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Shocking Backward Step on Middle East

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Allowing domestic politics to dictate foreign policy is never wise. Allowing internal party politics to determine external settings is even worse.

But this is exactly what the Labor government has done with its latest clumsy announcement about how it will refer to disputes in the Middle East.

In an attempt to avoid embarrassment for Anthony Albanese at Labor’s upcoming national conference, the Labor Government has decided to rewrite the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Last year, it declared that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel, in defiance of geography, history and decades of state practice. This week, it conjured back into existence the Ottoman Empire as a sovereign entity, more than a century after its passing.

When the state of Israel was created in 1948, the entire territory west of the Jordan River was under a British Mandate, granted by the League of Nations following the defeat and collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of WWI. The UN Partition Plan of 1947 envisaged the creation of independent Jewish and Arab states in the British Mandate territory. The Jewish population accepted the plan. Arab leaders rejected it. The plan was never implemented. War broke out. And so was born the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Aggression by its Arab neighbours in 1948, 1967 and 1976 attempted to wipe out the fledgling state of Israel, but failed. Subsequent peace attempts to create a Palestinian state, notably the Oslo Accords, the Camp David summit of 2000 and the Annapolis Conference of 2009, foundered on the rocks of Palestinian rejectionism. The last such effort, led by John Kerry during the Obama administration’s first term, collapsed after Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas refused to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, refused to abandon the “right of return”, and refused to commit to ending the conflict. And so, despite the best endeavours of the international community, and Israel’s willingness to enter into good faith negotiations towards this end, a Palestinian state has never been created.

This is why the Labor government’s declaration that it will henceforth refer to the West Bank and Gaza as “Occupied Palestinian Territories” is incorrect. There has never been a Palestinian state in existence. Israel does not claim the West Bank and Gaza as its own. It exercises de facto control over the West Bank, but not over Gaza, from which it withdrew in 2005. But the sovereignty over these territories – the rightful owner – is disputed. They once belonged to the Ottoman Empire. They were then under a British Mandate. From 1948 to 1967, they were occupied by Egypt and Jordan. Until such time as a peace agreement and a delineation of borders is concluded, the only correct terminology is to refer to these territories as disputed.

Labor’s change in nomenclature is quixotic. It will have not the slightest impact on the prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace. But it does reveal much about how this Labor government approaches foreign policy.

In the same week that Saudi Arabia has reportedly agreed with the US on the broad details of a deal to recognise Israel, a landmark agreement that would cement Israel’s position as a legitimate state in the Middle East, the Labor government has decided to venture back in time.

Rather than seeking to support this US effort, and recognise that an Israel that is secure in its region is more likely to be able to make the territorial compromises necessary for peace, the Labor government has instead chosen to placate its internal critics with legalese from the 1970s.

The Arab world has moved on from the Arab-Israeli conflict, but Labor has not.

Anthony Albanese told parliament this week that his government remains a “strong supporter of Israel”. People in Israel will be left wondering how this government, which now declares Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall, to be “Occupied Palestinian Territory”, can possibly make such a claim.

Will Labor’s newfound affection for weighing in on territorial disputes around the world find expression elsewhere? Will Penny Wong stand up in Labor’s caucus next week and declare that Aksai Chin and the Tibet Autonomous Region, claimed by India but controlled by China, will henceforth be referred to as “Occupied Indian Territories”?

It’s unlikely, because the Labor Party membership seems to have an unhealthy obsession with only one of hundreds of territorial disputes around the world. And what happens when the left of the Labor Party comes for the real prize, which would be to scuttle the AUKUS agreement to acquire nuclear-powered submarines?

Will this Labor government be prepared to stand up to its internal critics and defend sound policy and the national interest? On its record to date, it looks more likely it will capitulate to keep the Labor family harmonious. Party first, nation second.

Dave Sharma was Australian ambassador to Israel 2013-17 and is the former Liberal member for Wentworth.

Article link:
Article source: The Australian | Dave Sharma | 12.8.23

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000

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