Australian FM pledges friendship to Israel


SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) — Australia’s “longstanding and enduring” bilateral relations with Israel will continue, despite the diplomatic standoff over the alleged fraud of Australian passports, its foreign minister said.

Stephen Smith made the remarks, in an apparent easing of tensions, at Parliament House in Canberra Wednesday as he formally received a policy paper produced by the Australia Israel Leadership Forum following its conference in Melbourne last December.

The paper outlines four key areas in which the two governments could collaborate further, said the forum’s founder and chair, Albert Dadon. Those areas are cooperation on Indigenous health issues; increased military links; a free trade Agreement; and optimizing current treaties.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also received the paper, sent a letter which said that “I believe we can expand cooperation between our countries in a variety of areas, including military issues, trade and health.”

In the wake of the revelation that four Australian passports had been fraudulently used in the assassination of a Hamas official in Dubai on Jan. 19, Smith summoned Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem and told him that if it emerged that the Mossad had stolen the passports, it would not be considered “the act of a friend.” 

But on Wednesday he was more conciliatory.

“The friendship between Australia and Israel is longstanding and enduring, and that will continue," Smith said. "And despite recent events, which have been the cause of public commentary between Australia and Israel, that friendship will endure.”

Deputy Opposition leader Julie Bishop went further, saying that “Controversies will arise from time to time. There may even be tensions in the relationship from time to time. But we must never lose sight of the fundamental and underlying principle, which is non-negotiable, and that is Israel’s right to exist as an independent state within secure borders so that its people may live in peace and safety.”

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