25 August 2013

Liberal Coalition: stronger support for Israel and harder line on extremist organisations.

From: The Australian, August 26, 2013, by: Greg Sheridan, Foreign Editor

TONY Abbott is committed to upgrading relations with Israel as part of a suite of new policies on the Middle East that includes banning more terrorist organisations and a harder line on visits to Australia by extremists.
A Coalition government would also step-up opposition to the "boycott, divestment and sanctions" campaign against Israel, withholding taxpayer funds from any organisation that actively backed the movement.
The Australian has learned that the Opposition Leader will this week commit to extending to Israeli citizens an electronic travel authority, which in most cases provides nearly instant visa approval.
The ETA system was introduced by the Howard government for citizens of advanced nations who have no history of illegally overstaying in Australia.
The Labor government recently expanded the list of nations whose citizens are eligible for fast-track visas to 64 but left Israel off the list - a decision critics said was in line with recent moves by the ALP to distance itself from Israel, including at the UN.
It is understood the omission of Israel caused consternation in Jerusalem.
Both the EU and Canada provide visa-free entry to Israelis.
An Abbott government would immediately direct that Israel be added to the list of nations whose citizens can access fast-track electronic visas for short-term visits to Australia.
Under a range of new policies - which are being directed by Mr Abbott with broad support within the opposition - the Coalition would seek to ban the Islamist extremist organisation Hizb Ut-Tahrir and prevent foreign members of the group coming to Australia to promote extremism.
The Coalition will also seek fresh advice from ASIO on the question of banning the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas and the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah. Only the militant wings of these groups are currently banned in Australia, while the US, Canada and a number of Western nations have banned the entire organisations.
Coalition policy documents draw attention to the fact that the US and Canada have banned more than twice as many terrorist organisations as Australia has.
The Coalition plans to make it more difficult for "preachers of hate" to visit Australia. It believes the federal government has the power to stop such visits on character grounds and should do so much more frequently.
An Abbott government would also strengthen Australia's opposition to the BDS campaign by committing to a government-wide policy that prevents additional grants of taxpayers' funds to individuals and organisations that actively support the BDS campaign. The moves are widely supported in the Coalition but also reflect Mr Abbott's long-standing personal commitment to supporting Israel.
He travelled independently to Israel as a young man and visited as an opposition MP before he became Liberal leader.
Mr Abbott and foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop believe Labor has deliberately moved away from its former close friendship with Israel, with its rhetoric becoming more critical.
The Coalition opposed Labor's decision to abstain from - rather than vote against - the UN move to upgrade the Palestinian Authority's status to that of an observer state late last year. The US, Israel and Canada voted against the proposal.
The Rudd government has recently described all Israeli settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank as "illegal".
Israel argues that because the land is disputed, and its status to be negotiated, this term is incorrect. The US does not use the blanket label of illegal.
The Coalition's stronger support for Israel and harder line on extremist organisations is the clearest foreign policy difference between the two sides of politics.