Australia’s vote on Palestinian statehood in doubt


SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) — A Jewish legislator in Australia has cast doubt on a newspaper report suggesting that the country’s foreign minister recommended abstaining at the U.N. vote on Palestinian statehood.

Michael Danby, new chairman of the Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Committee, said Monday that Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd had told him “explicitly” at a meeting in May that Australia would “vote against any unilateral announcements at the U.N.”

Danby’s comments came on the heels of a report Monday in Melbourne’s The Age newspaper claiming that Rudd had written to Prime Minister Julia Gillard recommending Australia vote neither for nor against a resolution in New York next month to recognize a Palestinian state.

Rudd has campaigned for a temporary seat on the Security Council. The vote is scheduled for next year, and it is understood that his apparent position is an attempt to appease the Arab states in the United Nations. But an abstention would put Australia out of kilter with the United States, which has veto power in the Security Council.

Gillard, who hails from Labor’s left flank, was thrust into the spotlight in December 2008 when, as acting prime minister, she came out strongly behind Israel during its war against Hamas. She is believed to be supportive of voting against the unilateral statehood resolution, which has yet to be finalized.

Gillard met a high-level Jewish delegation in Canberra in June, although the Executive Council of Australian Jewry refused Monday to be drawn on the newspaper report.

But Albert Dadon, the founder of the Australia Israel Leadership Forum, said he backed the prime minister, adding that Hamas’ aim to destroy Israel makes the “proposition of a Palestinian state an impossible task on the ground.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said that “The government will make a decision on this matter closer to the time of any vote, in close consultation with our friends in Israel and the Arab world.”

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