Efforts by South Australian politicians to recognise Palestine as an independent state will do more harm than good

Efforts by South Australian politicians to recognise Palestine as an independent state will do more harm than good

Sharyn Mittelman

The Advertiser – 28 July 2017

South Australia’s Legislative Council is set to vote on a motion that calls on the Federal Government to recognise a Palestinian state, after the resolution succeeded in passing the House of Assembly last month with the support of the Labor Government.

The vote comes as motions calling for the Australian Labor Party (ALP) to recognise “Palestine” are likely to be considered at forthcoming Labor Party conferences in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia, while a similar motion recently passed in the Tasmanian ALP conference.

The push from within the ALP has come despite reported opposition from Labor leader Bill Shorten, his deputy, Tanya Plibersek, and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong.

These resolutions also come amid new turmoil between Israelis and Palestinians. On July 14 terrorists used Jerusalem’s Temple Mount-Noble Sanctuary – holy to both Muslims and Jews – to stage an attack which killed two Israeli Druze Policeman guarding an entrance to it in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Israel responded with the temporary closing of the compound to carry out security checks and by installing metal detectors at the entrance of the site.

Metal detectors are now standard practice for security at most places of mass gathering including holy sites, the Western Wall and even the Taj Mahal.

However, Palestinians staged violent protests against the metal detectors, which led to the deaths of three Palestinians in clashes with Israeli police.

The protests were encouraged by the Palestinian leadership – both the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas, who falsely claimed that the Noble Sanctuary was under attack by Israel.

Palestinian incitement may also have inspired a Palestinian terrorist to break into the home of an Israeli family who were eating dinner on July 23, and stab and kill a father and his two adult children.

Israel has since relented and removed the metal detectors, replacing them with high resolution security cameras.

The escalation in violence is reflective of significant issues that engulf the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which cannot be resolved but can be made worse, by uninformed symbolic gestures such as state political party or parliamentary motions calling for the recognition of Palestine.

Such resolutions are counter-productive, because they generally blame only Israel for the conflict, while ignoring Palestinian incitement and violence.

Proponents of unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state also conveniently ignore the substantial offers of a Palestinian state made by Israeli Prime Ministers Ehud Barak (2000-2001) and Ehud Olmert (2008) on nearly all of the West Bank with compensating land swaps, all of the Gaza Strip and Arab neighbourhoods of east Jerusalem.

These offers received no serious counter offer from the Palestinian leadership.

Therefore, the first question that should be asked is what would a resolution recognising “Palestine” actually achieve? In essence, it would be purely a symbolic act expressing solidarity with the Palestinians while criticising Israel – without bringing peace any closer.

It would also ignore vital issues of international law.

Firstly, which “Palestine” are they recognising? Under international law, a state requires a defined territory, a government and control of the affairs of state.

But today the Palestinian territories remain divided between the Palestinian Authority (PA) governing parts of the West Bank, and the Islamist group Hamas running the Gaza Strip.

Hamas is recognised as a terrorist group by many nations including Australia.

Is it moral or prudent for states to give de facto recognition to Hamas, even though its military wing is a designated terror group under Australian federal law?

In addition, resolutions recognising “Palestine” offer recognition to an undemocratic entity that is widely seen as corrupt.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas is currently in the 12th year of his four-year term, while Hamas has not run any democratic elections since seizing power in a bloody coup in 2007.

Despite claiming to seek peace, elements of the PA continue to promote martyrdom and jihad against Israelis.

The PA has refused requests to stop its payments to terrorists in Israeli jails, and continues to name its buildings after terrorists.

In May, the UN announced it had withdrawn support for a Palestinian Authority women’s centre named after terrorist Dalal Mughrabi, saying the name was “offensive” and glorified terrorism. Mughrabi took part in the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre in which a group of terrorists hijacked a civilian bus and killed 38 civilians, 13 of them children, and wounded over 70.

Will there also be resolutions condemning Hamas for its indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians, and a resolution condemning the PA for providing salaries to convicted Palestinian terrorists?

Ultimately peace can only come from direct negotiations and compromises between the parties. Unhelpfully, if a resolution to recognise “Palestine” passes both houses of the South Australian Parliament it will not encourage negotiations but rather, further counter-productive unilateral actions.

Symbolic acts do not help create a state – and they discourage negotiations, the only means such a state can actually be created.

The Palestinians should be encouraged to build a state based on the principles of democracy, transparency and nonviolence, and reach a final end of conflict deal with Israel establishing two states for two peoples.

Only then can the international community be assured that the Palestinians can progress to their own viable, peaceful state, rather than Israel having another failed state on its border.

Sharyn Mittelman is a senior policy analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council​