Former Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr’s well-known obsession with Israeli settlements – while completely ignoring Palestinian intransigence, rejectionism and incitement – has reared its ugly and ill-informed head once again.
This time, Carr was interviewed by Peter Van Onselen and Paul Kelly on Sky News Agenda about the Labor Party’s policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The former NSW Premier couldn’t resist placing every ounce of blame at Israel’s feet for the current stalemate between the Jewish state and the Palestinian Authority.
Here is our analysis of some highlights (or lowlights) in particular:
Carr: “Well the standing policy adopted at the last ALP conference concluded by saying if settlements continue and there is no progress towards a Palestinian state the next Labor Government and I am paraphrasing, will move with like-minded countries, towards recognition of Palestine.”
Paraphrasing indeed. The policy adopted at the ALP’s national conference in 2015 actually states:
“If however there is no progress in the next round of the peace process a future Labor government will discuss joining like-minded nations who have already recognised Palestine and announcing the conditions and timelines for the Australian recognition of a Palestinian state.”
While the settlements issue is addressed earlier in the policy document, there is nothing in the paragraph addressing recognition of a Palestinian state referring to “if settlements continue”. Carr is confusing the ALP’s federal policy – itself problematic in parts – with the far more one-sided NSW policy he promoted at the state conference in 2014. Next.
Carr: “This explosive expansion of settlements which are smothering the prospect of a Palestinian state and therefore a two state solution.”
“Settlements are gobbling up the land.”
“It’s a matter of Israelis dropping the notion that by spreading settlements they can pre-empt and blot out a two state solution.”
“An occupation which will congeal into a permanent arrangement for a greater Israel through the dynamics of more and more settlements.”
“Trump gets elected president, and Netanyahu who has been living with somewhat of a settlement freeze announces thousands of new settlements. “
That last claim – that Israel is building “thousands of new settlements” – is particularly indefensible because it is a deliberate distortion – one which is becoming increasingly common among pro-Palestinian circles. Israel has not announced “thousands of new settlements”, it has announced eventual plans for thousands of homes in existing settlements (almost all in bloc settlements Israel is expected to keep in any peace deal – see Ahron Shapiro on this here and here.) In any reasonable use of the English language, including all past discussions of the situation in the West Bank, a settlement is a town or village, not an individual apartment or house in an existing town or village. Carr’s use of language which implies the opposite – something he has done before – should immediately destroy any credibility he has on this issue.
But more broadly, the claim that settlements are increasing in size in any way – let alone “explosively” – and are rendering a two-state outcome impossible is one we have proven false many times. Firstly, as we have demonstrated here, settlements take up 2% of the West Bank’s land and no new settlements have been built since 1999. Settlements are simply not, as Carr puts it, “gobbling up” any more land. If you looked at a map of the West Bank highlighting all the settlements in 2003, and the same map today, you would not see any noticeable difference. Construction that has occurred In the last eight years under the Netanyahu government, always within existing settlements, has in fact failed to keep up with natural population growth. Fierce settlement critic Col. (Ret.) Shaul Arieli wrote in left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz in June 2016:
“In 2015, as in the preceding five years, almost 90 percent of the 15,523 individuals who joined the population of Judea and Samaria were a result of natural population growth. The drastic drop in migration from locales within the Green Line (1967 borders) to the West Bank over the last 20 years (from 6,000 a year in 1996, to less than 2,000 in 2014) attests to the fact that people “are voting with their feet” rather than considering building a future in these settlements.”
Following on from the above point, a two-state outcome is therefore very possible, if only the Palestinian Authority would come to the negotiating table in good faith. But don’t take our word for it, take the word of Peace Now’s Lior Amihai, who said in a 2014 interview that despite settlements, “if the parties were to reach an agreement today then the two-state solution is very possible.” (And Peace Now still says it now, see here.) Continuing on.
Carr: “60% of the current Israeli cabinet are on record saying that there will never be a Palestinian state.”
It seems we have more of Carr’s creative “paraphrasing”. It is true that Israel’s current cabinet leans toward the right-wing and there is considerable, and understandable, opposition to the creation of a Palestinian state in the current circumstances. But this 60% number comes from counting anyone who has ever expressed opposition to a Palestinian state at any point in the past – including in the 1990s, when Likud policy was not in favour of such a state – as forever opposed. But out of the six parties making up the current Coalition government of 67 seats, only one party, Jewish Home with 8 seats, is officially opposed to a two-state resolution. All the other parties, making up 88% of the government coalition, support or are open to such a solution, given the right agreement and conditions.
Further as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu so eloquently expressed during his press conference with Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull in Sydney:
“I prefer not to deal with labels but with substance … What kind of state will it be that they are advocating? A state that calls for Israel’s destruction? A state whose territory will be used immediately for radical Islam? Israel retreated already from Gaza, gave up, took out all the settlements there, gave the territory to the Palestinian Authority. This became a terrorist state of Hamas, backed by Iran. They fired thousands and thousands of missiles against us. So clearly when people say they are ‘for’ a Palestinian state, they are not for that kind of state. It is not conceivable that people should say the Palestinians should have a state and continue to call for the annihilation of the Jewish state, Israel.”
Surely Bob Carr, who has called for Australia to recognise a Palestinian state, is not advocating for this kind of state? Moreover, when Yisrael Beitenu joined Netanyahu’s coalition in May 2016, its leader, Avigdor Lieberman, recommitted his party to a two-state solution, apparently at Netanyahu’s request . When the Palestinian Authority renounces incitement and terror, stops paying salaries to terrorists and their families and becomes a legitimate peace partner, renewed enthusiasm among Israeli lawmakers for the prospects of such an outcome actually leading to peace and security will undoubtedly follow.
Carr: “There are chauvinists, there are religious extremists, there are people who talk about eliminating the Palestinians in the cabinet.”
Such colourful language from Carr is an attempt to make Israel’s current government sound like extremist monsters. But as can be seen here, it just isn’t so. As for personal views, politicians in all governments around the world, including the West, hold differing views, and sometimes express them in unwelcome and ugly ways. Where such views are expressed they should be called out and condemned. However, a government’s policies and actions are ultimately what it should be judged on, not the occasional “foot in mouth” disease of a handful of its members.
Indeed, if Carr is so concerned about personal views, perhaps he should look into some of the alarming views held by senior members of the Palestinian Authority. It is a huge double standard to level accusations at Israeli politicians when senior PA figures regularly spout antisemitic views and Hamas talks about massacring Jews.
Carr: “The cabinet just passed a law which enables the seizure of Palestinian land. Kicking Palestinians off land they own to make way for settlements and that is indefensible in the Labor party.”
Carr’s interpretation of the law is just wrong. The settlements regulation bill, which we ourselves have identified as problematic, does no such thing. What it does – if it doesn’t get struck down by Israel’s High Court, which is overwhelmingly likely to happen – is retroactively allow residents of West Bank “outposts” built on privately-owned, but previously unused, Palestinian land without government permission to stay in their homes, with the landowners receiving compensation.
No Palestinian would be “kicked off” their land to make way for a settlement. The facts on the ground are already there. Again, it is a problematic law, likely to be overturned, and ideally these outposts would never have been built in the first place, but if Carr wants to criticise the bill, then he should at least do so truthfully.
Carr: “He [Netanyahu] should behave like his predecessor. PM [Ehud] Olmert who drew a line on a map and was about to give it to Abbas the leader of the Palestinians and say, here it is. Take it or leave it.”
Carr doesn’t mention that Abbas refused to ever again meet Olmert after he made his unprecedented final status offer, which even included the painful concession of giving up Jerusalem’s Old City to international control. Olmert even told the PA leader “it will be 50 years before there will be another Israeli prime minister that will offer you what I am offering you now. Don’t miss this opportunity”. Yet Abbas did.
Abbas later claimed he didn’t accept the offer because Olmert would only show him – but not give him – a map outlining the proposed border between the two states. According to the Jerusalem Post, Olmert told Abbas that he would not hand over the map “until the Palestinian leader was willing to ink his initials on it, or in other words, agree to the borders that Israel offered”. Abbas was also reportedly unsatisfied that only a small symbolic number of Palestinian refugees would be granted “right of return” to settle in Israel.
Of course we wouldn’t be where we are today if Abbas hadn’t missed the opportunity. Or if his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, hadn’t missed his opportunities in 2000 and 2001 when negotiating with Ehud Barak. Settlements did not scuttle these offers, Abbas and the Palestinian Authority did.
What if Netanyahu had “behaved more like Olmert”? In fact, he did. Martin Indyk, Chief US negotiator during the 2014 negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, told The Atlantic in July 2014: “I saw him [Netanyahu] sweating bullets to find a way to reach an agreement.” A recent article by Israeli peace negotiator Michael Herzog, who is the brother of Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog and thus not at all a Netanyahu partisan, re-affirms this, saying of that same process:
Mr. Netanyahu… was immersed in the process. Every call with Kerry was preceded by a thorough preparatory meeting that he himself led, and was followed by one as well. It was evidently not an easy journey for him. He came under tremendous and conflicting pressures, yet he stayed the course. Despite his criticisms, Indyk testified that “. . . we had him [Netanyahu], I think, by the end of that process, in the zone of a possible agreement.” Indyk is right. No matter what one may think of Netanyahu, he showed seriousness, far more so than public accounts attest. He did not move easily and was tough on Israeli security and other requirements, yet he made progress.
Of course, Bob Carr won’t tell you that because it doesn’t fit his warped narrative of the recent history of the conflict.
Carr: “It’s hard to imagine a Palestinian leadership in the future more amenable to a negotiated solution than the one that exists now in Ramallah.”
Is this the very same leadership that rejected the 2008 offer detailed above, the best they ever got or are likely to get? The leadership that refuses to even come to the negotiating table? The leadership that spreads incitement and rejectionism among the Palestinian people, through PA-controlled media and schools? That pays salaries to terrorists and their families? The leadership that just named a children’s camp after a terrorist that murdered 37 people?
This “amenable” leadership is led by a chairman who in 2015, at the height of a new wave of terror stabbings, said “the Al-Aqsa [Mosque] is ours … and they have no right to defile it with their filthy feet” and “We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem”. At this stage, it’s hard to get less amenable.
The other fact Carr overlooks is that even if Mahmoud Abbas himself genuinely wanted to reach a deal, he has no political manoeuvring room in which to do so. Eleven years into his four-year term, his power base is shrinking, he has no control over Hamas in the Gaza strip, plus the Palestinian Authority he leads has spent the better part of the last decade trying to isolate and demonise Israel. If Abbas were to come back to Ramallah and announce he’s made a deal with Israel, he would likely be accused of betraying his people and lynched.
Carr: “The Palestinians for 25 years have recognised the State of Israel … No other country in the world requires nations that recognise it take account of its internal religious character. Now that is a new demand that was invented by hardliners in Israel in 2007 to make progress towards a two state solution impossible”
Another issue where words mean nothing in the face of substance. Political expediency may have seen the PLO “talk the talk” in recognising Israel prior to the Oslo Accords, but the Palestinian leadership in practice does not “walk the walk” and continues to act contrary to this recognition. Official PA maps regularly omit any reference to Israel, the PA continues to deny Jewish history in Jerusalem and Palestinian school textbooks demonise Israel as “an evil entity that should be annihilated”.
As for Carr’s claim that “no other country in the world requires nations that recognise it take account of its internal religious character”, this is misdirection. Jews are a people, not just their religious component, which is an important but not the sole aspect of their peoplehood. The recognition issue has nothing to do with “religious character”, it has to with the basic character of the peace settlement. Is it based on “two state for two peoples,” – is the Palestinian leadership prepared to acknowledge that the Jewish people also have a right to self-determination just like they do? Because the overwhelming evidence, as noted above, is that they do not.
Moreover, the concept of the Palestinian Authority recognising Israel as a Jewish state is not at all new, nor was not “invented by hardliners” as Carr gleefully tries to claim. Former US mediator Dennis Ross has attested the idea was first brought up at the 2000 Camp David Summit and subsequent negotiations – under the left-leaning Barak government in Israel. Yair Rosenberg explains here how it later was raised during discussions between Israeli and Palestinian intellectuals in 2001 and then taken up by dovish Israeli former foreign minister Tzipi Livni in the negotiations in 2009.
Furthermore, not only is that language of a “Jewish state” in the original UN partition resolution from 1947, it is something Arafat conceded publicly in the 1990s but Abbas now adamantly rejects.
And if the Palestinian leadership was genuine in pursuing two states for two peoples – one Jewish and one Arab – they should have no objection. But there is no such desire. They insist on a Palestinian “right of return” that would lead to millions of Arabs flooding into Israel and destroying its Jewish character – which is not a formula for a genuine two-state solution, but instead for destroying Israel and replacing it with two Palestinian states. No Israeli leader would agree, thus the demand for recognition of Israel as the Jewish homeland straddles the Israeli political spectrum.
Van Onselen: “What about what he [Netanyahu] says about the rise of Hamas and the situation in Gaza when giving greater independence was provided? He makes the seemingly somewhat valid point that is something that Israel is understandably concerned about.”
Carr: “And that is therefore the reason that accepting the deal on the table now of a de-militarised state is timely and indeed vital.”
Carr is either blissfully ignorant or so blinded by his anti-Israel bias that he fails to comprehend that the primary reason Hamas has not taken over the West Bank the way it did Gaza is because of the Israeli military presence there. Indeed, analysts predict that post-Abbas, Hamas will indeed take over, paving the way for another and far more deadly terror state looking straight down on Ben-Gurion Airport and Israel’s largest population centres and threatening the Jewish state’s very existence. Any promises of a demilitarised state that the current PA leadership might make would be moot.
Carr: “Do you wait until more years of frustration and delay, spread of settlements, hopelessness of an occupied population, the rise of a spirited resistance actually produces a resort to extremism?”
Here, Carr ignores the fact that Palestinian extremism and terrorism have been a fact of life for many years now. Moreover, spikes in Palestinian terrorism have usually followed Israeli peace offers or territorial withdrawals, such as the second intifada breaking out after Arafat rejected Ehud Barak’s final status offer in 2000, or 2005’s Gaza withdrawal emboldening Hamas. All of this undermines Carr’s “frustration” argument.
Secondly, Carr resorts to the “bigotry of low expectations” equation by naming extremism as an inevitable by-product of the status quo, inferring that the Palestinians themselves have no say in their own actions and can’t help but resort to extremism and terrorism. One would hope he has a higher opinion than that of the people he so vigorously champions.
Carr: “We need to return to the essence and that is the occupation. Occupation that has gone on for 50 years…”
Again, the bigotry of low expectations rears its head. According to Carr, it’s all Israel’s fault that there has been no solution to the conflict over the last 50 years. Never mind that Israel tried to return Gaza and the West Bank to the Arab world immediately after capturing them in 1967, only to be met with the infamous “three no’s” from the Arab World – no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations with Israel.
Time and time again since the Oslo Accords, Israel has sought to settle the dispute once and for all. Arafat rejected offers in 2000 and 2001, Abbas rejected the offer in 2008 and the 2014 negotiations were shuttered before there was a chance for real progress. But in Bob Carr’s world, the past 25 years never happened, no one has ever offered the Palestinians statehood, the Palestinians have never missed all those opportunities to end the occupation and it’s all Israel’s fault.
The problem is that views like Bob Carr’s help reinforce the Palestinian Authority’s continued intransigence, rejectionism and incitement. Former US President Barack Obama and his second term Secretary of State John Kerry focused on settlements to the exclusion of all else, putting all the pressure on Israel while giving the Palestinians a free pass (though even they accepted that any peace deal would require Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish homeland), and the result is that the two sides are further away from peace than ever before (see this piece from knowledgeable Palestinian affairs journalist Khaled abu Toameh for more on how such indulgence convinces the PA to double down on its strategy of refusing to negotiate.)
It is only when the Palestinians own up to their own failings, renounce incitement and terror, accept that Israel is here to stay and return to negotiations in good faith, that there can be progress towards real peace. Bob Carr doubtless thinks he is an apostle of a peaceful two-state outcome – in fact, through his ignorance and biases, he is acting to damage the likelihood of that outcome happening anytime soon, and retarding the aspirations of the Palestinians he claims to be promoting.