Australia/Israel Review


Editorial: A Question of Security

Jan 24, 2024 | Colin Rubenstein

US President Joe Biden visits Israel on a solidarity mission on Oct. 18 (Image: Flickr)
US President Joe Biden visits Israel on a solidarity mission on Oct. 18 (Image: Flickr)

Much is being made of comments articulated by Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu at a January 18 media conference that, regarding the future of the West Bank and Gaza, “in any future arrangement, or in the absence of an arrangement,” Israel must maintain “security control” over all territory west of the Jordan River. He noted this “contradicts with the idea of sovereignty [for the Palestinians].”

Netanyahu is clearly engaged in a significant disagreement with the Biden Administration over the latter’s emphasis on promises to move as rapidly as possible toward Palestinian statehood in post-war arrangements for Gaza. However, many are falsely treating Netanyahu’s statements as the death knell of any two-state resolution – or worse, proof that Israel has always secretly opposed such a resolution. 

As Biden himself said in response to Netanyahu’s claims, “There are a number of types of two-state solutions. There’s a number of countries that are members of the UN that… don’t have their own militaries… states that have limitations.” Indeed, there are ways to reconcile ongoing Israeli security control with eventual Palestinian statehood.

Moreover, Netanyahu’s arguments as to why Israel needs such security control make sense. Netanyahu said, “All territory we evacuate, we get terror, terrible terror against us,” citing Gaza, southern Lebanon and parts of the West Bank. It would be hard to argue he is wrong. 

He also said the violence is “not about the absence of a state, a Palestinian state, but rather about the existence of a state, a Jewish state.” Again, hard to disagree – Israel has offered the Palestinians a two-state resolution on several occasions, and these offers have not only been rejected, but often met with waves of violence. 

Moreover, there is the blisteringly clear example of Gaza. For 17 years, since Israel’s unilateral pullout in 2005, Gaza has been the closest thing to a fully independent Palestinian state that has ever existed, completely controlled by a Palestinian government. Yet Israel has suffered near-constant attacks from there and been forced to fight several wars. Finally, the unprecedented wave of mass-murder inside Israel savagely perpetrated on October 7 drove home to almost all Israelis how utterly dangerous to their essential security even a militarily much weaker Palestinian entity next door can be – especially when backed by a hostile foreign power, given Hamas was armed, funded and trained by Iran. 

This is why Israeli President Itzhak Herzog – a man of the Israeli centre-left – told the World Economic Forum in Davos on Jan. 18 that in Israel, “Nobody in his right mind is willing now to think about what will be the solution of the peace agreements, because everybody wants to know: Can we be promised real safety in the future?”

Plans for a “reformed” Palestinian Authority (PA) to take over Gaza do nothing to ameliorate these well-founded Israeli concerns. While the PA has often maintained a modicum of security cooperation with Israel, it is corrupt, unpopular, undemocratic and inept – unable to even maintain security control over all the cities of the West Bank. Plus, PA President Mahmoud Abbas is 88 years old with no serious succession plan in place.

Furthermore, both PA officials and PA official media reacted to October 7 by celebrating the murderous violence while claiming to have played a major role in perpetrating it. They then spread ugly conspiracy theories that the rapes, torture, and murder of civilians either did not happen or were actually committed by Israel. 

Israelis have every reason to question whether a reformed PA is even possible, and to demand to see the details before agreeing it is the solution for Gaza. 

The Biden Administration sees visibly pushing the idea of rapid progress toward Palestinian statehood as a good way to get buy-in from Arab states toward rebuilding Gaza and helping administer it once Hamas is removed from power – as it must be. However, as Netanyahu’s comments indicated, October 7 inevitably changed Israel’s approach to this issue, with Palestinian statehood now seen as all but synonymous with unendurable Israeli insecurity. Finding convincing ways to address this well-founded Israeli sense of severe insecurity and vulnerability is today absolutely essential to any hopes of advancing Israeli-Palestinian peaceful coexistence. 

This is one reason why Australian Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong’s recent visit to Israel, Jordan and the PA, while welcome, also featured some disappointments – illustrating the Albanese Government has not fully understood the implications of October 7.

Wong refused entreaties to visit southern Israeli communities devastated on October 7, even though so many other world leaders, including British Foreign Secretary David Cameron and Australian Shadow Foreign Minister Simon Birmingham, have made such visits. While not all senior foreign political leaders go south, Wong’s belated visit was the first by a senior Australian minister, so it’s a pity she did not appreciate the view of those who did, who understood the need to see the sites of the October 7 pogrom themselves to fully appreciate the appalling magnitude of those massacres.

Senator Wong also continued the Government’s pre-October 7 policy of constantly emphasising Australia’s criticisms of Israel’s West Bank settlements. She even found time to meet with West Bank Palestinians who had experienced violence by Israeli settlers – violence which has been widely condemned in Israel and across the Jewish world and is increasingly being tackled by Israel’s security forces. While in itself a reasonable gesture, surely no one would be implying any morally indefensible false equivalence between their plight and the victims of October 7.

Wong, to her credit, did also meet with the families of Israeli hostages and expressed “solidarity with Israel and with you.” However, in the context of her other actions, troubling questions remain.

The Foreign Minister and her Government have also seriously erred in refusing to join many of our most important allies – including the US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic – in publicly criticising South Africa’s nonsensical, grotesque and cynical case in the International Court of Justice, alleging Israel is committing genocide in its defensive war against Hamas terrorism. 

There is simply overwhelming evidence that Israel is going to great lengths to minimise civilian casualties under very difficult circumstances. If anything tells Israelis they won’t be allowed to have genuine security in any future arrangements with the Palestinians, it is this slanderous effort to criminalise Israeli self-defence. This is doubly true when even long-standing friends like Australia refuse to distance themselves from such obscene claims.

Jewish Israelis and Palestinians share a land, and neither is going to either leave or give up their national aspirations, so Australia’s long-standing bipartisan policy of seeking to support an eventual two-state resolution remains appropriate. But the current Australian Government does not seem to have realised that the pre-conditions for such a resolution have inevitably altered significantly since October 7 – making our current approach often counter-productive to achieving that bipartisan national goal. 

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