Bob Carr shakes hands with President Shimon Peres 370.
(photo credit: Abir Sultan/Reuters)
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr is on a three-day visit to Israel within
the framework of a Middle East tour. Carr met on Sunday with President Shimon
Peres, whom he met previously many years ago when Peres was on a visit to
Carr is due to travel to Ramallah today to meet with Palestinian
President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and on Tuesday he has
meetings scheduled with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud
Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman.
It is anticipated that at
his meetings with Barak and Liberman, Carr will broach the subject of the
detention of Palestinian children in Israeli prisons. This is a matter of
particular concern to Australia; both Carr and his immediate predecessor Kevin
Rudd have previously raised the issue with the relevant Israeli authorities,
though this is the first time that Carr will have the opportunity to do so on a
face-to-face basis rather than in writing.
Carr came to Israel following
meetings in Jordan with King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. One of
the key topics in their discussions was the Syrian refugee problem. More
than 145,000 Syrian refugees have already found their way to Jordan. In a news
conference that Carr had there, he urged the world to take notice not only of
the crisis in Syria but of the heavy burden that has fallen on Jordan and how
this burden will weigh on the country’s already scarce water
When he met with Peres on Sunday, Carr conveyed the condolences
of the Australian government and people over the deaths of five Israelis who
died in a terrorist attack in Bulgaria last month.
“For all of us who
have seen the targeting by terrorists over decades, this has very terrible
connotations, and we can understand the trepidation of the Israelis,” he
Peres expressed great interest in the Australian economy and the
value of the Australian dollar, which for some time has been worth slightly more
than the US dollar. Both men congratulated each other on the fact that their
respective countries had succeeded in evading the global economic crisis.
In response to a question by Peres, Carr said that unemployment in
Australia stood at 5.2 percent, inflation at 2% and growth at 2-3%.
foreign minister commented on Israel’s impressive economic development, saying,
“We’ve all been force-fed ‘Start Up Nation.’ It’s on the bookshelf of every
politician in Australia.”
Comparing the size of the island continent to
that of Israel, Peres said, “You need more people with so much land,” to which
Carr responded, “We both have huge arid and semi-arid zones and we have to share
This prompted Peres to remark that Israel has more
history than geography, but in fact there has been extensive bilateral
cooperation in the use of water technology, and Australia has benefitted greatly
from Israel’s drip irrigation systems.
Looking back at the relationship
between Australia and Israel that extends to long before statehood, Peres
reminisced about Australian soldiers who had fought in the region during both
World War I and World War II, and expressed particular appreciation for
Australia’s role with the allied forces in fighting the Nazis.
remainder of the discussion was behind closed doors, and a spokesperson for the
president said later that both Syria and Iran had come up for discussion and
that Carr had shown deep sensitivity for Israel’s security needs.
had said about Iran was not disclosed, but in interviews that he has given to
the Australian media, Carr has advocated stronger economic sanctions rather than
military action, and has said that it is not in Israel’s interests to take a
Peres has also expressed this view repeatedly, saying
that while all options remain on the table, he would prefer stronger sanctions
Carr’s visit to Israel, while not exactly under wraps, was
barely made public. Neither the Foreign Ministry nor the Australian Ministry for
Foreign Affairs issued the usual advance press releases.