allows for Israel and Palestine to live in peace and dignity and freedom in the whole region.
So, we need to look at the broader context. And October 7 did not happen in a vacuum. There was a context and we should accept that context. And we did condemn, in Jordan and all the Arab world, we did condemn the killing of Israeli civilians on October 7. But Israel not only did it not condemn the killing of Palestinians, it is actually killing Palestinian civilians. And the settler terrorism against Palestinians at the West Bank is something that the world needs to look at as well and to look at through the same prism through which it's looking at other aspects of the conflict. So, by the end of the day, I think the immediate priority this war has to stop, humanitarian supplies has to be allowed in. Gaza, is part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the only path to peace and security for all is a just and lasting peace that would, on the basis of the two-state solution, that would again realise the rights of the Palestinians and ensure security and acceptance for Israel.
Journalist asks question in Arabic.
Deputy Prime Minister Safadi responds in Arabic.
FOREIGN MINISTER WONG: Thank you for the question. So, the funding I've announced today will bring in total Australia's assistance to the region, I think to $46 million since we've announced since the crisis began. The additional funding today is $4 million to the Red Cross and Red Crescent and $6 million to United Nations Relief and Works Agency. These two components, a total of ten, is in response to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the flash appeal that UNRWA has initiated. And in doing so, we join other parties, including the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
In addition, we recognise and Foreign Minister Safadi and I spoke about the long-term refugee crisis, protracted refugee challenges that the region faces, but particularly Jordan, which does such a lot of heavy lifting, but also in Lebanon. And so I've announced about $11.5 million to refugee programmes in both Lebanon and Jordan in light of the regional instability.
JOURNALIST: Thank you to both of you. Tom Joyner, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. My question is for Minister Wong. You've spoken about the need for a sustainable ceasefire. What specific assurances might you be seeking when you meet with your Israeli counterpart this week? And if the ICJ, in a separate question, if the ICJ decides to issue provisional measures against Israel, would Australia consider stronger action, including, for example, sanctions like it has with Russia? Thank you very much.
FOREIGN MINISTER WONG: Well, I'm not going to speculate on what the ICJ might or might not do. And you wouldn't anticipate that I'd do that, but I would flag what I have said, obviously, people have different views about the case. We do, however, respect the ICJ and its independence, and Australia has a long-standing position of support for and respect for international law.
Okay, your first question - remind me again, I'm a little jetlagged - yes, that's right.
I don't think Australia can come to the region demanding specific assurances. What we can do is come to the region and express at our voice to that of the cause of peace. One of the things the Deputy Prime Minister and I have spoken about is the importance of remembering each other's common humanity. And that is a hard thing to say to this region at this time, with all of the tragedy and violence and war that we have seen. But peace will only come if sufficient - there is amongst leaders a sufficient courage to recognise the common humanity of all, regardless of our differences, regardless of anyone's differences. So, I hope we can add our voice to that. And as a friend of Jordan, as a friend of the Palestinian people, as a friend of Israel, that we can say our view is that peace ultimately will only come if there is genuine progress towards peace and security for Israel and for the Palestinian people and their legitimate aspirations for statehood. Thank you very much.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER SAFADI: Look, we in Jordan, in the whole Arab world, since 2002, we've said that what we seek is a just and lasting peace on the basis of the two-state solution that would allow for the emergence of a Palestinian state that would live in peace with an Israel that is secure and that is accepted in the region.
The whole world right now, including the United States, says the only path that just and lasting peace is the two-state solution. Who's the only party that's saying no? The only party that's saying no to the two-state solution is Israel. The current Israeli Prime Minister has, as recently as few days ago, said that he would never allow a Palestinian state to emerge. That he would suffocate, he said earlier, Palestinians, people, aspiration to state within self-determination.
So, I think we do recognise the humanity of each other as far as we're concerned. We do recognise that the only way to security for everybody is for all parties to enjoy the full legitimate rights. And so the question is not what we want, what we want is clear. What we want is a just and lasting peace that would be in the interest of not only the Palestinians and Israelis but the whole region.
Question is, what does Israel want? And if Israel does not want the two-state solution, then what answer does it see to this conflict? Because the way we see it, if it's not the two-state solution, the only alternative is a one-state reality and that's going to be a reality of misery because Israel will not recognise the democratic rights of Palestinians and therefore you'll be talking about apartheid.
So, these are the tough questions that need to be asked as well as here right now we have a war. The war has to stop and has to stop immediately because that war is producing nothing but death and suffering and killing and hatred and dehumanisation.
Once we do that, we ask the question of, okay, what is the future that will guarantee the security of Israelis and the security of Palestinians? As far as we're concerned, we're clear, we're unequivocal. Israel needs to answer that question. And unfortunately, the answers that we're hearing from Israel right now, that you hear coming out from the Prime Minister, that you hear coming out from the Finance Minister, that you hear coming out from other Ministers, is that, no, the Palestinians have no rights and we will not recognise their rights. This is the challenge that we're facing and I think this is where we all need to focus if we are to make sure that the misery of the last three months do not become the future of the region. Thank you, so much.
Foreign Minister's Office: +61 2 6277 7500
Authorised by Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia.