Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit to Australia became a soapbox for some former senior Labor figures to call for Australian recognition of a State of Palestine.
Former Labor PM Bob Hawke led the charge, absolving the Palestinian Authority and Hamas of any responsibility for the lack of peace.
Comparing the Palestinians to “Jews in the Soviet Union and the blacks in South Africa”, Hawke claimed the 1947 Partition Plan gave the Jews “exactly 56.47 per cent of the Palestinians’ best cultivated land and cities. The two-thirds population of indigenous Palestinians who owned more than 94 per cent of the land were given 47 per cent.”
Hawke also claimed, wrongly, that the Israeli Government was going to “build another 2500 settlements across the West Bank and… 566 settlements in East Jerusalem,” Australian Financial Review (Feb.14).
Most of the subsequent recognition campaign involved news reports of comments by Hawke or others on his cheer squad – Bob Carr, Gareth Evans and Kevin Rudd.
The anti-recognition case, however, was made in editorials and op-eds based on reasoned debate and not declarative statements.
Responding to Hawke, AIJAC’s Mark Leibler wrote, “while Jews did own around six per cent, the Arabs there owned only a little more, with the rest being…the equivalent of Crown land…partition gave the Jews only the areas with a Jewish majority population, and it would have stayed that way had not the local Arabs and Israel’s Arab neighbours invaded.”
He noted spurned Israeli peace offers from 2000, 2001 and 2008, and quoted Obama Administration envoy Martin Indyk’s assessment of Netanyahu “sweating bullets” to make peace in 2014.
Leibler said, “unilateral premature diplomatic recognition… will only reward, and thus encourage, further Palestinian intransigence,” AFR (Feb. 16).
Labor MP Michael Danby expressed his disappointment that Hawke who was raised in a “Christian family” called Palestinians “indigenous”, ignoring “the Bible, which attests to millennial Jewish ties to the Holy Land” Spectator Aust. (Feb. 18).
Filing multiple stories from Israel and the West Bank, Australian foreign editor Greg Sheridan defied the view that Israel is anti-peace, writing (Feb. 20) that, “there is, among many, an openness to dialogue”. He noted that 80% of settlers live “within just 5 per cent of West Bank territory” and “the second intifada soured the Israeli population on the idea that a permanent peace with the Palestinians could be achieved anytime soon.”
On Feb. 25, Sheridan excoriated Hawke, Evans and Rudd’s activism as not intended to “affect… reality but rather to signal once again their sublime and ineffable virtue.”
He attacked Hawke’s “basic errors of fact”, Rudd’s claim that “Netanyahu had repeatedly torpedoed peace – without giving a syllable’s attention to times the Palestinian leadership has rejected full-blown peace offers” and Evans’ assertion “Arabs could provide for Israel’s security”.
Sheridan called on Hawke to show “real moral courage” by risking his “lucrative Chinese business interests” to advocate for Tibetans.
The Australian (Feb. 21) said recognition would “add to the delusions of Palestinian leaders that they can achieve statehood through the back door.” On Feb. 23, it echoed Netanyahu’s question to Rudd, asking, “what kind of state would it be? ‘A state that calls for Israel’s destruction? A state whose territories will be used for radical Islam?'”
PM Turnbull lauded Israel’s scientific, cultural and technological achievements; democratic credentials despite its security challenges; and slammed the 20 UN resolutions passed against it in 2015, whilst Syria, where 250,000 were killed, received only one, Australian (Feb. 22).
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Anthony Bergin called for deeper Australia-Israel ties, noting Israel’s Sunni Arab neighbours are drawing closer to the Jewish state, SMH (Feb. 21).
The AFR (Feb. 22) also saw recognition further entrenching Palestinian intransigence and noted (Feb. 25) Israel’s IT success shows it “is swimming with the tide of change in the world, not against it.”
The Daily Telegraph strongly backed Israel, noting its security challenges (Feb. 23).
Meanwhile, in the Daily Telegraph (Feb. 22) AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein wrote Australia “understands Israel has repeatedly made genuine offers for peace”. He also appeared on ABC Radio National “Breakfast” and ABC TV “News” (Feb. 20) and SBS TV and ABC TV “7:30” (Feb. 21), whilst AIJAC’s Jamie Hyams appeared on ABC TV “News Breakfast” (Feb. 20) and “The Drum” (Feb. 22).
News Ltd dailies (Feb. 23) saw Andrew Bolt argue Labor “is now attacking Israel” because “Muslim votes” are five times as many as Jewish votes.