Edited versions of this article were published in print version of The Age – 17 December 2018, as well as on the websites of sister publications.
As the year winds down, the Coalition and the ALP have ramped up discussion on Israel and the Palestinians. Each assert they have the same goal – a two-state solution where both Israelis and Palestinians live in safety and security. There is also an acknowledgement that the status quo cannot continue.
In a two-day period in recent weeks, 460 rockets were fired indiscriminately into Israel from Gaza. Israel retaliated against military targets in the beleaguered Gaza Strip. Hamas claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack on the West Bank this month in which a young woman, who was 30 weeks pregnant, was stabbed in the stomach, killing the baby.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority (PA) continues to pay rewards to the families of terrorists and name children’s sports events after those who have killed Israeli civilians. Since 2014, the PA has refused all peace talks, and there have been no serious talks between the and Israel since 2008.
Despite agreement on the need for action, the paths being pursued by the two major political parties are quite different.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison simply acknowledged reality in announcing that Australia would officially recognise that West Jerusalem, where Israel’s government is located and which has been Israel’s capital since 1949, is in fact the site of Israel’s capital. As well as being the political centre of the State of Israel – where Australia’s ambassadors present their credentials to Israel’s presidents – all serious two-state peace proposals nominate west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The Prime Minister also said Australia “resolved to acknowledge the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a future state with its capital in East Jerusalem.” The outcome of any future peace talks will clearly need to include agreement on the boundaries of a future Israeli and Palestinian state and the location and borders of their respective capitals.
Labor rejected the Government’s announcement and at its recent national conference, called for a future federal Labor government to recognise “Palestine as a state”. In urging a future Labor government to unilaterally recognise a state of Palestine before any fresh peace talks take place, the ALP would be rewarding the failure of Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.
It is to be hoped that any future Labor cabinet – where the national conference has determined a final decision on this matter rests – would understand that such a declaration would provide positive encouragement for the delay tactics, and sometimes worse, currently being used by the Palestinian leadership.
Such an acknowledgement, without any caveats, of a Palestinian state, is not just unwise, but is also unjust. A stable Middle East, including support for a just two-state peace, is undoubtedly in Australia’s national interest.
As we can see from a slew of successful and thwarted local terrorist attacks, what starts in the Middle East never stays there. For this reason, Prime Minister Morrison’s condemnation of Iran – the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism – was as important as his Jerusalem announcement.
The Prime Minister importantly stated that Australia would be pushing back against Iranian behavior outside the very limited confines of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Iran’s development and testing of ballistic missile; sponsorship of groups such as terrorist entity Hezbollah and Syria’s Assad regime with funds and weapons; and money laundering and other criminal activities, all lead to destabilising activities throughout the Middle East, particularly Israel, but also further afield.
Also in Australia’s national interest is our ongoing support for a rules-based international system through a functioning United Nations. For years, Israel has inexplicably been the victim of pack-bullying by the UN. In the General Assembly and in the Human Rights Council, too many member-states are happy to lash out at Israel’s perceived breaches, but stay silent when it comes to the world’s worst pariah states.
Scott Morrison put it bluntly: “it is ridiculous. It is intellectual fraud”. His rhetoric, has also been matched by his Government’s record of voting down blatantly anti-Israel motions at the UN, while also supporting a resolution to condemn Israel’s neighbour, Hamas, for its ongoing terrorist activity against Israeli towns and villages. Going forward, let’s hope that other parties will match Morrison’s rhetoric and his record.
The Morrison Government, as a principled and active international actor, has stood up and made some important declarations on simmering international situations. While these declarations have not yet achieved bipartisan support, achieving that outcome remains a worthy objective. It is clear that there is some agitation for a contrary approach to be taken, but Australia must only take actions that progress the goal of a peaceful future for both the Israeli and Palestinian people.
Naomi Levin is a policy analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.