Carr’s reckless Israel view

Carr's reckless Israel view





The Australian – April 15, 2014


IN his interview on the ABC’s 7.30 about his book Diary of a Foreign Minister, and in media yesterday, Bob Carr continues to makes various claims about what he refers to as the “Israel lobby” in Melbourne. From his comments, it is clear he is referring mainly to the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council. 

In short, he says we wielded “extraordinary influence” over the Office of the Prime Minister when Julia Gillard was prime minister, and expressed an “extreme right-wing Israeli view”.

Carr’s reckless claims do him no credit. There is also a very active Palestinian lobby in Canberra, and it’s notable that Carr’s frankly excessive, misplaced emphasis on Israeli settlements mirrors the stance taken by George Browning, president of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, in these pages on April 9.

Yet if anyone was to claim that Carr’s view was due to the unhealthy influence of the Palestinian lobby, he would undoubtedly be outraged. He would likely say that while he appreciated their input, he is quite capable of making up his own mind on the issues. He should extend the same respect to Gillard, who is no one’s dupe.

We are lucky to live in a democracy where groups representing diverse interests can have access to members of government from the prime minister down, and that governments listen to the views of these groups in forming their positions.

Carr seems particularly piqued that he feels we went over his head in putting our position to the PM, but all MPs, and especially the PM, have a role in setting foreign policy so it is appropriate that groups with views communicate their message as widely as possible. Carr’s claim that we take an extreme view on Israel is simply puzzling. AIJAC’s goals in the Middle East are similar to his – a two-state resolution whereby an independent Palestinian state arises on the vast majority of the West Bank and Gaza augmented by equivalent land swaps from within Israel’s 1967 borders in exchange for West Bank land Israel retains, while the Palestinians accept Israel’s right to live in peace as a Jewish state. This is the position shared by all Australian governments, not to mention US administrations, since the Oslo Accords (and indeed successive Israeli governments). Yet, somehow, only we are “extremely ­conservative”.

The real obstacles to progressing this peace include the ongoing incitement to hatred of Israel, involving glorification of anti-Israel terrorism and terrorists, across Palestinian society; Palestinian unwillingness to accept Israel as a Jewish homeland; the continued rejectionism of Hamas, which controls Gaza; and the Palestinian Authority’s insistence on the so-called ­”return” to Israel, as opposed to the new Palestinian state, of millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees.

All of these factors are antithetical to a two-state resolution. The Palestinians use the settlement issue, not without frequent if misplaced Western encouragement, as a smokescreen to cover their recalcitrant positions.

So where we do differ from Carr is in his relative neglect of these formidable impediments to peace in contrast to his seeming obsession with the settlements, reinforcing the Palestinian narrative in his insistence that they are all illegal. Our position is that their legality is in dispute, that many international law experts question the applicability and interpretation of the Fourth Gen­eva Convention on this matter, and there is certainly no binding, authoritative legal deter­min­ation of the issue.

Carr and Browning allege the settlements are the main obstacle to peace, and their continued growth as taking land earmarked for, and even pre-empting, a future Palestinian state. Their rhetoric cannot withstand scrutiny. With respect, they are wrong. For 10 years, Israel has forbidden all geographic expansion outside the established boundaries of existing settlements, and nearly all construction occurring during that time has been, and remains, within settlements it is universally agreed Israel will retain under any conceivable two-state outcome. And that also applies to the announced, routine approval for 700 apartments in Gilo last week, a Jerusalem suburb that all serious actors know falls in that category too.

The priority must be to facilitate a negotiated two-state resolution between the parties and blanket declarations, which foreclose flexibility in resolving major issues are totally unhelpful to that end.

Carr seems very proud that he rolled Gillard over her preference to vote against the recognition of Palestine as a state at the UN. The peace that both sides need will be achieved only by the parties negotiating in good faith.

Steps that convince the Palestinians that they can achieve their aims without such negoti­ations, such as UN recognition, or declarations from powerful outsiders that settlements are illegal or the main obstacle to peace, are therefore extremely unhelpful to the cause of peace. The fact that the current negotiations are in danger of collapsing due to the Palestinian refusal to compromise on any of the basic issues underlines this point.

Fortunately, in Julie Bishop, we now have a foreign minister with her government’s unequivocal support who understands this, as Gillard did, although lacking her cabinet’s support.

It’s a great shame that Carr, who claims to be a friend to Israel, and Browning, who claims to be a friend of the Palestinians, do not, but merely reinforce a climate undermining the prospect of ongoing, successful negotiations.

Colin Rubenstein is executive director of the AIJAC.