Former prime minister Tony Abbott has inflamed tensions within the Turnbull government by suggesting Australia should stop sending aid to the Palestinian Authority and move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Mr Abbott’s comments, written for The Spectator, were swiftly and emphatically slapped down by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Monday.
Ms Bishop said Australia “does not have any plans” to move its Israel embassy and that Australia’s aid program has “robust risk management” and due diligence applied.
Mr Abbott claimed that the Palestinian Authority – Palestine’s self-governing body established in 1994 – paid “pensions to terrorists and their families”.
He wrote that, until this stopped, Australia should cease sending aid, which for the 2016/2017 financial year was set at $43.6 million.
Mr Abbott also called for Australia to follow a decision touted by United States president-elect Donald Trump and move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Despite Jerusalem being Israel’s capital, nations with diplomatic ties to the country have their embassies in Tel Aviv. This is because most nations do not formally recognise Israel’s annexation of east Jerusalem.
The governance of Jerusalem is at the core of the decades-long international dispute centred around competing land claims made by Israel and Palestine.
Both moves, Mr Abbott wrote, would be “way[s] for Australia to demonstrate its unswerving support for Israel”.
Mr Abbott’s article came two weeks after he travelled to Israel in mid-December, hosted by the Australia-Israel-UK Leadership Dialogue.
The trip was funded by Melbourne businessman Albert Dadon and was also attended by Labor leader Bill Shorten and Trade Minister Steve Ciobo.
Politicians held talks with Israeli and Palestinian figures during the trip, including Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority prime minister Rami Hamdallah. Journalists also attend the event.
The Spectator piece has capped a busy summer recess for Mr Abbott.
On Friday, he sparked another Liberal Party war of words when he wrote for News Corp: “I want to make it crystal clear: any abandonment of the party would be a catastrophic mistake.
“Leaving the Liberal Party – especially to form a new, supposedly conservative party – would just doom our country to at least two terms of Labor government.”
Mr Abbott did not name his Liberal Party conservative factional ally Senator Cory Bernardi in the piece.
But most, including Mr Bernardi, interpreted the article to be a dig at the South Australian senator who reportedly wants to start his own conservative movement.
“While most on break only person talking up division in Lib Party this past week is @TonyAbbottMHR,” Mr Bernardi tweeted in response.
Mr Abbott also caused tension in the Liberal Party on Middle Eastern policy in October 2015, when he wrote that Australia should deploy special forces troops on the ground in Syria to defeat Islamic State.
Tony Abbott’s timing significant
The former PM’s comments and Ms Bishop’s subsequent rejection of his proposal come at an extraordinary time in the long-running Israel-Palestine feud.
In late December 2016, the UN Security Council voted in favour of a resolution demanding Israel halt settlement activity on occupied Palestinian territory.
Most notably, the United States abstained from using its veto to knock down the vote.
Israel and Mr Trump had urged the US to use its veto.
It was the first resolution adopted on the Israel-Palestine conflict in almost eight years.
“Israel rejects this shameful anti-Israel resolution at the UN and will not abide by its terms,” a statement from the office of Prime Minister Netanyahu said.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry said after the vote: “The Israeli prime minister publicly supports a two-state solution, but his current coalition is the most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements.
“The result is that policies of this government – which the prime minister himself just described as ‘more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history’ – are leading in the opposite direction, toward one state.”
Ms Bishop said Australia would have sided with Israel on the vote – if it was required to vote.