Ed: 37: November/2012
Despite the testy foreign policy debate between President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney of Oct. 23, it is difficult to assess any candidate's foreign policy ideology - let alone how that candidate will act as president. Predicting how a president will function in foreign affairs is as reliable as guessing how first-time parents will act when their children become teenagers - lovely theories succumb to tumultuous unforeseen squalls.
Where must the line be drawn regarding Iran's dangerous and illegal nuclear weapons program? At what point should the very strongest measures, including the possibility of military strikes, be implemented in order to derail it?
This is the question at the heart of a subtle yet significant disparity in diplomatic language regarding the Iranian nuclear threat. It divides Israel from the US, but it is also one of the few concrete differences in foreign policy between US President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
At a time when the Middle East is in upheaval, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been pushed to the margins of the diplomatic agenda. The Islamist surge in the region has emboldened Hamas' political ambitions and is making Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party feel ever more isolated and anachronistic. The loss of former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, and the Arab uprisings more broadly, have relegated Abbas to the back burner. As crisis escalates with Iran, the bloodbath in Syria continues, Egypt undergoes unprecedented change, and the region as a whole finds itself in a period of profound uncertainty, the goal of Palestinian statehood alongside Israel seems, to many, neither possible nor pressing.
Last year, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas went to the UN Security Council (UNSC), attempting to have "Palestine" admitted to the UN as a member state. It soon became clear, however, that the Council was not going to approve the bid, as "Palestine" does not yet meet the criteria for statehood.
Australia's successful UN Security Council campaign garnered much coverage prior to and after the secret ballot on October 18.
Before the vote, a number of commentators pontificated on whether the government's support for Israel at the UN would affect the bid.
On October 21, on a cold and drizzly day, I was in central Belarus, speaking at the commemoration of the seventieth anniversary of the liquidation of the Minsk Ghetto.
The venue, known as Yamma ("The Pit"), features a dramatic landscape of installations which bear eternal witness to the brutality and evil of the Nazi regime.
Speakers addressed a large audience, braving biting winds to honour the dead. They included men and women who had shown tremendous courage to stand up to both Nazism and the attempts by the Soviets to destroy any remnants of Jewish community life.
The successful conclusion of Australia's long-fought efforts to gain a temporary seat on the UN Security Council (UNSC) is very welcome. Congratulations are due to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr, his deputy Richard Marles, and all the professionals who crafted a winning strategy - particularly in Africa, the Pacific and the Caribbean - to achieve this emphatic outcome.
Australia's success is well-deserved - as a middle-level, principled, democratic nation and good global citizen, we won the respect and ultimately the support of others internationally, on our own merits and without compromising our values or beliefs.
As the excitement subsides over the victory, there is no time to rest on our laurels. Australia's focus should now be shifting to the question of how to best use its energies at the UN over the next 24 months.
Regular readers of this column will know that I have frequently collected evidence here as to the historical state of Jewish communities in Arab lands in the years prior to Israel's establishment. I do this because one very frequently hears claims about the historical situations of these communities which amount to, if not exactly myth, at least to gross over-simplification.
The claim one hears is that in the absence of both Zionism and the import of European-style antisemitism - that is, before the late 19th century - the Jews of the Middle East were relatively free from persecution or race hatred, and thus, overall, in a pretty acceptable situation. The kernel of truth to this claim is the reality that in the Middle Ages, the Jews of the Middle East probably were better off than those in Europe. We know this because Jews voted with their feet - they were much more likely to flee persecution in Europe to Middle Eastern lands than the reverse.
Though it was the first parliament in which the main opposition party was larger than the ruling party, Israel's outgoing Knesset will have served a full four years - the first since the 1980s to have done so - by the time the 19th Knesset is elected on January 22.
Not only did the Knesset prove durable, the six-party coalition Binyamin Netanyahu cobbled together proved stable, and faced no serious crisis. Even Labor's split in January 2011, in the aftermath of which Defence Minister Ehud Barak lost more than half his Knesset faction, proved meaningless from the coalition's viewpoint.
Well-known Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi made headlines in Australia in 2003 when she was controversially awarded the Sydney Peace Prize. Now she has been in the headlines again with an article published in a number of Arab media outlets in late August insisting that "the claim that Jews who migrated to Israel, which is supposed to be their homeland, are ‘refugees' who were uprooted from their homelands... is a form of deception and delusion."