Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Australian leaders from both sides of politics point out the real obstacles to Israeli-Palestinian peace

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This week both Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and former Prime Minister Julia Gillard made strong and perceptive statements in support of Israel and of a genuine negotiated two-state peace with the Palestinians.

Bishop travelled to Israel to attend the funeral of Israel's former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and while she was there gave an interview to the Times of Israel in which she suggested that settlements should not be considered "illegal" under international law. Bishop commented in the interview:

"Our interest is in a negotiated peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians and we believe that every opportunity should be given to those negotiations to proceed to its solution... I don't think it's helpful to prejudge the settlement issue if you're trying to get a negotiated solution. And by deeming the activity as a war crime, it's unlikely to engender a negotiated solution."

Asked about Australia's decision to change its vote from "in favour" to "abstain" on UN resolutions regarding settlements and the Geneva Convention, Bishop said:

"I considered each one [of these votes] on its merit and looked at the totality of the resolutions on similar matters across the UN and I decided and asked the [Foreign Affairs and Trade] Department to take on my instructions accordingly that we would consider each resolution and ensure that what we're doing was balanced... The Australian government is confident that the position it has adopted is balanced. It's not one-sided."

Meanwhile, on January 15 Gillard's speech at the Emirates Centre For Strategic Studies and Research in Abu Dhabi, delivered a strong message about what a genuine two-state solution must entail - especially in terms of recognition of Israel as a Jewish homeland.

According to a transcript by the Emirates Centre For Strategic Studies and Research , Gillard said:

"My message to you this evening is the same as I delivered to an audience in Melbourne in November: I support a Palestinian State for the Palestinian people. I want to see the dawn of Palestine Independence Day. I want the Palestinian people to enjoy and pursue their destiny in full, and to have a prosperous and successful country of their own - a nation they call home at long last. But I also want to see Israel continue to pursue its destiny as it was conceived - as a Jewish State and as a democracy.

Everyone talks about a ‘two-State solution.' I did consistently as Prime Minister. That is my view today. There is - there can be - no other course. Everyone understands a State for Palestine. But not everyone says there should be a State of Israel. Indeed, some countries, some leaders, still want a world without Israel. Those are the words that come out of the lips of the leaders in Tehran, and Gaza, and Southern Lebanon. I am convinced that the key to peace for Israelis and Palestinians is a simple declarative statement by Palestinian leaders - that they accept Israel as a Jewish State. Once that is stipulated, then virtually everything can be successfully negotiated -- because Israel's existential identity is successfully secured.

Once that is stipulated, two great peoples can finally begin working together to build themselves up as an economic powerhouse in the region, as a wellspring of science and innovation, as leaders in agriculture, water conservation, solar power and renewable energy. Indeed the list of potential shared areas of achievement is without end. This is an objective specifically endorsed by Secretary of State John Kerry in his marathon negotiations between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas."

As Gillard said, she made similar comments in a speech delivered to the Jewish community in Australia in November. It says much about Gillard's integrity and genuine support for Israel that she is willing to tell an Arab audience the same message she tells a Jewish audience - especially with regard to her point that the failure to recognise Israel as a Jewish state is at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In the same speech, Gillard also had some pointed and sensible words to say about Iran, which some of Australia's commentators on the subject could benefit from hearing:

"The P5+1 interim agreement - whose implementation is just being finalized this week - is a first step but to make this sacrifice worth it. It is now imperative that Iran follow through in both the letter and the spirit of putting a halt to its nuclear programs. So I want to propose a corollary to President Reagan's famous dictum in reaching arms control agreements with the Soviets: ‘Trust but verify,' he said. But we can't trust the Iranians - yet. Compliance with the interim agreement and all the enforcement provisions will test whether there can be trust. And so for now I say: ‘Hope, but verify.' There is no doubt that Iran's nuclear ambitions pose an existential threat to Israel. But they also pose the same threat to Muslim nations on this side of the Gulf."

It is certainly heartening to see such knowledge of and insight into Middle East realities from both sides of Australian politics at the highest level. 

Sharyn Mittelman

 

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