Israel urges Labor not to recognise Palestine as party closes ranks
Israel’s top representative in Australia is urging the Albanese government not to recognise Palestine as a state as Labor seeks to avoid a flare-up over the divisive issue at its upcoming national conference.
Labor’s official policy platform supports Palestinian statehood, but the government is wary of taking such a dramatic step after infuriating Israel last year by announcing Australia would no longer recognise West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The government’s position is being closely watched internationally given recognising Palestine would represent a major break from Australia’s closest allies, but failing to do so would rankle Labor’s progressive base.
In a rare intervention, Israel’s ambassador Amir Maimon told this masthead: “Israel’s position is that the final status of the [Palestinian] territories should be decided by the two parties involved.”
Maimon said senior Australian officials had stated they oppose any unilateral actions that would undermine the peace process and that Israel believes recognising Palestine before a final peace settlement would fall into this category.
Maimon has maintained a low public profile since arriving in Australia last February, but has been active behind the scenes, meeting with many members of the government, including Foreign Minister Penny Wong.
Labor’s most recent national platform, adopted in 2021, “calls on the next Labor government to recognise Palestine as a state” and says the party “expects that this issue will be an important priority for the next Labor government”.
Wong successfully moved the amendment to the platform, which was applauded by Palestinian advocates as courageous and lamented by pro-Israel groups as one-sided.
Labor’s next national conference – which will see politicians, union officials and grassroots members gather for the party’s highest decision-making forum – will be held in Brisbane in August.
The government caught Israel by surprise last October by announcing it would reverse the Morrison government’s decision to recognise West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move that coincided with a Jewish holy day.
Israel’s then-prime minister Yair Lapid criticised the decision and Australian ambassador Paul Griffiths was summoned to explain the government’s change in policy.
Israeli news outlets reported at the time that the government had reacted so strongly against the West Jerusalem decision in a bid to prevent Australia from recognising Palestinian statehood.
Despite the burst of acrimony, Maimon said Australia and Israel continue to enjoy “very friendly” relations and he appreciated the level of engagement he had received from the government since the West Jerusalem decision.
“There is a continuity in the very close and good relationship between Israel and Australia,” said Maimon, who had a 14-year career in the Israeli military’s paratrooper unit before joining the foreign service.
He said he hoped Australia and Israel could focus more on trade, defence and technological co-operation rather than the conflict with Palestine.
The issue of Israel and Palestine has been a flashpoint at successive Labor national conferences, but several MPs and senior party figures said they did not anticipate major changes this year as there was little appetite to create a headache for the new government.
“The whole ethos of the party right now is to close ranks,” one source said.
One party member said that, at most, a motion could be put to restate support for Palestinian statehood.
Nasser Mashni, president of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, said: “We fully expect the Labor Party to keep its promise and recognise Palestine.
“The Australian public expects politicians to keep their promises.”
Mashni said Australia recognised Israel before a final peace settlement between the two sides and should do the same for Palestine.
Recognising Palestine would bring Australia into line with most United Nations member states but put it at odds with close security partners such as the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Japan, none of which have recognised Palestine.
A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said: “Australia does not recognise a state of Palestine. We continue to call on all sides to resume negotiations towards a just and enduring two-state solution.”
Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham called on the government to say it will not recognise Palestinian statehood until a two-state solution is reached.
“Given the damage already done by the Albanese government to Australia’s relationship with Israel, Penny Wong should act to end the uncertainty,” he said.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, a strong supporter of Israel, stressed after the last national conference that the party platform was not binding on future governments, stating: “Labor has not committed to recognising a Palestinian state.”
Michael Rubin, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative American think tank, last month argued that US President Joe Biden should lobby Albanese not to recognise Palestine because doing so would “legitimise and encourage Palestinian, Hezbollah, and Iranian terrorism”.
“It would be dangerous for Washington or Jerusalem to believe Wong and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese are merely virtue signalling to appease their progressive base,” Rubin wrote in the Washington Examiner.
Article source: Sydney Morning Herald