Bill Shorten and Tony Abbott in a Jerusalem restaurant. Picture: Malcolm Farr
BILL Shorten and Tony Abbott have formed a foreign affairs accord with a unity they have not displayed back home.
Their joint front was highlighted by a brief session of tension-releasing humour in a Jerusalem restaurant on Sunday. The pair had held discussions with the leadership of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and were pleased to be able to relax over lunch back in Israel.
“I didn’t ask what their view was on renewable energy,” Mr Abbott said, starting a lighthearted pile-on of Australian domestic issues that were never headlines in the Palestinian territory.
“And they weren’t sure what a plebiscite was either,’’ Mr Shorten said after someone at the table mentioned gay marriage.
According to protocol, the highest-ranking Australian in the nine-member group meeting Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah was Trade Minister Stephen Ciobo. But the former Australian prime minister and Labor’s alternative prime minister were clearly the strongest voices among the visitors.
As they reviewed the discussion for news.com.au, Mr Abbott and Mr Shorten spoke as one with the Liberal at one point asking: “Correct me if you think I’m wrong Bill, why would they [the Palestinians] think this was a delegation of Australians wanting to argue among themselves?
“In terms of the two-state solution, that’s been settled bipartisan Australian policy for 30 years now.”
There were slight differences in tone. “I think some of the delegation smiled when I raised the issue of a minimum wage,” Mr Shorten said.
Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten in Jerusalem. Picture: Malcolm FarrSource:Supplied
But the enormity of the Israel-Palestinian impasse was much too serious for domestic political grandstanding.
And a positive both men took from the talks was Mr Hamdallah’s condemnation of Islamic State, or Daesh — even when he insisted only three or four of his men had joined the terrorists. Mr Shorten said he was encouraged by the Palestinian’s comment that Daesh members were “terrorists using religion as a pretext for crime”.
“I thought that was well put,” he recalled. “What it showed me was there was not a homogeneity, there is not one Islam.”
Mr Abbott said of the engagement: “It was at its most interesting, as Bill said, talking about Daesh.
“I think he was probably at his most evasive when talking about the real prospects for a genuine accommodation between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
“Nevertheless he certainly appeared on the basis of today’s discussion to be thoughtful and reasonable.
“I guess the challenge is, it’s one thing to be thoughtful and reasonable in a private discussion in English, another thing to be thoughtful and reasonable in a public discussion in Arabic.
“I think that’s always been the difficulty.”
However, there were warnings from the talks, directed at President-elect Donald Trump. Mr Hamdallah said tension would “escalate” if Mr Trump carried out plans to move his embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
He hoped Mr Trump’s “actions prove different to his words”, Mr Shorten recalled.
State member for Kew Tim Smith, former PM Tony Abbott, Shadow Defence Minister and Geelong-based MP Richard Marles, and Labor leader Bill Shorten in Jerusalem. Picture: TwitterSource:Twitter
Mr Shorten, Mr Abbott and this reporter are being hosted in Israel by the Australia Israel UK Leadership Dialogue