Former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans appeared on Jon Faine’s “Conversation Hour” on 774 ABC Melbourne on June 16, giving his take on the Middle East and demonstrating we’re lucky he is no longer in the role.
He expressed concern that Israeli Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni is “pretty hung up on” the Palestinian refugee issue, which “makes it unlikely she’ll be a much better partner for peace, I fear, than even Benjamin Netanyahu.” The reason Livni, and all mainstream Israeli politicians, are “hung up on” the refugee issue is that the Palestinian “right of return” would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state. It is those insisting on this who are not true peace partners, not those concerned about it.
He revealed he’s been “dealing directly with [Hamas] in a way that unfortunately America and other interlocutors have not.” Other interlocutors have not because Hamas is a terrorist organisation and refuses to renounce violence or accept Israel’s right to exist, facts which seemingly concern Evans far less than they should. He complained that people are ignoring “the salience” of the Saudi Abdullah peace initiative which, he said, is “everything Israel’s ever dreamed of in terms of the long term peace and stability in the region and yet it was just scoffed at and this is really silly stuff.” It actually appeared to require the return of the millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to Israel, not to the future Palestinian state, meaning the end of Israel. It also required Israel to carry out all of its obligations before the Arab countries or Palestinians needed to carry out any of theirs, removing the incentive for them to do so, again seemingly minor points for Evans.
Turning to the wider Middle East, Evans claimed, “We’ve blown two or three major opportunities to resolve the Iran issue. We’ve clearly blown opportunity after opportunity to negotiate a peace with the Syrians.” In fact, neither country has shown any interest in negotiating a solution on anything other than their own unacceptable terms. He continued, “Hamas is another example. Not recognising the reality of that election win and buying ourselves a whole gigantic sea of trouble as a result.” The election win was recognised, and Hamas was informed it could participate in talks as soon as it renounced violence and accepted Israel’s right to exist and existing agreements. Including Hamas without it fulfilling these conditions would simply have proven that terrorism would be rewarded, and that would have “bought us a whole gigantic sea of trouble.”
Finally, Evans seemed to endorse the unilateral Palestinian push for the declaration of a state by the UN, which would be simply a recipe for further conflict. Peace can only come through negotiations. Evan stated, “We have to not…follow the US lead wherever it takes us. We do have to have an independent cast of mind on these issues and one interesting test will be the Palestinian vote in the UN later this year.”