Australian FM kicks off 3-day visit to Israel

Bob Carr expected to raise issue of detention of Palestinian minors in Israeli jails with Barak, Liberman.

Bob Carr shakes hands with President Shimon Peres 370 (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Reuters)
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 Sydney.
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 supplies.
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 said.
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%.
The 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 our experience.”
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.
The 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.
What he 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 military option.
Peres has also expressed this view repeatedly, saying that while all options remain on the table, he would prefer stronger sanctions to bloodshed.
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.