Thursday, March 31, 2011
Australian ex-PM: 'I'm an unapologetic friend of Israel'
John Howard tells group of expats in TA he has been a supporter of Israel for all his adult life, as PM voted for Israel at UN "whenever it mattered."
“I’m an unapologetic friend of Israel’s,” former Australian Prime Minister John Howard told a group of Australian expats in Tel Aviv on Wednesday night.
Howard was attending an informal dinner co-hosted by Australian Jewish businessman Ashley Krongold and Israel’s Ambassador to Australia Yuval Rotem.
During his premiership, Howard had been invited to pay a state visit to Israel, but hadn’t found the time. Krongold and Rotem took the initiative and brought him to Israel to show appreciation for his support.
Pleased to meet Australians in diverse professions who have become part of Israel’s success story, Howard said he had been a supporter of Israel for all of his adult life, and that he had made sure as prime minister that Australia voted for Israel at the United Nations whenever it mattered.
Howard, now on his fourth visit to Israel, enthused about being impressed by the country’s development. He cited his adventure with an electric car at Better Place as one example.
It had been a long time, he said, since he had driven in a car with a steering wheel on the left. He also spoke glowingly of the briefing he had been given by an IDF colonel on the Golan Heights.
Turning to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Howard said he was in favor of a two-state solution and that the Palestinians were entitled to a homeland with some kind of capital in east Jerusalem plus some limited right of return.
He was aware that offers of this kind had been made by former prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, but suggested that the Palestinians had refused them because they had not been given a sufficient incentive for compromise.
He said he found it ludicrous that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas couldn’t go to Gaza without the permission of Hamas, and compared the situation to an Australian Prime Minister not being allowed into the State of Victoria.
As for the wave of uprisings across the Middle East, Howard was optimistic.
“I’m in favor of anything that overthrows dictators,” he said, adding that what was happening in the region was extraordinary.
He was encouraged by the fact that in all of the television coverage he had seen of the demonstrations, there had been no burning of Israeli or American flags, and that protesters were not using the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a hook on which to hang their frustrations.
“It’s not something that’s preoccupying them,” he said.
Wary of making any predictions about the outcome of ructions in the region, other than to voice his opinion that it would play out differently in different countries, Howard warned that although the movement was toward freedom and democracy, “in some countries you could end up with fanatic Islamic regimes.”