Australia/Israel Review

Noted and Quoted – September 2015

Sep 1, 2015 | 

Labor pains

Voices arguing for and against the ALP National Conference passing a resolution calling for Australia to unilaterally recognise a Palestinian state – as urged by some in the party – enjoyed a good run in the media.

Labor Senator Joe Bullock questioned why “a few obsessives… would… seek to undermine the bipartisan commitment to a two-state solution with a… foolish motion.”

Bullock doubted the “incentives” for the Palestinian leadership to “renounce terrorism… and negotiate… peace if they are recognised as a state without being required to do any of these things,” (Australian, July 24).

On July 18, a pointer in the Age newspaper directed readers to its website where Labor MP Maria Vamvakinou, co-Convener of the Australian Parliamentary Friends of Palestine, called Israel’s occupation “the longest… in modern history.” So China’s occupation of Tibet, which started in 1959, is now internationally recognised?

Inverting history, Vamvakinou accused Israel of “a systemic culture of rejections at the negotiations” and claimed “since we voted for… partition… in 1947, Australia has consistently voted against Palestine in the UN.” Actually, Australia votes every year in favour of a slew of UN resolutions that call for a Palestinian statehood as part of a peace deal!

Also on the Age website (July 22), but without the courtesy of the newspaper pointer, ALP MP and shadow minister David Feeney called unilateral recognition “empty symbolism”. He lamented that for more than 70 years “through war, terrorism, intifada and boycotts” the “Palestinians have [tried] to destroy Israel” but “only succeeded in making their own situation worse.”

In the Guardian (July 24), senior Labor figure Michael Easson said, given that Hamas run[s] “one part of the country”, recognition “would see Labor…supporting Hamas” which calls for “Israel’s liquidation… So…just what it is that we are to recognise[?].”

Don’t Mention the Peace Offers!

Australian Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) president George Browning buried Israel’s three subsequent offers of a Palestinian state in favour of a 1992 comment by the late Israeli PM Yitzhak Shamir that “his strategy for peace negotiations was to drag them out… to double the number of Jewish settlers… Since then… the number of Israeli settlers has grown from 246,400 to 547,000,” Australian (July 25).

The settlers live on less than 2% of the West Bank, with a significant majority concentrated in areas Israel would retain under any conceivable peace agreement, and that area is not growing.

APAN executive member Bassam Dally told ABC Radio host Glen Bartholomew that “the current government in Israel has made it absolutely clear that there will not be any Palestinian state under their government.” In fact, Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu has repeatedly backed a two-state formula grounded on genuine peace and security.

Dally also claimed that Australia has laws “that ban us from actually importing products from settlements and from occupied territories in a way.” There are no such laws, ABC Radio National “NewsRadio” (July 27).

On the ABC “Religion and Ethics” website (July 23), Paul Duffill from Sydney University’s pro-BDS Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, argued a Palestinian state would “defuse much of the ideological fuel” used by jihadist organisations “to justify their violence.”

And how exactly would such a state defuse the Sunni-Shi’ite sectarian war that has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths or the collapse of governments across the Middle East, which has empowered groups like ISIS?

The next day on that website, British scholar and Labour Party thinktanker Prof. Alan Johnson dismissed “the premise…that Israel has peace in the palm of its hand but refuses to give it up.”
He wrote, Israel’s “hand has been open for a very long time” having accepted the two state formula “as long ago as 1937” adding “in 2014, Israel signed on to John Kerry’s ‘framework agreement'” while Mahmoud Abbas chose to sign a unity deal with Hamas instead.

Welcome to Kazakstan

Former PLO Ambassador to Australia Ali Kazak dismissed Johnson’s claim on the “Religion and Ethics” website (July 31) that Zionists accepted a two-state formula in 1937. Kazak claimed that Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion wrote in a letter to his son that year, “We must expel Arabs and take their place.”

This is a fake quote. In fact Ben-Gurion actually wrote the exact opposite: “we do not want to and we do not have to expel Arabs and take their place.”

Kazak also claimed that the 1947 UN partition plan gave “the newly-arrived European Jewish colonialists, who by then constituted one-third of the population and owned less than 6% of the land, 56.47% of Palestine’s best cultivated land and cities; the two-thirds indigenous Palestinians, who owned more than 94% of the land, were given 42% of their own country.”

Palestinians did not own 94% of the land. Kazak is falsely asserting that all state land – the vast majority – was privately-owned Palestinian land. According to the 1948 Survey of Palestine, 8.6% percent of the land that comprised the Jewish State in 1948 was owned by Jews and 3.3% by Israeli Arabs. Another 16.9% was abandoned by Arabs who had fled the country.

Moreover, Kazak’s claim that, under partition, Jews were offered all the “best cultivated land” is also false. A majority of the land the Jews were to receive was the barren Negev desert.

Activists in denial

Former Hawke/Keating minister Peter Baldwin condemned pro-Palestinian activists who want a future Labor government to grant “unconditional recognition” to a Palestinian state and “believe Hamas (and also Hezbollah) can be treated as ordinary, legitimate parties in achieving a negotiated final settlement” despite its “openly genocidal agenda” towards Israel and Jews.

Activists overlook these “ultra-reactionary outfits” by adopting “the absurdly simplistic ‘oppressor and oppressed’ narrative” of Israel as a “colonialist interloper oppressing the indigenous Palestinians,” he argued.

Framed this way, he noted, “atrocious behaviour” (including Hamas’ use of human shields and execution of alleged collaborators) “by those who claim to fight for the oppressed can be overlooked or minimised,” Spectator (Aug. 8).

Sussing out the truth

ABC Middle East correspondent Sophie McNeill’s report on the proposed court-ordered demolition of an illegally constructed village in the West Bank called Susiya accepted as fact the Palestinian narrative regarding ownership of the land and the history of the village. McNeill stated as fact that “the villagers… have tried to get planning approval for their homes, but it was rejected” without seeking comment from Israel.

In her interview with settler Ari Briggs she did not ask him to show his evidence that disputes the villagers’ arguments – such as aerial photos allegedly showing that, contrary to their claims, the village did not exist until recent years.

McNeill also claimed that “under international law, all Israeli settlements like this one in the Palestinian West Bank are illegal,” ABC TV “7.30” (July 30).

Likewise, Fairfax Middle East correspondent Ruth Pollard’s report stated that settlements are “considered illegal under international law.”

Yet many highly credentialed jurists have argued that the only possibly legal source basis for a claim of settlement illegality, the Fourth Geneva Convention, does not apply to the West Bank, because Israel has as much if not more legal, historical and political rights to settle in the West Bank as anyone else, given that no other political entity has exercised recognised sovereignty over the area since 1948. It is not the job of reporters to decide this legal question.

Pollard’s report also quoted UN coordinator Robert Piper saying that “the destruction of private property in an occupied territory is prohibited under international humanitarian law.” Yet since the buildings there were erected without permission, and Israel is recognised under the Oslo Accords as the ruling authority, enforcing the law against such illegal construction is not only entirely legal, but actually required under international law, as indeed Israel’s courts have ruled (July 28).

Elsewhere, an Al-Jazeera report on the horrific arson attack by Jewish extremists that killed an 18-month-old Palestinian boy and his father saw reporter Imtiyaz Tyab state that investigators believe the attack came “from a settlement considered illegal under international law,” SBS TV “World News” (July 9).

False dichotomies

In an episode of ABC TV “Foreign Correspondent” (Aug. 4) former Al-Jazeera reporter Peter Greste described the media organisation as a “Qatar-financed network” which “sells itself as an independent voice in the Middle East. The English language channel is regarded as highly professional but Egypt accuses the Arabic channels of actively supporting the Muslim Brotherhood” and therefore banned it.
But in fact, all of Al-Jazeera was founded and funded to serve the interests of the Qatari royal family – who have indeed been one of the main financial and diplomatic backers of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists.

Moreover, the network’s English language channel’s reputation for objectivity has been rocked by a series of damaging leaks. For instance, following the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, a senior producer allegedly instructed on-air staff to present the attack as a “clash of extremist fringes” with Charlie Hebdo journalists to be seen as just as responsible for what happened as their murderers.

Bob’s careless talk

ANU academic Prof. Kim Rubenstein criticised a speech by former foreign minister Bob Carr at her University that she said “tapped into classical anti-Semitic tropes from the medieval past alleging Jewish conspiracies and dual loyalties…

“Carr’s speech was full of mixed insidious messages. He ended his talk encouraging those present to voice their own views (and one would hope accurate facts) to their political representatives, having spent a large part of his speech darkly suggesting that there was something illegitimate about Jewish Australians doing precisely that. When he was challenged about this (by me) he denied having said that there was anything improper about the advocacy done by ‘the Israel lobby’. But the recording of the speech, and of the anecdotes he recounts, gives him away. It is not surprising that a transparently anti-Semitic comment was then presented to him from the audience,” Canberra Times (July 24).

Deranged deal

The Obama Administration’s insistence “that the only alternative” to its nuclear deal with Iran “is war” is “almost clinically deranged”, according to Australian foreign editor Greg Sheridan.

“One of the main ways the world has prevented the spread of nuclear weapons has been to prevent the spread of the most sensitive elements of nuclear technology. Thus, most nations that have peaceful nuclear energy programs do not enrich their own uranium. They buy enriched uranium to use as nuclear fuel. The Obama agreement with Iran grants complete legitimacy to Iran’s possession of every part of the nuclear cycle, including advanced uranium enrichment. There is not a serious strategic analyst in the world who does not believe that Iran’s nuclear program is bent towards ultimate nuclear weapons capability.”

Furthermore, with “24 days’ formal notice and advance negotiation of access for any inspection of a non-declared nuclear site… the ability of Iran to cheat… over time is spectacular.”
Sheridan also criticised those who brand Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu a “fearmonger”, noting how “Iran keeps threatening to wipe his nation off the map”, Australian (Aug. 8).

Evans Knows?

Former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans wrote that, based on his own conversations with Iranian officials, “from 2003-06, Iran made clear… it would agree to all the key elements of the recent deal, including measures to block uranium and plutonium pathways to a bomb and obtrusive monitoring mechanisms to ensure ample advance notice of a likely breakout. All it needed in return – beyond, of course, the lifting of sanctions as implementation proceeded – was formal recognition of its ‘right to enrich’ uranium.”

Most of Iran’s nuclear facilities were built in secret, which contravened Iran’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations. This is hardly characteristic of a country that “has never been close to deciding to build nuclear weapons,” as Evans claimed, Australian (July 23).

Obama’s Legacy

US President Barack Obama’s “reactive” and non-strategic approach to foreign policy will make people realise that “the world needs a great power to lead… when crises arise”, said Foreign Policy magazine editor and former Clinton Administration adviser David Rothkopf.
According to Rothkopf, “every country in the [Middle East] is at war for the first time in history. And our relationships with virtually every [regional] ally is worse… than they were before.”
Predicting the P5+1 deal will likely curtail Iran’s nuclear breakout for a decade, Rothkopf noted it will also deliver to it “a lot of cash” that could potentially be used to “destabilise…Lebanon, or Syria, or Iraq or Yemen or Gaza… things that have been unsettling the region, that’s a bad thing,” he said, ABC Radio “World Today” (Aug. 3).

Deficit of context

On July 23, ABC NewsRadio host Tracey Holmes interviewed Hugh Lovatt, the co-author of a report by the European “think tank”/NGO, the European Council on Foreign Relations, calling on Europe to impose sanctions on all Israeli banks, because they do business in the West Bank.
The interview was promoted with the hook that the report had supposedly caused Tel Aviv’s bank index to dive by 2.6%.

That, however, is only a half-truth. While the bank index did register a drop that day, it was, according to reports, in part a reaction to a story by Reuters’ Israel correspondent Luke Baker that had exaggerated the potential impact of the ECFR report on official EU policy – and not so much the ECFR report itself.

Lovatt said he wants the “EU and member states to actually review their current relations with Israel in order to ensure that they actually comply with international law. So, as you pointed out, the links between European financial institutions and Israeli banks is one area where we think it’s important to look at. Namely because of the fact that Israeli banks play such an integral role in the promotion of expansion of Israeli settlements.”

This is completely made up. There is no international law prohibiting all business with any private entity that has any economic involvement in the settlements – commercial activity by Israel in the West Bank was recognised as entirely legal by the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo Accords
Both Lovatt and the European Council on Foreign Relations, whose funding mostly comes from private donations, have a track record of one-sided criticism of Israel, that exonerates Palestinians, and in particular Hamas, of any responsibility for the absence of a two-state peace agreement.

Israel without prejudice

Israel’s multiethnic complexity was revealed on ABC Radio by, of all people, an Egyptian-Belgian Muslim writer living in Jerusalem called Khaled Diab who explained to Andrew West the centrality of “Mizrachi” or “eastern Jews” living there.

“Jews… came from the various Middle Eastern countries, whether Arab or non-Arab. The big population concentrations were in Iraq, in Yemen, in Egypt, in Morocco, in Tunisia. Yemen in fact had a Jewish monarchy a few centuries ago – a dynasty that had converted to Judaism. Iraq had a very important Jewish minority which was very successful, not only in enterprise, but in culture, a lot of poets, a lot of singers… Baghdad was one-third Jewish at one time, which is hard to fathom today. All these Jewish populations have fallen considerably in number. In some places they are on the verge of disappearing. In others they are kind of hanging on like in Morocco you’ve got a few thousands still. And this also sort of shows the complexity of both sides’ identity. There’s the idea in Arab circles that Israelis are all Western colonialists and settlers. They’re all blonde with blue-eyes and whatever, whereas in fact today half the Jewish population of Israel comes originally from an Arab or Middle Eastern country.”

Unfortunately Diab never mentioned and West never asked the reasons for the exodus of over 800,000 Jews from the Middle East, mostly to Israel. The answer of course is that, largely, they were either expelled or faced withering persecution that forced them to leave, ABC Radio National “Religion” (July 29).

Meanwhile, Israeli novelist Assaf Gavron, who has written a comic novel on the settlements titled The Hilltop, told Sarah Kanowski that contrary to the news’ “stereotype of a settler” as “political, ideological, he is there because he believes… in God and in the land of Israel and he opposes the Palestinians… the motives are more varied than that. There are people there because it’s cheap to live there. There are people there because it’s beautiful… there is violence, there is tension… but the day to day life is pretty easy,” ABC Radio National “Books and Arts” (Aug. 1).


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