Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – February 2017

Feb 8, 2017 | 

UNdemocratic record

The future of US and United Nations relations was discussed following Donald Trump’s outrage that the Obama Administration abstained on UN Security Council Resolution 2334 and Republican party threats to withhold funding to the world body.

A Washington Post analysis by Josh Rogin in the Age/Sydney Morning Herald (Jan. 1) noted that 2334 “has opened up a Pandora’s box in Washington, allowing anyone with a grievance against the world body to their day in the sun.”

Australian-born US analyst Danielle Pletka advised Trump not to cut ties with the UN but use this as a “great opportunity… to show us he can negotiate the art of the deal. The Congress can give him leverage.”

Elsewhere, analyst Ida Lichter explained a little understood but critical fact on UN decision-making. “Due to equal votes for all 193 member states, whatever their size, the relatively few democracies are usually outvoted. The General Assembly is dominated by two politicised blocs: the Non-Aligned Movement comprising 120 states, currently led by Iran; and within the NAM, the 57-member OIC, headquartered in Saudi Arabia. These groups contain authoritarian and sexist states,” Australian (Dec. 31).

Radio 2334

Someone clearly not across how the UN is gamed was ABC Radio National “Breakfast” host Hamish MacDonald (Dec. 29) who asked UK Times and Economist correspondent Gregg Carlstrom how the Palestinians were able to “outmanoeuvre” Israel given it has “such an effective foreign ministry and diplomatic service.”

Carlstrom said the Palestinians don’t deserve any “credit”.

Rather, the Israeli government is “the most right wing… for decades, there’s not a single centrist or left wing party in the government” and has “alienated their traditional allies” citing particularly, the recent Knesset bill that would retroactively legalise settlement outposts that “even Israel considers… illegal because they were built without the government’s permission.”

The government includes the centrist party Kulanu with 10 seats. Further, Carlstrom did not make it clear that the government has not passed the outposts bill which would legalise settlement housing built on privately-owned Palestinian land and even if passed, it is widely expected to be struck out by Israel’s Supreme Court.

Meanwhile AIJAC’s Jamie Hyams told ABC TV News 24 (Jan. 12), 2334 removed the need for Palestinians to negotiate for peace and the focus on settlements was a furphy. He said settlements cover only “1.7 per cent” of the West Bank and the Palestinians would be compensated through land swaps.

Hyams also noted that the Palestinians had rejected three offers of statehood and that Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu had implemented an unprecedented ten month freeze on construction in settlements in 2009-10 which resulted in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas only negotiating in the ninth month and then only to discuss extending the freeze. Moreover, he said, the majority of Israelis would support painful compromises for peace, including on settlements, but not when there is “incitement and terrorism and recalcitrance on the Palestinian side.”

Skewed reports

Washington Post correspondent Karen DeYoung’s report on UNSC 2334 offered readers a highly flawed picture of Israeli attempts to make peace over the past eight years.

DeYoung wrote that the Administration did not veto 2334 because of “the rapid increase of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, despite escalating US criticism, could very well close the door to any hope of negotiating side-by-side Israeli and Palestinian states.”

Settlements, which cover less than 2% of the West Bank, are certainly not increasing in number, as she implied and are also not expanding geographically to any significant extent. Most growth in any case is in areas that are widely expected to remain part of Israel in any peace deal. Regardless, Israel has shown in the past that for the sake of peace it will remove settlements, Age/Sydney Morning Herald (Dec. 31).

Tunnel vision

The Age and Sydney Morning Herald (Jan. 1) Cairo correspondent Farid Farid saw Israel’s fingerprints on Donald Trump’s foreign policy citing his alleged “plan to return to unqualified support of Israel”, putting Washington at “odds with its European, Middle Eastern and Muslim allies.”

Farid also predicted “the international consensus is likely to be tested” on the Iran nuclear deal “especially if Trump accepts the Israeli government’s stated view… that what he has called ‘the worse deal ever negotiated’ was a strategic mistake.”

Sunni Arab leaders are equally hoping Trump ends or renegotiates the Iran deal and although they want the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to end, it is not their main concern.

Ambassador Friedman

The Australian endorsed (Dec. 20) then President-elect Donald Trump’s controversial nomination of bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman to be the next US Ambassador to Israel.

Appointing a person who is pro-settlements and questions the two-state formula for peace might “force the Palestinians to be less recalcitrant,” the paper suggested.

On Dec. 22, the paper ran an op-ed from former Canadian Ambassador to Israel Vivian Bercovici who dismissed “the contempt and disbelief” directed at Friedman, saying, “he will serve at the pleasure of Trump and represent the President’s policies. Friedman is not anointed to go rogue and indulge in personal fantasies.”

On Jan. 12 the paper ran Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens who said Friedman’s “heresies alone recommend him for the job.”

Sloppy Saikal

ANU academic Amin Saikal claimed United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 was “adopted unanimously” and “expresses the international community’s frustration and disgust with Israel’s… vehement resistance to a negotiated resolution of the… conflict”.

The US abstained, meaning the resolution was not unanimously adopted.

He said,”The only UN Security Council resolution that Israel has ever fully embraced is the one that recommended the partition of Palestine, enabling the Zionist leadership to proclaim the independent state of Israel in 1948.”

The Partition Plan was a General Assembly vote, not Security Council, and in November 1967 Israel immediately accepted UN Security Council Resolution 242 which explicitly linked Israeli withdrawal from lands captured in the 1967 war with its Arab neighbours to making peace. The Palestinians only did so in 1988.

Saikal said, “Trump has vowed to recognise Jerusalem as the united capital of Israel, despite the illegality of Israel’s usurpation of East Jerusalem.”

According to both international law and 242, east Jerusalem was acquired in a defensive war, making Israel legally entitled to hold onto it until its ultimate fate is decided in peace talks. Moreover, there are strong legal arguments that Israel has the right to settle areas that formed part of British Mandatory Palestine.

Saikal also denounced Egypt, which holds one of the temporary UN Security Council seats, for withdrawing its proposed 2334 draft. He said Egypt had succumbed to Trump’s alleged threat to cut US aid letting “self-interest… [take] precedence over a catalyst role that Cairo could have played on the world stage in moving the Arab-Israeli conflict towards a viable resolution.”

In mid-2016, Egypt pushed for a regional conference in Cairo to relaunch peace talks. Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu accepted but Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected it; Canberra Times (Dec. 28).

Resolution rebuttal

AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein responded to Saikal, saying 2334 “has made peacemaking… immeasurably more difficult by empowering the Palestinian strategy of… bypassing negotiating entirely and leveraging international pressure to achieve Palestinian… objectives on their behalf and without having to… make genuine concessions or end the conflict.”

The resolution, he said, “promotes the myth that ‘settlement growth’ (including, as it says, ‘natural growth’…) endangers the viability of a two-state outcome… settlements take up less than two per cent of the West Bank and growth is largely limited to within settlement boundaries. It fails to distinguish between settlement blocs near Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – where most Israeli settlers live and all serious observers concede will remain part of Israel under any conceivable two state outcome – and isolated outposts. It makes no mention of mutually agreed land swaps – a principle that the Palestinians have essentially accepted in prior negotiations. Even worse, it includes Jewish neighbourhoods in Jerusalem, home to hundreds of thousands of people and, absurdly, even the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and the Western Wall of the biblical Jewish temple, to be ‘Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.'”

Rubenstein also thanked Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for criticising 2334’s passage, Canberra Times (Jan. 3).

Carr spins

Former Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr backed 2334, accusing Israel of destroying the two-state solution through settlement construction.

Carr said he had been “conned… no lied” to, by the Israel lobby 12 years ago when told that settlements were not an issue and would be removed if a peace deal is signed.

Maybe they are still there because the Palestinians refused to sign a deal, despite three serious offers?

He suggested the only issue to negotiate was security and the Palestinians are now willing to agree to a demilitarised state.

Carr was happy to quote negotiator Martin Indyk on the failed 2013-14 talks but only regarding settlements, not his statements that Netanyhau tried to reach a deal. He was also happy to quote Netanyhau’s political rivals, former Israeli PMs Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, but ignored the fact they both offered statehood and were rejected, Sydney Morning Herald (Dec. 27).

The paper published Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s Peter Wertheim and Alex Ryvchin’s response the following day which noted that in 1982 in the Sinai and in 2005 Israel “had removed settlements for the sake of peace” from Gaza, only to see Hamas seize control and “step up rocket… attacks against Israeli towns and cities, resulting in three wars,” making Israel unwilling to “relinquish territory… unless it is after a peace treaty.”

The pair detailed the 2008 offer that the Palestinian Authority did not even bother to respond to with a counter-offer, which makes it clear the obstacle to peace is not “physical but political”.

Bitter, not sweet

Courier Mail columnist Terry Sweetman backed 2334 (Jan.8), questioning Australia’s decades of support for Israel.

“What Australia got out of it is open to question but we, in turn, turned a blind eye to such things as Israel’s nuclear arsenal and its increasingly expansionary policies, its disregard for United Nations rulings and its arrogant misuse of Australian passports for its hit squads.”

On Jan. 4, the paper ran pro-Palestinian lobby group APAN president George Browning who claimed “the purpose of Israel’s settlement program is to destroy the territorial basis for a two-state solution” and suggested the Australian Government’s criticism of 2334 was designed to “win…the support of certain powerful domestic constituencies.”

This was balanced in the paper by columnist Rowan Dean’s Jan. 2 sober analysis (see Media Microscope).

Some moderate

Former Iranian President and supposed moderate Hashemi Rafsanjani’s death was widely covered.

A nuanced retrospective in the Australian Financial Review (Jan. 10) mentioned Argentina’s allegation of his alleged “complicity in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish centre in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people died.”

The Australian (Jan. 10) noted he “showed ruthlessness in power” and included a reference to the 1994 bombing, but an analysis in the paper the following day did not.

Fairfax’s story called him a “driving force for change” and said his death “leaves a huge vacuum among moderate Iranians who seek reforms in the country’s political life and economic and cultural openings to the West.” The story did not mention his involvement in the 1994 bombing and a comparison with the original Washington Post sourced report shows Fairfax edited it to merely state that Rafsanjani was “implicated… in terrorist attacks on civilians,” Age, Canberra Times, Sydney Morning Herald (Jan. 10).

Perhaps the most glaring omission was the failure to note his insinuation in 2001 that he would use a nuclear weapon against Israel if given the chance.

Loose language

The December 19 terror attack which saw Anis Amri drive a lorry into a Berlin market, killing 12, was the subject of analysis centring on euphemisms to avoid describing such terrorism as Islamist inspired.

Mark Steyn noted that a “BBC headline effortlessly conveys the madness of our times: ‘Lorry kills 12 at Christmas market’. Ah, so the truck did it. So it’s nothing that can’t be fixed by some basic truck-control measures – like, say, licensing and registration of trucks,” Advertiser/Herald Sun (Dec. 22).

Chris Kenny was unimpressed that PM Malcolm Turnbull had said, “‘this was a truck attack’,” like in Nice.

According to Kenny, Western politicians need to “contest the extremists’ propaganda” about “Western imperialism, US military actions, the Palestinian issue or so-called Islamophobia in Western countries,” and for “politicians and journalists” to stop believing that “even to identify the Islamist motivation in terrorist acts might compound the victimhood of all Muslims,” Australian (Dec. 24).

Meanwhile, media headlines of the terror attack in Israel on Jan. 8 when a Palestinian drove a truck into a group of Israeli soldiers, killing four, mostly avoided euphemism. The exceptions were the Herald Sun (Jan.9) “Truck slams into crowd” (a follow up on Jan. 10 was “Carnage linked to IS”), the Age/Canberra Times/Sydney Morning Herald (Jan. 10) report entitled “Truck rams into Israeli soldiers, killing four” and “Deadly truck attack” (Hobart Mercury).

Xmas jeer

Columnist Angela Shanahan’s look at the declining Christian populations in the Middle East due to persecution included an inaccurate picture of Christians in the Holy Land.

“When Israel was founded, Christians formed more than a third of the Palestinian population. As Archbishop Fouad Twal, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, told me in 2007, ‘stuck between the hammer of the Israeli oppression, beaten on the anvil of Islamic fundamentalism’, Christians are now a mere two per cent of the Palestinian population.”

This is misleading at best. Sovereign Israel is the only place in the Middle East where Christian numbers have actually increased over the last two decades.

In fact, during a recent meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III praised Israel saying, “for the firmness with which you defend the freedoms that lie at the heart of this democracy, especially the freedom of worship,” Australian (Dec. 17).

Columnist Rita Panahi offered a more accurate picture of the cause of the flight of Christians from the West Bank, writing, “in Christ’s birthplace, Bethlehem, under the Palestinian Authority the Christian population has departed the town in record numbers and now are a minority that is growing smaller every year,” Herald Sun (Dec. 21).

No Room at the Inn?

A Dec. 24 Courier Mail editorial claimed tourist numbers in Bethlehem, Jesus’ reputed birthplace, have “all but evaporated in the wake of security uncertainty and terror incidents since the second West Bank uprising in 2002.”

But other media reports noted that thousands of tourists visited Bethlehem and the ABC website quoted Palestinian Minister of Tourism Rula Maaya saying all the hotels in Bethlehem were fully booked.

In Sydney’s Sun Herald (Jan.1) a two-page feature noted Palestinian Christians in the West Bank village of Beit Jala see the regional persecution of Christians and fear for their safety, but not because of Israel.

Beit Jala resident George Matar said; “‘When they see news they get so scared that their neighbours might one day turn on them. They wonder what is in the minds of the Muslims.'”

Five of Matar’s seven children live in the US, and “that trend is even more accelerated in Gaza, where there are just 1,300 Christians left among a population of 1.5 million… The problem, say Gaza’s Christians, is not the Hamas government, but the Israeli blockade which is suffocating life.”

Considering Gazan Christians are being pressured to convert to Islam and churches are burnt down there, it is hardly surprising frightened Christians won’t publicly criticise Gaza’s oppressive Hamas government.

The article noted Israeli Christians “live with security and citizenship, though they face the same discrimination within the Jewish state as Palestinian Muslims.”




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