Palestinian officials seek Australian help with building ‘democratic institutions’ amid statehood talks

palestinian officials seek australian help with building ‘democratic institutions’ amid statehood talks

Palestinian ambassador Izzat Abdulhadi has said he is prepared to meet foreign minister Penny Wong to ‘listen to her ideas’ on reform. Photograph: Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/Reuters

Palestinian officials have asked for Australia’s help in “building vibrant democratic institutions” and fighting corruption, as part of talks aimed at meeting the Albanese government’s conditions for recognising Palestine as a state.

Ireland, Spain and Norway are due to formally recognise Palestine on Tuesday, a step that has drawn condemnation from Israel but has prompted calls from the Greens for Australia to follow suit.

The Australian government no longer sees recognition of Palestinian statehood as a step that can only be taken at the very end of a peace process, but has signalled it is unlikely to follow the three European countries in the short term.

The foreign minister, Penny Wong, has pressed for reforms to the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and is dominated by Fatah, a rival to Hamas.

The head of the general delegation of Palestine to Australia, Izzat Abdulhadi, said he would be prepared to meet Wong to “listen to her ideas about how we can really have a more bold reform agenda”.

“We listen to our partners,” he told Guardian Australia.

But Abdulhadi added that he saw a role for Australia to “help us also in this reform process because they have the capacity, they have experience, they have vibrant institutions”.

“If you support the establishment of a Palestinian state, it should not be lip service. You should provide something to realise and materialise this slogan, by helping, actually on the ground, to build the Palestinian institutions.”

Asked whether he was looking for capacity-building assistance from Australia’s newly established national anti-corruption commission, he said: “We are very open to this.”

The Palestinian Authority is unpopular among Palestinians as it is widely seen as corrupt and undemocratic, with presidential elections last held 19 years ago and legislative elections last held 18 years ago.

Abdulhadi acknowledged the need to “respond more effectively to the people’s needs and priorities” and said the Palestinian Authority was “talking about elections soon”.

Abdulhadi said one of the reasons for the postponement of Palestinian elections was that Israel was blocking the inclusion of East Jerusalem.

Proceeding on that basis was unacceptable, he said, because it would amount to recognising Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem. Israel’s parliament passed a law in 1980 declaring that its capital was “Jerusalem, complete and united”.

Abdulhadi also cited “the fragmentation” of the occupied territories after Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority from the Gaza Strip in 2007.

Abdulhadi argued the Palestinian Authority was responding to international calls for reform, with the president, Mahmoud Abbas, appointing his US-educated economic adviser, Mohammed Mustafa, as prime minister in March.

Wong had a phone call with Mustafa in the days before a UN general assembly vote where Australia backed expanding the Palestinian delegation’s observer rights. Wong told SBS News last week that Australia wanted to “see more reform of the Palestinian Authority”, but the immediate priorities were to call for the release of hostages held in Gaza, a humanitarian ceasefire and more aid access.

Labor has also accused the leader of the Greens, Adam Bandt, of opting for “slogans” over “substance”, after he avoided expressing direct support for a two-state solution.

Bandt told the ABC’s Insiders program that Israelis and Palestinians were “both equally entitled to live in peace and security and exercise their rights to self-determination” and “if that’s what they choose to self-determine, then that’s what they choose to self-determine”.

The assistant foreign minister, Tim Watts, said: “Anyone who is serious about peace knows that requires a two-state solution – a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel.”

The co-chief executive of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Alex Ryvchin, said the Greens had “taken every opportunity to accuse Israel and its leaders of every crime under the sun, yet Bandt could not express support for a Palestinian state alongside Israel instead of in place of it”.

The Greens will move a parliamentary motion demanding the government follow Ireland, Spain and Norway’s lead in recognising Palestine.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, last week warned other countries against “rewarding terrorism”.

The Australian government says there must be “no role for Hamas in a future Palestinian state”.

The Israeli embassy has been contacted for comment on the Australian government’s stance.

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