Australia/Israel Review


Noted and Quoted – November 2020

Nov 3, 2020 | AIJAC staff

Twenty years on, Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount is still the subject of myth-making
Twenty years on, Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount is still the subject of myth-making

 

A day off

The 20th anniversary of the start of the Palestinian campaign of terror against Israel known as the “Second Intifada” was marked by the Daily Telegraph’s “On this Day” column (Sept. 28) which stated:

“2000 – Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visits the al-Aqsa mosque site in Jerusalem, known as Temple Mount, affronting Palestinians and causing a revolt in which more than 6,500 die.”

Even allowing for the brevity of the section, this is grossly simplistic and biased.

Many Palestinian leaders have admitted that after rejecting an Israeli offer at the Camp David peace summit in July 2000 to establish a Palestinian state, then-Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat issued orders to prepare for a campaign of terror and incitement. Sharon’s visit was an excuse. And what followed was not a “revolt” but a campaign of terrorism supported by the elected Palestinian Authority government. 

 

Not so sweet reconciliation

The Australian’s report (Sept. 26) on Hamas and Fatah announcing an agreement to hold parliamentary and presidential elections in the next six months offered clues as to why the Israel-Palestinian conflict endures.

The AFP-sourced report noted that the last Palestinian parliamentary poll in 2006 “resulted in a brief unity government, but it soon collapsed and in 2007 bloody clashes erupted in the Gaza Strip between the two principal Palestinian factions. Hamas has since ruled Gaza, while Fatah has run the Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Numerous attempts at reconciliation, including a prisoner exchange agreement in 2012 and a short-lived coalition government two years later, have failed to close the rift. Including PLO elections, the agreement paves the way for Hamas to join the organisation, which unites various Palestinian factions under Fatah.”

Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi was quoted saying new elections were a “long overdue” move to “revitalise and unify Palestinian ranks” whilst Saleh al-Arouri, a top Hamas official, said, “Divisions have damaged our national cause and we are working to end that.”

It is obvious that political divisions have rendered a single Palestinian position for peace talks with Israel impossible, so the question of what might follow any election process, if it actually eventuates, is unclear. 

 

Mixed messages

SBS TV “World News” reporter Omar Dehen’s story (Sept. 25) on the Fatah-Hamas election announcement included Fatah senior official Jibril Rajoub saying, “restoring our national unity is a strategic end. Dialogue is the only course to take.”

Rajoub – who infamously said he would drop a nuclear bomb on Israel if given the chance – was clearly not referencing trying to end the conflict by talking to Israelis at the negotiating table. 

Dehen said, “the rivals have united in their opposition to Israel’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank, and its deals with Arab states Bahrain and the UAE to normalise relations.”

Although Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu has insisted that plans to extend Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank have only been suspended, it is widely understood that they are very unlikely to happen anytime soon, if at all. 

 

Stop catering to the Palestinians

In the Australian (Oct. 12), Menzies Research Centre executive director Nick Cater highlighted the need to stop funding the Palestinian leadership which refuses to end the conflict with Israel.

Increasing the number of Arab countries that make peace with Israel “ill suits” the Palestinian leadership, “which has turned a historical grievance into a successful business model. Their vested interest in perpetuating resentment has been one of the largest obstacles to peace. Now it finds itself out in the cold.”

He highlighted media reports that “financial aid [to the Palestinians] from Arab Gulf states has dried up since March,” whilst “Ramallah’s total revenues are said to have fallen about 70 per cent this year to $US255m from $US500m.”

In contrast, left-leaning Western political parties “are loath to recognise the significance of Trump’s initiative… unless an incoming Democrat administration… adopts” Trump’s approach, Cater argued.

 

A gulf apart

An SBS TV “World News” report (Sept. 23) on the annual world leaders’ speeches to the UN General Assembly focused on the ongoing conflict over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal which the US left in 2018. 

After featuring critical comments at the UN by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and French President Emmanuel Macron directed at the US stance, SBS reporter Matt Connellan pointed out that, “the UN General Assembly has long been a forum for taking a pot shot at the US.”

On Sept. 25, an Australian report noted Saudi Arabia’s King Salman’s comments to the UN, citing Iranian attacks on its oilfields in 2019, whilst the “kingdom’s hands were extended to Iran in peace with a positive and open attitude over the past decades, but to no avail.” 

 

A bit of an imposition

On Sept. 27, the Daily Telegraph reported on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech to the United Nations General Assembly in which he called on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to convene an international conference in 2021 that will “have full authority to launch a genuine peace process based on international law.” 

For a decade, Abbas has attempted to internationalise the conflict in the hope an imposed solution – preferably involving the automatic pro-Palestinian majority at the UN – will force Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank without the need for the Palestinians to actually make peace. 

 

Coming Up Trumps

A number of media commentators argued US President Donald Trump has not been given the credit he deserves for his foreign policy achievements.

In News Corp papers (Oct. 1), columnist Andrew Bolt wrote that, “List some of his achievements and you’d swear they were of some peacenik president — a Jimmy Carter, but with talent… Trump is the first president since Carter not to send US troops to a new war, and has pulled them out of Syria. He’s helped to negotiate many more peace deals than most other presidents – between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, between Israel and Bahrain, and between Afghanistan and the Taliban.

“He’s also just brokered a deal between Serbia and Kosovo, which fought each other in a savage ethnic war just 21 years ago. How could the left not applaud this? No wonder Trump now has three nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize, which he won’t get, of course, because he’s well, Trump.”

Elsewhere, in the Australian Financial Review (Oct. 2), Lowy non-resident fellow Thomas Wright said, “Trump’s re-election would initially be broadly welcomed in Israel and the Arab world, where leaders accept his maximum pressure campaign on Iran, his indifference towards democracy and human rights, and his transactional nature. However, Trump has made it clear that he hopes to strike a deal with Iran on its nuclear program and that he has little commitment to supporting the regional order.”

 

Trump wins religious vote

Australian Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan noted (Oct. 17) the paradox that the “vast majority of churchgoing Christians, Protestant and Catholic, and the overwhelming majority of Orthodox Jews, will vote for Donald Trump on November 3, just as they did four years ago,” despite the “ethical case against Trump” being “substantial”.

Sheridan said, “most surveys suggest Trump will win the votes of nearly 90 per cent of Orthodox Jews, though he will lose among Jews overall.”

Leftist opposition to the Supreme Court nomination for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a practising Catholic, is an example of why Trump has the backing of these different religious groups despite his ethical shortcomings, Sheridan said.

Barrett, he said, is “an immensely distinguished legal academic” and “a legal conservative” whose “approach is to interpret the constitution, and the law, as it is written” and more likely to respect the principle of religious freedom, rather than to “discover secret, hidden, implied new rights in the Constitution which accord with contemporary left-liberal ideology and compel people and institutions to abide by that ideology.”

 

Ida knows

In the Spectator Australia (Oct. 10), Ida Lichter detailed how the EU, China and Russia have refused to hold Iran accountable for its “egregious” human rights abuses, arming foreign proxies and the breaches of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Lichter said Iran’s development of missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead has accelerated since the 2015 deal, with the signatories “averse to penalising Iran or renegotiating a tighter agreement.”

Recently, she said, “the UK, France and Germany (E3) abstained [on voting at the UN Security Council to extend the conventional arms embargo on Iran], despite being targets of Hezbollah terrorism and depots for the militia’s weapons and ammonium nitrate explosives.” 

These stances have contributed to a “prudent alliance against Iran… formed between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain,” she wrote.

 

Sanction junction

On Sept. 23, the Australian’s report on US moves to impose secondary sanctions on companies that sell dual-use equipment to Iran “that has civilian applications but that might be used for military purposes” quoted US special representative for Iran and Venezuela and past AIJAC guest Elliott Abrams warning countries “to think twice, the penalties are right around the corner.”

An Oct. 10 Australian report noted further sanctions on Iran’s banking industry and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement that Iran’s COVID-19 response will not be hampered because the new measures do not affect humanitarian aid.

 

Chewin’ the fatwa

On ABC Radio National “Religion and Ethics Report” (Sept. 23), Monash University lecturer Dr. Ali Alizadeh expressed doubt that increased US sanctions on Iran will make it easier for hardliners to portray President Hassan Rouhani’s tenure as ending in failure.

“I don’t know how much resonance it would have with the average Iranian voter, because many of them would have never expected for any regime in Iran to be able to normalise relations with the US or, in fact, for any regime in the US to be favourable to Iran,” Alizadeh said.

Host Andrew West asked if it was naïve to believe in a fatwa Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei allegedly issued on acquiring nuclear weapons.

Dr. Alizadeh said, “if the nuclear weapons exist, they exist to be used not in order to bomb people, but to intimidate people…. that’s why all sorts of people from all sorts of religious backgrounds have developed nuclear weapons because it can be used to pressurise and coerce one’s regional rivals, especially in economic and trade matters. And the regime feels that if they become a nuclear power, then their position domestically will be stabilised and that regionally also they will be able to further intimidate the regional rivals. First and foremost, the Saudis.”

The truth is that the assertion that Khamenei issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons is unsupported by any solid evidence – it is nowhere in his official list of fatwas – and is an Iranian propaganda claim pushed by those wanting to pretend Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons despite truly overwhelming evidence to the contrary. 

 

Political Saikal

On ABC Radio National “Drive” (Oct. 12), academic Amin Saikal suggested that a recent order by Iran for Iraqi Shi’ite militias to “lay low” was meant to deny President Trump an excuse to confront Iran for political gain ahead of the Presidential elections.

According to Saikal, “I wouldn’t be surprised if Iran has instructed its affiliated Shia militias in Iraq to lay low and don’t cause major obstructions, which could possibly result in a confrontation between Iran and the United States. And of course, this would be at a time when the United States or the Trump Administration may well seek some sort of confrontation with Iran given the forthcoming elections in the United States.”

In fact, the record shows that Trump has spent his whole term of office studiously avoiding any direct, large scale military confrontations with Iran, preferring economic sanctions and small targeted actions such as the hit on Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad early this year. 

 

The Wing Thing

In the Australian (Oct. 12), Swinburne academic Jason Thomas called on Australia to follow the UK and proscribe Hezbollah in its entirety, saying “it’s a pipe dream to believe there is a difference between the political and military wing.” 

Just as AIJAC has done for many years, Thomas quoted Hezbollah leaders to support this point, including the head of its parliamentary bloc Mohammad Raad, who said in 2013, “the Hezbollah military wing is a lie invented by the Europeans because they feel a need to communicate with us” and Hezbollah’s second-in-command, Naim Qassem’ statement that “The same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions in the struggle against Israel.” 

Possessing an “arsenal” that would be the “envy of any small nation”, Hezbollah is responsible for attacks on Jews, Israelis and Americans and “for years the group has been making plans and stockpiling weapons for attacks across the globe, including in Africa, Asia, Europe and North and South America,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, the Australian’s report (Oct. 16) that Israel and Lebanon held unprecedented negotiations to demarcate the countries’ maritime borders noted that “Hezbollah and Amal issued a statement… bemoaning the presence of civilians in the Lebanese negotiating team.”

 

Stockholm syndrome

ABC Radio National “Breakfast” (Oct. 19) asked Stockholm International Peace Research Institute senior researcher Pieter Wezeman about the significance of the arms embargo on Iran ending.

Wezeman said even before the COVID-19 crisis, Iran’s economy was in bad shape, so there is little prospect for large spending. 

Iran would most likely continue to develop its native arms industry, particularly missiles which “don’t have to be hi-tech to be effective if you want to threaten your neighbours,” he explained.

 

Rah! Rah! UNRWA!

An online Guardian Australia story (Oct. 12) claiming people in Gaza are so desperate for food they have taken to rummaging through garbage was a puff piece spruiking the controversial United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) – which has provided free aid, medical assistance, education and employment to Palestinians since 1949, but has also become a major obstacle to peace. 

According to the report, UNRWA is facing a myriad of challenges, including, “seemingly permanent threat of financial ruin…[a] breakdown in the relationship with its former largest donor, the US… the threat of coronavirus ripping through refugee camps… home to many of the 5.6 million Palestinians supported by UNRWA.”

The reality is that, since 1949, instead of fulfilling its original mandate to resettle Palestinian Arabs displaced in the 1948 war, UNRWA has let millions of their descendants inherit refugee status, even when they have citizenship in countries such as Jordan or live under Palestinian Authority rule. It also shamelessly promotes the legally baseless and politically impossible Palestinian “right of return” to Israel, thus becoming a major obstacle to a two-state peace, and has a history of facilitating terrorism and incitement via its institutions. 

 

Just capital

The ABC has confirmed it does not consider Tel Aviv to be Israel’s capital after AIJAC pointed out to the national broadcaster cases where the national broadcaster said it was.

Writing to the ABC, AIJAC pointed out two instances.

A newsreader on the ABC TV 6pm news bulletin (Oct. 4) covering anti-government protests in Israel had claimed “the biggest demonstrations have been held in the capital, Tel Aviv.” In addition, a similar claim had been on the ABC website since December 2018 when Australia recognised west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

AIJAC’s letter pointed out that, “Tel Aviv is not Israel’s capital and no Israeli government has ever designated the city as the country’s capital,” adding that, “Although the overwhelming majority of countries keep their embassies in Tel Aviv, none of them classify the city as Israel’s capital either.”

The ABC apologised and said the incorrect references were removed from the online version of the Oct. 4 TV news bulletin and the 2018 webpage.

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