The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has rebuked two former Australian prime ministers over their calls for Australia to recognise a Palestinian state, asking “what kind of state?” they were seeking to recognise.
Netanyahu, the first serving Israeli leader to visit Australia in Israel’s history, said his country could not abide a Palestinian state that refused to recognise Israel’s right to exist.
“I ask both former prime ministers [Bob Hawke and Kevin Rudd] to ask a simple question: What kind of state will it be that they are advocating? A state that calls for Israel’s destruction? A state whose territory will be used immediately for radical Islam?”
Speaking at a press conference at Sydney’s Kirribilli House, Netanyahu said Israel could only accept a Palestinian state over which Israel had “overriding security control of all the territories”. Control of security and borders is a fundamental element of statehood.
“We have to ensure that Israel has the overriding security control of all the territories, all the territories,” Netanyahu said. “Other than that, I want the Palestinians to be able to govern themselves and to have all the freedoms to do so, but not the freedom to destroy the Jewish state.”
Former Labor prime ministers Rudd and Hawke have called for Australia to formally recognise the Palestinian territories as a state, as Sweden and the Holy See have done.
The two-state solution – two sovereign nations, one Israeli, one Palestinian – has been the Middle East policy supported by the US and Australia for the past two decades.
Speaking at a luncheon for Netanyahu on Wednesday, current Labor leader Bill Shorten reiterated his party’s support for a two-state solution.
Shorten urged both sides to return to direct negotiations to settle final status issues – security, borders, refugees, settlements, and water – and “refrain from actions” which jeopardise talks.
However, the policy’s pre-eminence in current discourse was rocked last week when the US president, Donald Trump, said he was flexible about a one-state or two-state solution.
“I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like,” Trump said last week.
“I can live with either one. I thought for a while it looked like the two-state might be the easier of the two – but honestly if Bibi [Netanyahu], if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.”
The Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said Trump’s comments had been “over-interpreted”. US state department officials have sought to walk backthe president’s statement, saying the US remained committed to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.
Turnbull again confirmed Australia’s position supporting a two-state solution but that Israel must be afforded the right to defend itself.
“Our position is exactly the same as it always has been, and has been for many years – we support an outcome which has two states where … the Israeli people, the Palestinian people live side by side as a result of direct negotiations between them,” he said.
“And that is the fundamental point. And live together in peace and the security that they are entitled to expect and you can’t expect, being blunt and realistic about this, you cannot expect any Israeli government to put itself in a position where its security is at risk, where its citizens are not safe.”
And Turnbull encouraged both sides back to the negotiating table, saying now could be an opportune moment to restart talks between Palestinian Authority and Israel.
“The circumstances of the times … do appear to create the opportunity where perhaps the moons are aligning such that this could be a good time … for the parties to come back to the table and reach an agreement,” he said. “But, of course, as with any agreement, it takes two to tango.”
Turnbull has consistently refused to condemn Israeli settlements being built on Palestinian land in the West Bank, an act that has been judged illegal under international law and which the UN Security Council condemned in a resolution passed 14 – 0.
Israel’s most prominent ally, the US, abstained from that vote, in a marked departure from usual US diplomatic practice of supporting Israel by using its veto power against such resolutions.
Turnbull has said previously Australia would have voted against the resolution had it still been on the security council. He reaffirmed that position Wednesday.
“We do not support one-sided resolutions which condemn or criticise Israel of that kind,” he said.
Turnbull, writing in the Australian, said the UN was biased against Israel, citing 20 resolutions between 2014 and 2015 critical of Israel but only one resolution on the issue of the conflict in Syria.
Netanyahu thanked Turnbull for his stance and said Australia was “courageously willing to puncture UN hypocrisy”.
The Israeli PM said the issue over settlements was “way overblown”.
“It is an issue but not the issue,” he said. “The core of the conflict between us and the Palestinians is their persistent refusal to recognise a Jewish state in any boundary.”
Both leaders praised Australia and Israel’s long-standing friendship and partnership, Netanyahu saying the people of Israel would never forget the Australian Lighthorse brigade which liberated the now-Israeli city of Beersheba in 1917.