Australia/Israel Review


Editorial: Slogans and Symbolism versus Common Sense

Jun 26, 2023 | Colin Rubenstein

Victorian ALP delegates at the State Conference (Image: Twitter)
Victorian ALP delegates at the State Conference (Image: Twitter)

The Victorian Labor Party and the federal Greens Party have very different political worldviews. However, regrettably, when addressing the sensitive and contentious issue of the deadlocked conflict between the Palestinians and Israel at their respective conferences recently, both fell into the same trap of choosing to pass resolutions embodying empty slogans and mindless symbolism rather than seeking to advance constructive policy ideas. 

On June 4, the Greens passed a policy resolution erasing the party’s official support for a two-state resolution or even peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Smearing Israel as “practising apartheid,” nothing better encapsulates the frothing vitriol contained in the unhinged, nearly 1,500-word manifesto than the fact that it includes a noxious quote plucked from a report by none other than United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Palestinian Territories Francesca Albanese, who just months ago was notoriously disgraced for having made blatantly antisemitic social media posts. 

All inhibitions cast aside, the Greens resolution calls for open-ended boycotts, sanctions and even implied international military intervention to force Israel to erase itself demographically by implementing the legally baseless Palestinian so-called “Right of Return” to the territory of pre-1967 Israel. It is hard to think of a scheme more antithetical to peace. Flooding Israel with millions of hostile descendants of Palestinian refugees and their extended families would likely lead to a civil war on the scale of the 1948 war, which saw very substantial portions of both communities lose their lives. 

Meanwhile, the Victorian Labor State Conference on June 18 passed a resolution calling on the Albanese Government to recognise “Palestine” as a state during this term of parliament.

The Greens have openly replaced their prior, comparatively balanced official position towards Israel with one of scorched earth animosity, adopting every Palestinian slogan and ambit claim willy-nilly. 

The Victorian Labor resolution, by contrast, deceptively decorated itself with a halo of peace-loving good intentions, saying, absurdly, that recognising Palestine is the only way to save a two-state resolution. Yet this is also damaging and counterproductive. 

Firstly, this idea directly undermines the peace process by violating the plain language of the Oslo Accords. It also contradicts settled international law, by demanding Australia recognise a “state” which clearly does not meet the criteria set down for one in the relevant global treaty, the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States.

But beyond these legal questions, on a practical level, recognising “Palestine” would unequivocally damage rather than “save” hopes for a two-state peace.

The only way such a peace can possibly be achieved is for the Palestinians to agree to accept a future Israeli offer of a state in the framework of peace negotiations – which sadly the Palestinians have refused to even engage in since 2014.

Veteran Israeli journalist and respected Palestinian affairs analyst Ehud Ya’ari has summed up the current Palestinian leadership’s goals in two words: “Runaway state”. Ya’ari explains that, based on their own words, they have made it clear they are only interested in statehood if it is handed to them with no requirement to negotiate peace with Israel or concede any claims or grievances. This includes especially the fantasy of undoing Israel’s creation through the legally baseless and historically unprecedented “right of return” to pre-1967 Israel of all descendants of Palestinian refugees. 

The Victorian Labor motion plays directly into the hands of this strategy. Its key argument is to try to make Australia’s current policy seem outdated by misleadingly stating that 138 other countries have recognised Palestine. This, of course, omits the crucial fact that Sweden is the only Western democracy to have done so, while most of the other 137 countries recognised “Palestine” in the context of the Cold War, at a time when many of them did not even recognise Israel itself. Moreover, given the choice, many of these countries would not recognise “Palestine” today.

There are very good reasons why none of our allies have taken this premature and destructive step. If Labor genuinely cares about Middle East peace – as indeed it should – it needs to follow their example. 

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Foreign Minister Penny Wong are doubtless aware of these realities. Nevertheless, the obvious must be laid out plainly, since widespread misinformation and simplistic and emotive sloganeering dominate public discourse on this issue, especially on social media – fuelling the sort of ill-informed approaches that surfaced at the Greens and ALP conferences. 

The crucial fact is that the primary reason there is no peace is the intransigence of the Palestinian leadership, which has rebuffed and wrecked repeated efforts to achieve a two-state resolution.

The Palestinian Authority walked away from generous offers of statehood made by Israel in 2000, 2001 and 2008 without even making a counter-offer, and has refused to negotiate about peace for a decade. Meanwhile, Hamas turned Gaza into a terror enclave after Israel completely withdrew from the territory in 2005.

The people who drafted and then voted for the resolutions at the two conferences were either totally unaware of this essential historical context, grossly misinformed about it, or simply didn’t care because of a morally obtuse approach that says the “oppressed Palestinians” must be supported in whatever they demand, no matter how counter-productive.

Rewarding intransigent and destructive Palestinian behaviour will only encourage such rejectionist behaviour to continue – to the great detriment of all parties involved. 

More than that, these grandiose resolutions propose to reduce Australian foreign policy to illusory cheap, simplistic and hollow gestures in a way that is anything but cost-free. If these ill-advised resolutions were followed, Australia would gain no benefit, pointlessly anger the US and many European allies and devalue our hard-earned respect as a reliable, middle-power Western democratic actor. On top of this, we would undermine our essential national interests in a stable international order, and the prospects for the eventual creation of lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace. 

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