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Peace won’t be achieved through speeches like Penny Wong’s

Apr 12, 2024 | Colin Rubenstein

Foreign Minister Sen. Penny Wong at the ANU, Canberra (Image: Australian National University)
Foreign Minister Sen. Penny Wong at the ANU, Canberra (Image: Australian National University)

The Age (online and in print) and Sydney Morning Herald (online only) – April 12, 2024

 

As Israel’s war of self-defence in Gaza continues, some of our government’s comments and actions appear increasingly at odds with the interests of lasting Middle East peace, and our ability to play a positive role.

In particular, Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s implication in her speech on Tuesday that Australia may consider soon recognising a Palestinian state, and the decision to appoint our own special adviser to oversee the tragic accidental killing on April 1 of Australian aid worker Zomi Frankcom and six World Central Kitchen colleagues, continue this unfortunate trend.

Wong’s implied claims in her speech that recognising Palestinian statehood in the near future could “[build] momentum towards a two-state solution” and would not reward the Hamas October 7 terrorist massacre are simply hard to comprehend given current realities.

Despite Wong’s welcome words about Hamas having no future role in Gaza, many Palestinians would undoubtedly see such recognition in the near future as a major national achievement enabled by Hamas’ barbaric mass violence. In addition, considering such recognition now would provide a huge disincentive for the Palestinian Authority (PA) to undertake the root-and-branch reforms Wong acknowledges it needs before it could also take over Gaza’s governance, or become the nucleus of a Palestinian state.

The preconditions for a two-state peace are simply not in place, and extending such recognition before they are only makes it less likely these preconditions will ever be developed.

It’s worth remembering a few realities in this context: Hamas is more popular than the PA in the West Bank; official PA media and government pronouncements are saturated with violent incitement and antisemitism, the PA incentivises terrorist violence against Israel through its stipends to imprisoned terrorists and families of terrorist “martyrs”, and the PA never condemned the October 7 atrocities; the PA is currently so dysfunctional and corrupt it can’t even control all the Palestinian West Bank cities; and the PA has refused repeated Israeli offers of a two-state resolution incorporating Palestinian statehood over the past 25 years, and for the past decade it has refused to even negotiate on a final peace agreement at all – such bilateral negotiations being absolutely indispensable for any peace hopes.

Without changing these realities, and without the pre-conditions for peace, prematurely recognising Palestinian statehood would not strengthen forces for peace and undermine extremism, as Wong claimed, but do the exact opposite.

Wong’s speech comes on the heels of retired Australian Defence Force chief Mark Binskin being appointed as a special adviser into Israel’s investigations of the tragic killing of Frankcom and her colleagues. Since Israeli drone operators mistakenly targeted the convoy of aid vehicles that night, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Wong have unwisely escalated Australia’s response in a poorly thought-out manner.

The Israel Defence Forces’ report, prepared by a retired general outside the chain of command, found the drone operators assumed only Hamas fighters were in the vehicles, with the aid workers remaining in a warehouse where the convoy stopped.

Armed Hamas terrorists were observed in and around the vehicles at various times, including at the warehouse. Attempts by the IDF and WCK itself to reach the aid workers by phone failed. The drone’s sensors were thermal, not visual, and thus could not “see” the plastic identifying stickers at night.

The IDF investigation concluded that the order to shoot, even if the officers involved were convinced they were targeting only Hamas aid hijackers, not aid workers, failed to meet the threshold required under the IDF’s open-fire regulations.

The IDF therefore dismissed the two top officers involved and censured the general in charge of Israel’s Southern Command and two other senior officers. Just as importantly, the report made recommendations that are already being implemented to prevent any further such tragedy.

The Albanese government’s hasty decision to send Binskin to Israel to independently review the investigation is both insulting to Israel, a democratic ally, and hard to understand.

The IDF responded far quicker and more transparently than Australia has in similar circumstances. In 2017, for instance, a review of evidence suggesting the ADF mistakenly bombed Iraqi civilians took 18 months. The ADF reported no wrongdoing by its personnel, only tragic mistakes. No one was dismissed or disciplined.

Moreover, none of the other countries that lost citizens in the aid convoy have cast aspersions on the IDF’s integrity, as Australia’s government has now done.

Just six months after Hamas perpetrated the largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, our government appears unduly influenced or even intimidated by anti-Israel elements and mobs who constantly push lawmakers toward their own dead-end model of insatiable anti-Israel obsession.

Albanese and Wong should pause and reflect on what actually advances Australia’s national interests, social cohesion and credibility. Continuing down the path being pushed by the extremists will leave the government out of step with our closest allies and with the silent Australian majority, and worst of all, leave Australia out of step with both reality and morality in our foreign policy.

Dr Colin Rubenstein is executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.

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