Winter storm fails to rain on Rudd’s parade

Former Australian PM returns to Israel, this time as FM; says “it’s great to be able to represent your country abroad.”

Peres Rudd 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Peres Rudd 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Rain got in the way of a proper red carpet welcome for Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, when he and his large delegation called on President Shimon Peres at Beit Hanassi on Monday.
There was a small red carpet inside the building, but not the long trailing red carpet along which VIPs of Rudd’s rank usually walk through the grounds before entering the reception hall.
Rudd, in Israel for the third time, warmly embraced Peres who asked him what it was like to be a foreign minister after having been a prime minister.
To take the barb out of the question, he added that he had his own experience in this respect.
“I was going to ask you for guidance,” said Rudd without missing a beat.
But treating the question more seriously, he said that he was now able to give 100 percent of his time to foreign affairs instead of 20% as he had done as prime minister.
Rudd was ousted from his former position in a party putsch in June.
“It’s great to be able to represent your country abroad,” he said.
Peres recalled that Australian troops had been instrumental in liberating the land of Israel from Turkish rule during World War I, and that Australian soldiers had also been stationed in the country during World War II.
“We fell in love with them,” Peres said.
“They fell in love with Israel too,” Rudd said, disclosing that his father had been one of those who fell in love with Israel and had fought in the Palestine campaign in 1940-41.
“He was a boy who grew up in rural Australia and suddenly found himself in the Holy Land. It was a unique experience.”
He told Peres that on Sunday evening he had been to Yad Vashem to honor the memory of Australian aboriginal William Cooper, who in 1938, when he was in his late 70s, took up the cause of the Jewish people after reading about what had happened in Germany on Kristallnacht. He had collected a petition from fellow aborigines demanding that the Germans cease their persecution of the Jews.
It was a time when most countries, including Australia, were not doing anything about the situation, Rudd admitted. Cooper was passionate about the injustice done to his own indigenous people, and could therefore identify with the injustice done to the Jews, Rudd said. “He instantly saw a wrong being done,” and organized a protest rally and marched to the German Consulate.
Following their private discussion, Peres and Rudd held a Q&A session with the members of Rudd’s delegation, who are here to participate in the third annual Australia-Israel Leadership Forum, which according to its founder Albert Danon, is based on the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum.
Tony Walker, the international editor of the Australian Financial Review, who spent several years in Israel as a foreign correspondent, took this as a cue to go a step beyond what US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had said at the Saban Forum with regard to settlements remaining an impediment to the peace process, and asked Peres what the solution was.
Peres made it very clear that while the Palestinians may regard Jerusalem as a settlement, Israel does not and will not.
He was confident that there would be a solution, but the question was whether the solution would come before the negotiations, or whether it was a matter for negotiation.
Over the past 44 years he said, Jews did not build in the 21 neighborhoods in which Arabs reside. They only built in neighborhoods in which Jews are living.
As far as he was concerned, the best solution was to continue in that vein.
As for an agreement, it must be a compromise, he said, “because you cannot have a result before negotiations start.”
On the Palestinian question, Peres acknowledged that it was difficult for the governments to agree, but said that at nongovernment level, there is a lot of agreement and cooperation.
“Wherever there is hitech, we have cooperation,” he said.