Editorial: From Gaza to Jerusalem

Another Hamas rocket is launched towards Israel

Hamas’ two-day indiscriminate 460-rocket blitz against southern Israel on Nov. 13 and 14, along with the constant skirmishes that have resulted from the Hamas-orchestrated “Great March of Return” riots along the Gaza border since March 30, have highlighted perfectly why any hopes for a two-state peace deal are currently on hold. The bitterly divided Palestinian side is nowhere near prepared to seriously negotiate peace, much less say yes to a two-state outcome. 

A large minority of Palestinians live in Gaza under the rule of a rejectionist Islamist terror organisation, which will never agree to a genuine two-state peace under any circumstances. 

Meanwhile, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA), which rules the West Bank, exist in a state of vitriolic mutual hatred for one another. 

Indeed, the genuine deterioration of living standards in Gaza over recent years has principally been the result of the efforts of the PA to isolate and pressure Hamas by damaging the welfare of Gazans. Not only has the PA been slashing wages for civil servants, and refusing to pay for Gaza’s electricity, it has been actively trying to block fuel shipments from Qatar that would allow Gazans to receive more than the miserable few hours of electricity per day they had been getting. For a time, the PA even reportedly limited shipments of medical supplies to Gaza and the ability of Gazans to leave the strip for medical treatment. 

The obsessive feuding with Hamas by ageing PA President Mahmoud Abbas has been accompanied by his clear determination since 2014 to avoid any negotiations with Israel, and instead to focus on winning cheap symbolic victories for the Palestinian “cause” in sympathetic international bodies.

In 2008, Abbas rejected “out of hand”, in his own words, a two-state deal from then-Israeli PM Ehud Olmert that offered everything the Palestinians could ever reasonably expect to receive. Today, it is crystal clear that two-state peace negotiations are in limbo while he remains in power – he is not interested, and in any case, has neither the ability nor the desire to bring the 1.9 million Palestinians in Hamas-ruled Gaza into any deal. 

The stark reality of this impasse should be the starting point in the ongoing debate about the Australian Government’s review of the possibility of moving the Australian Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

Critics of that policy idea seem to take it for granted that such a move would be a setback to Australia’s long-standing bipartisan policy of supporting progress toward a two-state resolution. In fact, given current realities, it is precisely in order to advance our support for an eventual two-state peace that Australia should be moving our Embassy.

During a recent interview on ABC radio, Dr. Hussein Ibish, a US-based scholar who has worked for pro-Palestinian organisations, asserted that the greatest Palestinian power was the “right to say no” during negotiations on issues like the “right of return” and Jerusalem. He complained that the US had attempted to strip Palestinians of this “right to reject” with a series of fait accomplis, including moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and defunding the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the primary vehicle for promoting the dangerous Palestinian “right of return” fantasy. 

Dr. Ibish is correct – the US Administration is trying to strip Palestinians of their unqualified “right to say no” on key sticking points. This policy has involved not only Jerusalem and UNRWA, but suspending aid until “pay for slay” pensions to terrorists and their families ends, closing the Washington PLO office, changing anti-Israel votes at the UN, and withdrawing from destructive UN agencies.

This is necessary. The Palestinian leadership have been abusing their “right to say no” for years, and a key precondition for resuming progress towards peace is to make it clear to them that mindless obstructionism has a cost and time is not necessarily on their side. 

The entire debate over Jerusalem is based on flawed history, extending all the way back to elements of the 1947 UN partition resolution, which called for Jerusalem to remain an international city under UN supervision for ten years, an idea that quickly languished.

Israel’s capital and all its organs of government have been in western Jerusalem since 1950. The refusal of Australia and other countries to recognise this simple reality has absolutely nothing to do with Israel’s “occupation” of the eastern half of the city it captured in 1967, and almost nothing to do with the Palestinian desire for a future capital state there. 

Many commentators seem determined to treat recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as a fringe idea that only Donald Trump could support. Yet the US Congress has actually recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital since 1995, and all recent US presidents have, at some point, committed to move the US Embassy there. Meanwhile, in the past, many countries recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In 1971, there were 47 foreign embassies in Israel and 21 of them, 45%, were in Jerusalem. 

There is absolutely no reason to believe that Australia moving its embassy to the pre-1967 area of Jerusalem that would never go to the Palestinians in any conceivable peace deal would negatively impact peace prospects. The only argument that can be advanced that it would is based on supporting the Palestinian insistence that the world continue to blackmail Israel by refusing to recognise Israel’s capital on its own sovereign territory until it unilaterally grants Palestinian demands. 

Yet the world’s support for the Palestinian “right to say no” by, among other things, rejecting Israel’s right to select its own capital, has clearly been a major contributor to the current peace process stalemate. The US Administration has finally broken outdated taboos against recognising reality and is trying to build an incentive structure which can end the current impasse, rooted as it is in Palestinian rejectionism, divisions, dysfunction and zero-sum thinking. Australia, in our own national interest, should support these efforts and follow suit.