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Response to ANZUUA Statement on the Middle East

We forwarded the ANZUUA statement on the Middle East (see other Blog Post) to Penny Wong, the Australian minister for Foreign Affairs and leader of the Government in the Australian Senate, and have received the following response on the 27th March 2024:


Thank you for your correspondence.


We know the conflict in the Middle East is deeply distressing for many Australians, particularly those with a connection to the region and loved ones directly impacted.


It is clear from the Government's engagements Australia has a respected voice in the Middle East, even if we are not a central player. The Foreign Minister regularly raises Australia’s view and presses for progress towards peace in her engagements with counterparts in the Middle East, with partners including in Europe, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and our region, as well as in multilateral forums. 


The Government is using Australia’s voice to advocate for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and a pathway out of this conflict. As demonstrated by our vote at the United Nations, Australia is part of the international diplomatic effort urging an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. We see that as a critical, urgent step on the path to a permanent ceasefire. Like any ceasefire, this can’t be one-sided. Hamas must cease its attacks, lay down its arms and release all hostages immediately.  


In her visit to the region earlier this year, the Foreign Minister made clear Australia’s view that achieving peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians requires a two-state solution and the establishment of a Palestinian state. The status quo is failing everyone. 

We are using our voice to express Australia’s serious concern about the civilian death toll and dire humanitarian situation in Gaza. The Foreign Minister has consistently emphasised that international law must be upheld – and that civilians and civilian infrastructure must be protected.


We are using our voice to advocate for the immediate and unconditional release of hostages by Hamas, and to condemn the October 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas. The Foreign Minister expressed Australia’s concern for hostages directly to families when she met with them in Australia and in Israel. 


We are using our voice to express our grave concern at indications Israel is planning a ground offensive into Rafah. About 1.7 million Palestinians are taking refuge in the area. With the humanitarian situation in Gaza already dire, the impacts on Palestinian civilians from a major military operation would be catastrophic. Our message to Israel is: do not go down this path.


While the Foreign Minister was in the West Bank, she met with Palestinian victims of violence by Israeli settlers. The Foreign Minister made clear to her counterparts that this violence must cease and perpetrators must be held accountable. We consistently affirm that settlements are illegal under international law and a major impediment to peace. 


Australia is using our voice to advocate for urgent humanitarian assistance to reach Palestinians in Gaza in desperate need, and to address the protracted refugee crisis in the region. While in Jordan, the Foreign Minister announced an additional $21.5 million in humanitarian assistance. 



The Australian Government is also providing an additional $4 million to UNICEF to provide urgent services, including for women and children, and $2 million to the new mechanism of the UN Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza to facilitate expanded humanitarian access into Gaza.


These announcements bring Australia’s total humanitarian contribution since this c

onflict began to $52.5 million and is in addition to Australia’s core funding of $20.6 million for UNRWA, which has already been provided for this financial year. 

The humanitarian crisis and the catastrophic consequences of regional escalation underlines why we are using our voice to advocate for parties to avoid the conflict spreading.


Australia is lifting its temporary pause on funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) following steps to strengthen the integrity of UNRWA operations.


The decision to pause an additional $6 million in funding was taken after serious allegations were made, resulting in UNRWA’s dismissal of staff alleged to have been involved in the Hamas terrorist attacks of 7 October.


The nature of the allegations warranted an immediate and appropriate response.  

The Government has been working with a group of donor countries and with UNRWA on the shared objective of ensuring the integrity of UNRWA’s operations, rebuilding confidence and ensuring aid flows to Gazans in desperate need.


Australia and our partners welcome the decisive actions from UNRWA and the UN Secretary General António Guterres to strengthen the integrity of operations. This includes the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services’ investigation of the allegations, and the independent review into UNRWA and the principle of neutrality, led by former French Foreign Minister, Catherine Colonna. 


We welcome UNRWA’s immediate work to deliver an action plan for donors, including Australia. The plan includes strengthened internal controls to ensure its neutrality, including rigorous requirements of staff. 


We see this as an ongoing process of diligence and vigilance.


In disbursing the $6 million to UNRWA’s flash appeal, Australia is finalising an updated funding agreement that will include stringent conditions such as guarantees of staff neutrality, and confidence in supply chains.


These steps provide the necessary confidence that the $6 million in urgent humanitarian funding to be released will go directly to those in need, satisfying Australia’s rigorous humanitarian controls, sanctions and legal requirements.  

Australia’s decision is in line with steps taken by Canada, Sweden and the EU. It is expected that more countries that have paused will take a similar approach.


UNRWA must continue to do all it can to ensure the highest standards of governance and accountability are met, as its work is vital. There can be no tolerance for members of terrorist organisations working for UNRWA.


Only UNRWA has the infrastructure to receive and distribute aid on the scale needed right now in Gaza. We urge Israel to recognise its mandate and work transparently to support its integrity.


Successive Australian governments have funded the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, since 1951. After taking office, the Albanese Government doubled Australia’s annual funding to UNRWA to $20 million each year. 

In resuming funding, the Government is responding to a humanitarian situation in Gaza which is dire, and only worsening.


Australia and New Zealand made clear in a recent joint statement that we respect the independence of the International Court of Justice and the critical role it plays in upholding international law and the rules-based order. Decisions of the ICJ are binding on the parties to the case. Our shared expectation is that Israel act in accordance with the ICJ's ruling, including to enable the provision of basic services and humanitarian assistance.


My engagements in the region underlined how heavily this conflict weighs on the peoples of this region. We mourn every Israeli and Palestinian innocent life which has been lost in this conflict and will continue to use our voice to support steps to peace in the region.


Israelis and Palestinians want and deserve to live their lives in peace, security and dignity. 


Seeing the impacts of the conflict close up underscored to the Foreign Minister the importance of remembering our common humanity, and how important it is that we safeguard peaceful dialogue in our community in Australia. 


I appreciate you taking the time to write to the Foreign Minister.


Sincerely,


Office of Senator the Hon Penny Wong

Leader of the Government in the Senate

Minister for Foreign Affairs

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