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‘No Rush to Declare for Palestine’

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Foreign Minister Penny Wong has labelled the recognition of Palestine as a “hypothetical”, ­despite Labor agreeing at national conference doing so would be an “important priority”.

Senator Wong said she was “not going to engage in hypotheticals” about the timing of recognising Palestine as a state and would not explain why the government was not moving on the issue.

However, she said she had been a chief advocate within the party on the wording in the ­national platform that has been criticised by pro-Israel groups.

“One of the reasons I’ve ­argued so strongly inside our party for that wording, and I have been probably the principal advocate of that wording for some years now, is that I do believe that this is something the party is entitled to express a view on, but ultimately, these are sensitive diplomatic decisions,” she told the ABC. “A cabinet should make such decisions when considering all of the diplomatic issues that would necessarily be before it.”

With Labor concerned it would face a push to put a timeline on recognising Palestine at ­national conference, the government changed its policy on the issue and declared the West Bank and Gaza as “Occupied Palestinian Territories” and Israeli settlements as ­“illegal”.

The change prevented a public stoush on the issue at last week’s policy forum in Brisbane although there were two speeches on the floor reflecting different views within the party.

Labor MP Susan Templeman said the issue of recognising Palestine would be an “issue of priority for our government”.

But former ACTU vice-president Michael Easson said viewing the conflict from a one-eyed perspective could not achieve any lasting solutions.

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Article source: The Australian | Greg Brown - Sarah Ison | 21.8.23

2023-10-24 01:28:30.000000

Labor stays the course over Palestine recognition

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Labor is facing calls for the recognition of Palestine to become a priority for the government, with a commitment to statehood already in the party’s policy platform.
No timeline has been attached to implement the policy, with some pro-Palestinian Labor delegates pushing to have it expedited.
But pro-Israel elements of the party threatened to try and strip the policy from the platform if the other side attempted to alter it at the national conference in Brisbane.
No amendments were moved and the same wording remains in the policy platform with no timeline attached.
Labor MP Susan Templeman spoke in favour of recognition at Labor’s national conference on Friday, saying the actions of Israel’s extreme right-wing government were “deeply concerning”.
“The extreme right-wing policies of the Netanyahu government that speed up the expansion of settlements are a serious impediment to the two-state solution that we are all committed to,” she told Labor’s national conference on Friday.
She said she supported “the call our platform makes for the recognition of Palestine as an issue of priority” as Palestinians suffered inequality at the hands of Israeli settlements.
Trade unionist Michael Easson said good people could disagree on the issue and called for a nuanced approach to an age-old conflict.
He told the conference there could be “no justice without truth”.

“The central and tragic truth of the Israel-Palestine conflict is that two people – the Jewish people and the Palestinian – have deep, centuries-long, historical ties to a territory no larger than half of Tasmania,” he said.
“Viewing the conflict from a one-eyed perspective will not achieve peace, any lasting solution cannot be at the expense of Palestinians or Israelis.”
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry welcomed the decision to not change the policy platform or add “further hostile policy pronouncements”.
It said Palestine did not exist as a state and any recognition would impact peace negotiations.

It comes after Foreign Minister Penny Wong strengthened Australia’s objection to Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and expressed concerns about what they would mean for peace in the region.
Senator Wong led Labor’s foreign policy debate on Friday but the only contentious push the government faced on the conference floor was around its commitment to nuclear submarines and the AUKUS agreement.
Its position was ultimately reaffirmed by delegates.
The foreign policy session was largely rubber-stamped by rank-and-file members who also voted in favour of the reunification of Ireland and reaffirmed support for Ukraine against Russian aggression.
Resolutions also called out human rights abuses in Iran and China.
Labor will also review whether Australia’s two territories should have more representation in parliament.
The three-day national conference continues until Saturday.
Australian Associated Press

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Article source: Canberra Times

2023-10-24 01:28:30.000000

Frozen between despair and denial

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Pressure is mounting on the Albanese government to recognise Palestine as a state. Following a resolution moved by Penny Wong, this became ALP party policy in 2021, and it will almost certainly be reaffirmed at this year’s party conference in August. Former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans has written a powerful defence of the policy, which has been assailed, predictably, by the Israel lobby.

Support for Israel comes from the peak bodies of the Australian Jewish community, in particular the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, perhaps the most successful lobby group for a foreign country in our history. It is very active in organising tours of Israel for politicians and journalists, and in winning support from influential non-Jews on both sides of politics. Recently, an explicitly right-wing organisation, the Australian Jewish Association, has emerged with close links to prominent local conservatives. Sadly, these groups have greater influence than such progressive Jewish organisations as Plus61J and the Australian Jewish Democratic Society.

Recognition of Palestine is largely symbolic, but it would imply a major shift in position by a country that has been one of Israel’s staunchest supporters. Other than Sweden, Western countries have followed the lead of the United States in refusing recognition, even though a majority of other countries do so. At the same time, Western countries remain wedded to the idea of a two-state solution, even as support for it declines in Israel.

As Evans points out: ‘No peace negotiation has much prospect of succeeding if the parties at the table are completely mismatched.’ Even if the two-state solution is now dead, peace between Israel and the Occupied Territories requires international recognition that the Palestinian people deserve equal status in any meaningful reconciliation.

Australia’s position vis-à-vis Israel/Palestine has been a running sore on the left of Australian politics for fifty years. For Palestinian and Jewish Australians, the issue is particularly fraught, caught as we are as witnesses to a struggle to which there seems to be no end, and in which we are assumed to have a particular stake.

I have been to Israel once, more than forty years ago. It felt like a foreign country to me, even though, as a Jew, I could claim the right to live there. Many years later, I wrote a piece in which I said I could not bring myself to say ‘Next year in Jerusalem’, part of the traditional Passover seder, when Palestinians who were born there were denied the right to return.

It is impossible to be a Jew and not have feelings about Israel. However often one claims to have no emotional ties to the country, it will be taken for granted that you do. For the mainstream Jewish community, support for Israel is unquestioned, and even mild criticism is treated as disloyalty. Antony Loewenstein has written movingly of the opprobrium that descended on him and his parents after he first started writing about Israel. Too many Jews believe in freedom of speech, except when it comes to talking about Israel.

In the same way, anyone who is Palestinian, Arab, or even Muslim will often be assumed to give unconditional support to the Palestinian cause. Too often this leads to Australian Muslims and Jews regarding each other with suspicion. Yet I have several times enjoyed conversations with Palestinian Australians about our shared Semitic origins and how they set us apart from Anglo Australia.

There is a clear distinction between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel, but in practice the two are blurred, often deliberately, sometimes inadvertently. Both Jews who defend Israel passionately and those who criticise it speak from a shared historical memory, which means that we are always conscious of possible persecution. That one is not always perceived as a Jew makes for a precarity rather akin to being gay. Hannah Arendt drew parallels between anti-Semitism and hatred of homosexuals as far back as 1951. In her book The Origins of Totalitarianism, she wrote of ‘the complicated game of exposure and concealment … Only one’s Jewishness (or homosexuality) had opened the doors of the exclusive salons, while at the same time they made one’s position extremely insecure.’

Among non-Jews there are ardent supporters of Israel – some of whom are also anti-Semitic – and there are others, on both the left and right, for whom Palestine is a crucial issue. Among those Australians who care about the issue, views tend to be deeply polarised. As Foreign Minister Penny Wong observed: ‘One of my frustrations and sadnesses is that this issue is so vexed for so many people that we don’t even have a dialogue in Australia between supporters of both halves.’

Wong is positing a balance between two sides, both of which need to compromise, which neither Israel’s supporters nor opponents will concede. Given the balance of power between Israel and the motley governments of Gaza and the West Bank, the suggestion is itself problematic. While both Israel and Palestinian groups use violence, it is Palestinian land that is being taken over by Israeli settlements, and it is Palestinians who are subject to constant surveillance and control. We cannot call for dialogue as though there is no distinction between occupier and occupied. Even defenders of Israel struggle to defend the increasing dispossession of Palestinians from more and more of the West Bank.

But Wong is correct in pointing to the deep polarisation around Israel/Palestine in Australia. Both supporters and opponents of Israel believe that their positions are ignored: Andrew Markus could complain of deeply prejudicial coverage of Israel in the Australian media, while John Lyons has documented the extraordinary pressure on him as a foreign correspondent to support Israel.

While attitudes are changing, the dominant discourse in Australia has been one of deep support for Israel, which is imagined as a fellow democracy struggling in an alien geopolitical environment. Australia played a role in the creation of Israel, thanks to the energies of then Foreign Minister H.V. Evatt, who, as president of the General Assembly, was crucial in winning United Nations support for the establishment of Israel in 1948. Subsequent prime ministers continued that support, with some hesitation from Gough Whitlam and Kevin Rudd. Over the past seventy years, Australia has voted more consistently in support of Israel in the United Nations than almost any country bar the United States, while the Morrison government suggested moving the Australian embassy to Jerusalem, a project of Donald Trump’s that has so far been followed by only three other countries.

For many in Labor there was a deep sense of connection to an Israel which they saw as pioneering new forms of social democracy through the kibbutz, a form of collective living. For conservatives, Israel quickly became seen as an outpost of Western liberalism in an increasingly hostile Middle East, so that Australia was one of the few countries to support Israel when it colluded with Britain and France in the 1956 Suez War. (This was one of the rare occasions where Australia diverged from its reliance on the United States.)

No Australian prime minister was closer to Israel than Bob Hawke. When he first visited Israel in 1971, he seemed to fall in love with the country. He played a role in negotiating with Soviet authorities to allow Jews to emigrate, and he became close to Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. When Whitlam moved towards a more even-handed approach to Israel/Palestine he was bitterly opposed by Hawke.

But as the Israeli Labor Party started to lose support in the 1970s, a more sceptical view developed on the left of the ALP. The Palestinian cause became a major issue within the then Australian Union of Students (AUS), which adopted a series of strongly pro-Palestinian resolutions; these were then repudiated by a vote on member campuses. The first funded research I ever engaged in resulted from my following this debate. Already I was made aware of the complications facing any Jew who is critical of Israel. A decade later, Julia Gillard, then president of AUS, was caught up in similar debates, and supported a two-state solution against those calling for a unified Palestine.

Gareth Evans, who was foreign minister under both Hawke and Paul Keating, was determined to maintain an even-handed approach, recognising that peace depended upon Israel accepting the reality of a Palestinian people and state. Meanwhile, pro-Palestinian voices were becoming more active within the Labor Party. In her 1982 biography of Hawke, Blanche d’Alpuget points to the leading role played by Victorian Socialist Left leader, Bill Hartley. I had my own run-in with Hartley in the late 1980s, when I referred to him on ABC radio as ‘anti-Semitic’; Hartley sued for defamation. He later dropped the case, not before I was assured of considerable legal support through Prime Minister Hawke’s office. (For the record, my comment was based on a discussion with Hartley himself.)

The Howard government was more supportive of successive right-wing Israeli governments, a position which changed when Rudd came to power in 2007. Yet it was under Rudd’s successor, Julia Gillard, that support for Israel led to a major split within the government. After Rudd resigned as foreign minister in 2012, he was replaced by former New South Wales Premier Bob Carr, whose views on Israel had moved from emotional support to a far more critical stance. (Carr describes the evolution of his views in his memoir, Run For Your Life.) After a series of arguments, in which Carr was supported by a majority of his Cabinet colleagues, Gillard agreed to switch a crucial United Nations vote from support for Israel to abstention.

The current ALP party platform calls for the recognition of Palestine, which the Albanese government has declined to do. Recognition would be largely symbolic, but it would represent a break with other Western countries – and align Australia with all our ASEAN neighbours. The Greens have gone further, in apparently rejecting the notion of a two-state solution, which remains the standard Western position, even as it becomes less and less viable.

Supporters of Israel like to point to the alleged double standards of those who constantly condemn Israel while ignoring more egregious abuses in countries such as China, Iran, and North Korea. This misses the point that Israel portrays itself as part of the Western liberal democratic world and therefore has to be judged by those criteria. It is also true that Israel has been an easy target for the United Nations and its agencies, while appalling abuses by other states are ignored.

But this argument also ignores the reality that very different understandings of democracy underpin the national ideologies of Israel and Australia. Since the 1970s, successive Australian governments have stressed that ours is a multicultural society, building on the words of Noel Pearson that Australian identity brings together  ‘our ancient heritage, our British inheritance and our multicultural triumph’. Israel, on the other hand, defines itself in ethno-religious terms, as the state of the Jewish people, rather as Iran proclaims itself an Islamic republic.

Yet roughly twenty per cent of Israelis are Arab. It is true that they enjoy better living conditions and more political freedom than their counterparts in surrounding Arab states, but theirs is a limited citizenship in a state which defines itself as ‘Jewish and democratic’. The 2018 nation-state law changed the status of Arabic from an official language to one with ‘special status’, and declared Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people, who had a unique ‘right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel’. Except for one brief period, the parties representing the majority of Israeli Arabs have never served in government.

A Jew can come to Israel and claim citizenship; a Palestinian who has been dispossessed, either by the creation of the Israeli state or by the subsequent occupation of the West Bank, cannot. (Some Palestinians living in East Jerusalem do have citizenship.) This is a fundamentally different assumption about citizenship from that of Australia, which rejects ethnicity or religion as the basis for recognition.

It is hardly surprising that some Indigenous Australians feel a connection with Palestinians, with whom they share a sense of dispossession by more powerful settlers. The short-lived The Sunday Paper (the name reflecting grievances against Schwartz Media) was based explicitly on drawing comparisons between the two experiences. Odder is the argument of Rabbi Ralph Genende, who has written an entire chapter in the book Statements for the Soul claiming parallels between the history of Jewish and Indigenous dispossession without acknowledging the Palestinians. It is true that there is a historical connection between Jews and the land that is now Israel that hardly applies to the British settlement of Australia. But to ignore the equal claims of Palestinians is surely an act of bad faith.

At some level, support for Israel in Australia rests upon an unstated, probably unconscious, desire to justify settler-colonialism. Israel was established at a time when most white Australians were ignorant, either deliberately or unwittingly, of the ways in which Australia had been settled. As greater awareness of the situation of the Palestinians developed, so too did the rhetoric that saw Israel as a unique beacon of democracy in the Middle East, and its defence as central to the Western world.

Despite its flaws, Israel remains a more attractive polity than, say, Saudi Arabia or Iran. The Economist’s democracy index rates it as a flawed democracy, sandwiched between Portugal and the United States at twenty-nine (Australia is ranked fifteen). But this measures Israel proper; were it to include the West Bank, where almost a quarter of the population are now Israeli settlers, the rating would presumably drop dramatically.

While Israel’s reputation has declined, this is hardly reflected in the strength of the pro-Israel lobby. Other than the United States, no other country has such a well-coordinated cheer squad, with a number of full-time lobbyists and considerable largesse in the form of trips to Israel. The imbalance between supporters of Israel and Palestine in powerful positions in Australia is very similar to the imbalance between the two nations themselves.

From its inception Israel has struggled to find a way of being both a Jewish and a democratic state; the lack of a formal constitution is largely due to the inability of Israelis to find an acceptable formula to reconcile these two aspirations. The massive demonstrations against Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempt to weaken the powers of the Supreme Court have underlined this problem, yet, as Joshua Leifer has pointed out, ‘The protesters, it can seem, want to preserve civil liberties for Jews … while preserving the existing infrastructure of Jewish supremacy.’

At what point does criticism of Israel become anti-Semitism? To its ardent supporters, any criticism of Israel is seen as such, and even many of its critics believe that to challenge the assumption of a ‘Jewish state’ is inherently anti-Semitic. There is particular sensitivity around accusations that the occupation of the West Bank is a form of apartheid, even though that term has been widely used by Israeli critics. But the rapid expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank – with a population now estimated to exceed half a million – makes the prospect of a genuine two-state solution less and less possible. Certainly, the current Israeli government seems totally uninterested, while Palestinian leadership is weak, divided, and corrupt.

At a Passover seder this year, held in the home of a close friend, there was overwhelming sadness at the current state of politics in Israel and the lack of any moves towards rapprochement with Palestinians. In my lifetime I have witnessed what seemed intractable political issues resolved: the Berlin Wall has fallen, and the Soviet Union collapsed; apartheid has ended in South Africa; the once great European colonial empires have dwindled to a few outposts like New Caledonia and the Falklands.

Yet at no point since 1947 has the prospect for a just solution between Israel and Palestine seemed less possible. I suspect that only a major shift on both sides would open the way for some sort of resolution. From the outside, it seems the two peoples remain frozen between despair and denial, without leaders on either side with the moral stature to move forward.

It is here that Australian Jews can play a significant role. While there are a number of small progressive Jewish organisations willing to criticise the Israeli government, the loudest voices come from groups like the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, whose stance is unfailing opposition to any moves that might challenge the current status quo. Those who profess love for Israel have an obligation to call out the basic dilemma: Israel cannot be both Jewish and democratic if it continues to deny equal possibilities for nationhood to Palestinians.

Whether that is any longer possible within the framework of a two-state solution is the essential dilemma. On a recent visit to Australia, former Israeli MP Naomi Chazan asked: ‘What’s the state of Israel geographically today? Is it inside the green line? Beyond the green line? Divorce is not practical any longer. We need to learn to share the land.’

Until that reality is grasped, there is no prospect for an end to the conflict.

This article is one of a series of ABR commentaries on cultural and political subjects being funded by the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund.


  • On the Israel lobby see Bob Carr: ‘The Israel lobby and Labor in Australia’, Mondoweiss, 1 June 2022
  • Gareth Evans: ‘The case for recognising Palestine’, The Conversation, 15 June 2023
  • Antony Loewenstein in Good Weekend, 13 May 2023
  • Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, George Allen 3rd edition 1967: 82]
  • Interview with Deborah Stone, Plus6IJ, 22 November 2022
  • Andrew Markus: ‘Anti-Semitism and Australian Jewry’ in G.B. Levey and P. Mendes: Jews and Australian Politics, Sussex Academic Press, 2004: 122; John Lyons: Dateline Jerusalem: Journalism’s toughest assignment, Monash University Press, 2021
  • See Blanche d’Alpuget: Robert J. Hawke, Mandarin, 1994 chapter 15
  • Dennis Altman: ‘A secular democratic Palestine: a new litmus test for the left’, Politics X[2], November 1975
  • Gareth Evans: Incorrigible Optimist, Melbourne University Press, 2017: 180-2
  • Bob Carr: Run For Your Life, Melbourne University Press, 2018
  • Ralph Genende: ‘Words that emerge from the heart’ in S. Morris and D. Freeman: Statements for the Soul, La Trobe University Press, 2023
  • Joshua Leifer: ‘Whose Constitution, Whose Democracy?’ NYRB, 11 May 2023: 23

Dennis Altman is a Vice Chancellor’s Fellow at La Trobe University. His most recent books are God Save the Queen (Scribe, 2021) and Death in the Sauna (Clouds of Magellan, 2023).

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Article source: The Australian Book Review | Dennis Altman | August 2023

2023-10-24 01:28:30.000000

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.

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Article source: The Australian | Dave Sharma | 12.8.23

2023-10-24 01:28:30.000000

Labor Appeases Party’s Left with Israel Shift Ahead of National Conference

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Labor’s hardened position on ­Israel – calling its settlements on the West Bank “illegal under international law” and referring to the West Bank and Gaza as “Occupied Palestinian Territories” – sparked predicable fury.

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham accused the government of reacting to pressure from party activists on the left ahead of Labor’s national conference next week.

Colin Rubenstein, head of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, said Labor’s stance strained a longstanding bipartisan policy supporting a two-state negotiated peace settlement.

The claims of both are true.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong would not have gone ­public with such a dramatic escalation in rhetoric – except for her need to partially appease party hardliners.

Labor and the Coalition are now far apart in their expressed positions on Israel and the Palestinian territories, though both continue to support a negotiated two-state settlement.

There is another way to read what happened this week, however, as some of Labor’s most ardent supporters of Israel argue. Essentially nothing has changed, except for a hardening of language that reverts to the position of past Labor and even Coalition governments.

The Albanese government has been ruminating for months about how it would handle two issues above all that have caused internal dissent and threatened to blow out of control during debate on the floor of Labor’s three-day national conference in Brisbane, starting on Thursday.

The first is the AUKUS defence agreement, originally negotiated in secret with the US and UK by Scott Morrison and a few of his ministers. It was automatically endorsed by Labor in opposition, and then embraced wholeheartedly by Anthony Albanese and his government in March this year with a $3bn “down payment” towards the planned $368bn acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines.

Within the ALP, former PM Paul Keating has been the most prominent opponent, arguing the deal is unwise, a waste of money, and locks Australia into a US-led strategy for decades based on containing China.

Unusually, Keating has a unity ticket on this issue with retired Labor senator Doug Cameron and other hardline party left-wingers and unions who say the funds could be better spent on health, education and housing.

The left has also protested that submarines could not only be ­nuclear-powered but armed with nuclear weapons in future and raised the problem of nuclear waste disposal.

Many in the ALP Left feel emboldened because their faction will outnumber the Right for the first time in more than 50 years at this year’s national conference, providing hope that some of their pet issues will finally prevail.

When it became clear a few months ago that a motion opposing AUKUS was likely to hit the conference floor, at risk of passing and causing enormous embarrassment to Labor in Canberra, faction leaders on the mainstream Right and Left of the party started working together behind the scenes to lower the temperature. The objective was to protect Albanese and his government, which had put significant political capital into the AUKUS deal. Like other Labor governments going back to Bob Hawke’s, Albanese has put a premium on Australia’s alliance with the US.

Even though it was clear most opposition to AUKUS was coming from hardline unions in construction and manufacturing, and did not have wider support within the Left, there was discussion of diffusing dissent. Was it possible to urge restraint on AUKUS while letting through a stronger resolution on the Israel-Palestine conflict? The trial was effectively the Victorian ALP’s state conference in June.

Trouble certainly seemed to be brewing. The Queensland branch of the ALP, at its earlier state conference on June 4, had voted 299-140 against a motion congratulating the Albanese government for investing in AUKUS. Up to 40 ALP branches passed resolutions opposing the AUKUS deal. A party group called Labor Against War, led by eccentric hardliner Marcus Strom, was helping to lead the charge.

Yet when it came to Labor’s Victorian conference on June 18, the issue was a fizzer. It was clear the anti-AUKUS campaigners had nowhere near enough support to pursue their opposition – even in a state as red as Victoria.

A proposed motion condemning AUKUS as infringing “Australia’s independent foreign and defence policy” was pulled from the floor. Debate was postponed until the national conference.

Appearing on Sky News last week, Victorian ALP Right faction powerbroker and former senator Stephen Conroy was adamant: there was no link between the Albanese government’s position shift on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and AUKUS as issues for the national conference.

“Let me just put that right to bed,” Conroy said. “The Left will do what they’re doing on AUKUS at the national conference, and they will lose comprehensively. So there’s no need to do any sort of trade-off.”

While Albanese could never afford the embarrassing spectacle of losing a vote on AUKUS at his party’s national conference, the numbers indicate he will not. Party insiders say he will relish a debate on the subject and could confront dissent head-on, smashing it publicly in what could be a theatrical Hawke-style performance for the TV cameras.

But what of the conference ­debate on Israel and Palestinian statehood? Even if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were not considered a front-order issue for the general public, a display of internal Labor dissent and losing a conference vote would be an unwelcome distraction. Worse, it could prompt some diplomatic difficulties for Australia’s relationship with the US if Labor were pressured into accepting a more radical approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The difficulty for Albanese has been that, while dismissing condemnation of AUKUS, the Victorian state party conference did pass a much tougher resolution on Israel that put direct pressure on his government to recognise a Palestinian state “within the term of this parliament”.

The ALP has been moving in this direction for some time. At Labor’s national conference in 2018, senior frontbencher Tony Burke from the NSW Right was in the vanguard pressing for Palestinian statehood. Past expressions of Palestinian support had used soft language, committing a future Labor government only to “discussing” recognition of a Palestinian state. Burke did not venture as far as former NSW premier Bob Carr, who’d noisily led the campaign for the NSW Labor Right, even likening Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to “apartheid”. But Burke did successfully help pass a resolution at the 2018 conference which not only supported “the recognition and right of Israel and Palestine to exist as two states within secure, recognised borders” but called on the next Labor government “to recognise Palestine as a state”.

Also publicly backing Burke at this time were his NSW Right colleague Chris Bowen, the NSW Left’s Albanese and the South Australian Left’s Wong.

At Labor’s “virtual” national conference in 2021, held online during the Covid-19 pandemic, Wong successfully moved an amendment that called on the next Labor government “to recognise Palestine as a state and expects that this issue will be an important priority”. Wong said she was seeking to replicate the Labor conference vote in 2018 – but that resolution was not incorporated into the national platform at the time. It is now.

As Foreign Minister, Wong made one unambiguous policy shift on Israel last October, reversing Morrison’s recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The Australia-Israel lobby was annoyed, but Wong said Labor was reverting to the long-held bipartisan position that Jerusalem is a “final status issue” to be resolved in peace negotiations.

Labor’s Conroy, a strong supporter of Israel, put bluntly the reality of geopolitics during his comments this week when he said support for a Palestinian state was “meaningless” because it didn’t exist – and never had. Conroy also pointed to differences between the West Bank and Gaza. “I mean, this is not a government, this is not a state,” he said.

The concern of Australia’s Labor government, as for governments in many nations including the US, is now focused on how Benjamin Netanyahu’s government seems to have entrenched Israeli control by expanding Jewish settlements further into the West Bank, with plans for more.

The attitude of even the most ardent Israel supporters in the ALP has been severely tested. They say Netanyahu has become the central problem by pushing the settlements issue too far in his quest to survive politically with backing from ultra-right parties that include Jewish settler leaders who reject a two-state agreement. Now he’s nobbled the country’s Supreme Court. As one ALP figure tells Inquirer: “Netanyahu is out of control; what is going on there is undemocratic, it’s impossible to support him.”

With AUKUS no longer an issue of government anxiety, Wong needed to tackle this kind of growing frustration inside her party. With immediate recognition of Palestine putting Australia out of step with the US and most other Western nations, Wong and Albanese chose a ­middle path to head off a repeat of what occurred in Victoria.

And so Wong attempted to offer some appeasement without changing policy, by toughening up the government’s language.

“This is consistent with past governments, reflects legal advice and the UN Security Council resolutions that determine the settlements have no legal (status) and constitute a violation of law,” she said last week. What Wong did not say – as ALP Left hardliners want her to – was that the Albanese government would support Palestinian statehood within any particular time frame.

“This is a modest advance in the pro-Palestinian position that will see the conference not degenerate into a loony confrontation where they (the Left) demand that Penny recognises Palestine tomorrow,” one insider says.

Indeed, the position is not really far apart from Australia’s closest ally, the US. The Biden administration has pulled back from Donald Trump’s unqualified support of Netanyahu’s government, and has been highly critical of moves to entrench control over the West Bank with more Jewish settlements.

A few days ago, the US State Department expressly condemned violence committed by some armed Jewish settlers.

The ALP conference can never bind a federal Labor government to implement matters incorporated in the platform ­according to a set timing. But the Albanese government does not want a strict prescription nonetheless.

Article link:
Article source: The Australian | Brad Norington | 12.8.23

2023-10-24 01:28:30.000000

Labor’s ‘symbolic’ shift on Israel a split from Western allies

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There are not many occasions when a middle power with a relatively small population, like Australia, can make a significant impact on world affairs. Either on the field of battle or in diplomacy.

A few instances, however, immediately come to mind. In 1918 – the year of victory on the Western Front – the Australian Imperial Force played a fundamental part in the Allied victories that defeated the German army.

Then on April 24, 1951, Australian forces, with the support of Canadians, thwarted a major Chinese attack on Seoul, the capital of South Korea, during the Korean War. This proved central to the thwarting of North Korea’s intent to conquer its neighbour.

In diplomacy, Australia’s role in the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 stands out. Labor, led by prime minister Ben Chifley, was in office at the time and Bert Evatt was minister for external affairs.

In his position as president of the UN general assembly, and in other capacities, Evatt played an influential role in the decision to separate the region of Palestine into Jewish and Arab entities and to admit Israel into the UN in May 1948.

It’s against this historical background that the decision of the Albanese Labor government warrants consideration. On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Penny Wong announced a change in Australia’s policy with respect to Israel.

Wong indicated that, from now on, Australia will refer to the area conquered by Israel in its defensive Six-Day War in 1967 as “the occupied Palestinian territories”.

In 2014, the Coalition government led by Tony Abbott used the term “disputed territories”.

In 1967, Israel conquered the West Bank from Jordan. Along with Gaza and Sinai from Egypt and the Golan Heights from Syria.

Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in 1982 after a treaty was negotiated between the two nations.

Then in 2005, Israel quit Gaza and left it in the control of the Palestinian Authority – it was soon taken over by the Islamist terrorist group Hamas, which wages rocket attacks on Israel from time to time.

Jordan has no wish to control the West Bank as it did following the collapse of the Ottoman empire in 1918. And Egypt does not want Gaza back. The border between Syria and Israel has remained relatively quiet since 1967.

Both Labor and the Coalition support the two-state solution to resolve the issues unresolved since 1967. Namely a Jewish state of Israel (which contains a large Arab minority, most of whom want to remain there) and a state inhabited primarily by Palestinians (in which some Jews may wish to remain).

Negotiations have broken down for a number of reasons, including the fact that Israel does not have an obvious negotiating partner.

Hamas, which controls Gaza, wants to see the destruction of Israel.

And the more moderate leadership of the Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank, is reluctant to do a land swap lest it be overthrown by Islamist extremists.

Moreover, successive Israeli governments, whether of the right or centre, are not going to risk the destruction of the Jewish state by surrendering territory central to the defence of the nation.

For Israel to survive, some land exchanges would be necessary.

In view of the evident complexities, it is not at all clear what a change of emphasis in the position of the Australian government can achieve. After all, Australia is not a big player in the Middle East.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has stated that despite the decision to declare the West Bank and Gaza are “occupied Palestinian territories” and Israeli settlements on the West Bank are “illegal”, he remains a strong supporter of Israel.

Wong has said much the same about the territories and commented that this is “consistent with the approach taken” by “the UK, New Zealand and the EU”.

So it is. But not with that of the US and Canada.

Wong has also said Australia regards the West Bank as including Jerusalem and Gaza. This means Australia seems to regard such traditional Jewish places in the Old City as the Western Wall and the Temple Mount as illegally occupied – rather than places whose status would be determined in a negotiated twostate solution between Israelis and Palestinians, whenever that might occur.

And then there is the matter of West Jerusalem. The Coalition during Scott Morrison’s prime ministership recognised West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – rather than Tel Aviv. This followed a similar decision by president Donald Trump, which has not been reversed by President Joe Biden.

The Coalition’s decision has been overturned by the Albanese government. Yet the status of West Jerusalem should not be a matter of any doubt, since it is within the borders of Israel as determined by the UN in 1948.

Writing in the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s The Strategist on Wednesday, Roger Shanahan described the government’s changes announced this week as “relatively symbolic”. But symbols can be important. Moreover, Israel is an ally of Australia and the two nations benefit from mutual trade along with intelligence-sharing of considerable security benefit.

There is little doubt the changed policy was influenced by the Labor Party’s Left faction in the lead-up to the ALP national conference in Brisbane next week. But not only by the Left.

Former NSW premier Bob Carr, a member of the Labor Right, has also been in the vanguard of this movement.

The aim of the Left in this instance is for Australia to support the establishment of a Palestinian state. It’s not at all clear how this would work without a two-state solution in the first instance.

Then there is the likelihood Hamas could take over power in the West Bank as it did in Gaza.

Which would inevitably lead to more conflict.

During the past year the Albanese government has done well in the handling of foreign affairs and defence policy. The current disagreement over Israel is unfortunate since it is an international matter over which Australia can have little real impact. Unlike in 1918 and 1951.

Gerard Henderson is executive director of the Sydney Institute.

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Article source: The Australian | Gerard Henderson | 12.8.23

2023-10-24 01:28:30.000000

Labor’s defence of American empire, Israel and a shrinking nation

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So, there it is: a nod to the mental bandwidth of what passes for the right’s understanding of the geopolitical realities of the current moment.

Labor’s modest shift in position on the enduring Israel-Palestine conflict this week has, according to a sulphurous Peter Dutton, fractured the nation’s emphatically pro-Israel stance. Worse still, the opposition leader insists, the changes weren’t inspired by principle but a thinly veiled concession to the left flank of the party ahead of its national conference. The inevitable upshot, despaired The Australian’s Greg Sheridan, is the adoption of a partisan position that is “wrong on the international law, wrong on the morality of the situation and probably wrong on the politics”.

Seizing on this, former shadow attorney-general Julian Leeser spoke of a deeper and darker crisis, one where the decision to return Australia to its pre-2014 diplomatic stance of referring to the West Bank and Gaza as “occupied Palestinian territories” (as opposed to “disputed territories”) was neither unusual nor without risk. On the contrary, he said it was something destined to “embolden” or give way to Palestinian “jihad”; a cunning plan, it would seem, to turn us into a rogue state of de-facto terrorist sympathisers.

But the Liberal MP’s flourish did not end there. He conversely arrived at the rather heroic conclusion that Labor’s shift on Israel proved the Albanese government was beholden to a “hard left”, “Jeremy Corbyn faction” — one that flatly denies the “right of the state of Israel to exist”, he declared, never mind government statements to the contrary.

Theirs is the language of unreality — the slippery claims of those possessed of an insular understanding of both international law and the rapidly disintegrating domestic and geopolitical landscape of Israel today.

What’s particularly extraordinary about these views, Sydney University Challis chair of international law Ben Saul told me, is the extent to which they both summon and justify an impression of Israel as unspooled from the constraints of international law. A country to which such rules and norms simply do not, and should not, apply.

“I think the Coalition’s position is pretty disturbing and, frankly, quite shocking, and the fact that this is even news demonstrates how extreme the Morrison government was on this,” he said, in reference to the former government’s (since-reversed) decision to recognise West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as well as its opposition to UN resolutions condemning illegal Israeli settlements and violence.

The impunity this is liable to occasion, Saul explained, runs contrary to international law and throws into sharp relief thorny contradictions: “We certainly don’t tolerate the same in relation to, for example, Russia and its claims to have annexed Crimea and other parts of Ukraine — it’s illegal, it is occupation, it’s a crime of aggression; every state that believes in international law has condemned it.”

“I just don’t see why anybody would take a different position on Israel.”

The perception is reinforced when cast against the grim realities of domestic Israeli politics. Though tit-for-tat violence is nothing new in the occupied territories, it’s notable that the recent waves of Israeli settler rampages correspond with the expressed agenda of the Israeli government, which so happens to be the most right-wing, ultranationalist, religious and increasingly illiberal coalition in the country’s 75-year history.

With de facto annexation of the occupied West Bank in the government’s sights, it’s no coincidence much of the bloodshed and chaos that’s ensued in recent months has often shadowed government decisions to expedite many thousands of new illegal settlements in the territory.

The level of violence is such that it’s even drawn rebukes from Israeli intelligence and police chiefs, the country’s defence force and the United States, all of which have labelled it settler “terrorism”. And yet for all that, Saul pointed out, “the Coalition is still very strangely in Israel’s corner: no matter what Israel does, no matter how extreme it becomes, no matter how often it violates international law, the Coalition is wedded to blind support for Israel. It’s completely inconsistent with what it says about its support for a rules-based international order”.

That said, it’s possible to detect some lingering inconsistencies or contradictions in Labor’s new position. Contrary to the right’s hysteria on the matter, Australia nevertheless remains wholly out of step with much of the international community on Palestine. There does not, for instance, appear to be much appetite to recognise Palestinian statehood, even though some 138 nations have done so. Nor – if Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s rhetoric is any guide — does it seem likely the Labor government will necessarily join future UN resolutions against Israel.

But it’s arguable such double standards on international law or human rights only loom large if it’s taken as a given that Australia is a middle power dedicated to upholding international law. A different view, and one spelled out by former army intelligence officer turned University of New South Wales academic Clinton Fernandes, is that ours is a nation better understood as a “sub-imperial power” more preoccupied with upholding the pillars of the US-led global order than international law.

The same, he says, applies to Israel in its region: “Our support for Israel is not based on our love of Israel; it’s based on its value as a US strategic ally in the Middle East that upholds the American world order.” So much, it would seem, finds reflection in US President Joe Biden’s common refrain: “If there were not an Israel, we’d have to invent one” — something he repeated as recently as last month.

It’s in this way, Fernandes explained, that the phrase “rules-based international order” is best construed as not a reference to international law per se, but as a euphemism for “empire by another name”; terminology rarely cited in polite society to describe US foreign policy.

From this vantage point, the Albanese government’s shift in position on Israel, including its recent criticism of unchecked violence, reads as a reaction to the dangers posed by the country’s slide away from democracy. As things stand, a confluence of events, beginning with the ruling coalition’s brazen attacks on the rule of law, its judicial overhaul, mass social unrest, the rise of an uncompromising religious Zionism, and a shift in unfavourable demographics, may in time give way to a dangerous theocracy.

The regime to emerge from this, Fernandes warns, wouldn’t necessarily be one given to privileging US interests in the region above its own “messianic and religious ideas”, as so clearly sketched in Israel’s open threat this week to “return Lebanon to the Stone Age”.

So, ultimately this is all about preserving American empire. At the very least, Australia’s shift in position on Israel is as much about bringing pressure to bear on the unravelling nation as it is about quelling opposition from the left on AUKUS at next week’s national conference. Both ends, of course, serve the US-led “rules-based international order”. After all, AUKUS owes its existence entirely to a blind and uncompromising faith in the American alliance.

Far from consciously abandoning the precepts of the usual order of things, these manoeuvrings suggest Labor is trying to preserve them. The same common thread also underpins the government’s formal response to its recent inquiry into war powers reform.

True middle powers, such as the Netherlands and Norway, insist on parliamentary authorisation of military deployment. By contrast, and notwithstanding overwhelming public sentiment in favour of a like arrangement, the government has decided not to strip the prime minister of his unilateral power to commit the country to war. Instead the endorsed recommendations largely formalise the status quo, including by fashioning procedures through which illegal wars, such as Iraq, can be authorised via the governor-general.

The overall outcome of the inquiry, former diplomat and president of Australians for War Powers Reform Dr Alison Broinowski told me, wasn’t surprising, given the government’s decision to prejudice the inquiry’s conclusions from the outset. But nonetheless, she said she felt betrayed by Labor.

“I was shocked — we trusted them and believed them when they promised a meaningful inquiry into war powers,” she said. “Instead, all we’ve seen in the past year is preparation for the next war — it’s become absolutely overwhelming. Step by step, almost every other day, there’s yet another surrendering of Australia’s sovereignty.”

“I mean, there’s no vestige of sovereignty left,” she added, citing the expansion of the US military presence on the continent and deepening intelligence ties, among other things.

The country has, in other words, rapidly devolved into a client state — an unedifying position for a country otherwise as advanced as ours, and one former prime minister Paul Keating sounded a warning against years ago.

In Broinowski’s view, and as strange — even repulsive — as it may sound, the only way these developments seem liable to fall to the wayside is if Donald Trump is reelected next year: “It’s probably the one silver lining, the one little sort of glimmer of hope, that a Trump presidency might say of AUKUS and the deepening alliance, ‘This is rubbish.’”

“That would get us off this dangerous path.”

Maeve McGregor is the public affairs correspondent for Crikey, with a special interest in law and government integrity issues. Prior to this, she was a lawyer.

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Article source: Crikey | Maeve Mcgregor | Aug 11, 2023

2023-10-24 01:28:30.000000

Palestine ‘Extortion’ Warning for Labor

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The pro-Israel lobby has warned Labor figures against any factional deal at the upcoming ALP national conference to “prematurely” recognise a Palestinian state in return for party unity on the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine plan.

Australia Israel and Jewish Affairs Council executive director Colin Rubenstein said he was concerned Labor’s Socialist Left would try to “extort” the party at the Brisbane conference next month, threatening to embarrass Anthony Albanese on AUKUS to secure a timeline for recognising Palestine.

The Prime Minister told Labor’s powerful policy forum two weeks ago he wanted the nuclear submarine plan to go unchallenged at the conference.

But former Labor senator Doug Cameron, a prominent Left faction member, said on Monday he would be “gobsmacked” if the issues were not debated.

“The ALP Left have a proud history of challenging bad policy at ALP Nat Conference,” Mr Cameron tweeted.

“Political discipline does not mean the Left subjugate themselves to leadership decrees on what can be debated.”

But supporters of Israel fear a rerun of this month’s Victorian ALP conference, where a motion was carried calling for a timeline on recognising Palestine in a suspected deal that saw a motion critical of AUKUS pulled at the last minute.

Dr Rubenstein said any ALP commitment to unilaterally recognising a Palestinian state would place Australia out of step with key allies, and would undermine prospects for a peaceful solution on the issue.

“It would be especially concerning if the Socialist Left faction was to try to extort the rest of the party, including the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, by linking its position on the Palestinians, driven by its anti-Israel ideology, to AUKUS,” he said.

“AUKUS is a completely separate issue and should be treated on its merits. Its centrality to the defence of our country should place it above reckless political posturing.”

He blamed “longstanding Palestinian intransigence” for the absence of a peace plan.

Australia Palestine Advocacy Network president Nasser Mashni said Dr Rubenstein was “out of touch with reality”.

“Recognising Palestine is already Labor policy, supported by the majority of Australians as a reasonable, moderate policy,” Mr Mashni said. “Justice for Palestine is of concern to people across the party, in all factions, from the Prime Minister to unions and the grassroots. It doesn’t need to be a political football.”

He said meaningful negotiations on the future of Palestine needed to address the power imbalance between Palestinians and Israelis. “Palestinians live under military occupation – we can’t negotiate with a boot on our necks,” Mr Mashni said.

Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy said Labor was a democratic party and “I expect most issues will be debated” at next month’s conference.

But he said he was confident delegates would support the AUKUS submarine plan.

“This is the policy of the Albanese Labor government because it’s in our national interest,” Mr Conroy said. “I’m very confident that the national conference will support us.”

Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce said AUKUS was under threat from high-profile Labor critics.

“If you listen to Bob Carr, if you listen to Gareth Evans, if you listen to Paul Keating, and I bet if you go to the national party conference in Brisbane, you’re going to actually hear the heartland of the Labor Party voting against one of the seminal structures for the defence of our nation, that’s the AUKUS deal,” Mr Joyce said.

Article link:
Article source: The Australian | Ben Packham | 25.7.23

2023-10-24 01:28:30.000000