Netanyahu visit drives the Palestine wedge deeper

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Australia this week is having precisely the opposite impact to what he no doubt intended.

Benjamin NetanyahuInstead of shoring up support for Israel's flagrant disregard for United Nations resolutions condemning its continual annexation of Palestinian land, it is driving a deep wedge into what was previously unflagging bipartisan Australian political party support for Israel.

For the last 67 years, successive Australian governments have been ardent supporters of Israel. Former Liberal party Australian Prime Minister John Howard was just as much an 'unapologetic supporter of Israel' as Labor's Julia Gillard when Prime Minister.

Australian politicians's support was reinforced by the availability of study trips to Israel funded by its government or Israeli interest groups. Australian politicians accepted 44 such trips in a two-year period to 2012.

In 2002 the Australian and Israel governments even issued a joint declaration launching an organisation called the Australian Israel Cultural Exchange. It was announced simultaneously by then Foreign Minister Alexander Downer in Parliament House, Canberra, and by Israel's then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

Australia has consistently voted with the US against, or abstained from voting on, UN resolutions for Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territories; on resolutions to end its extension of settlements into Palestinian territory; and on Palestinian UN status. It abstained from a vote in November, supported by 153 countries, for intensification of efforts for a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian issue.

But since Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced the Netanyahu visit, what — with the exception of former Foreign Minister Bob Carr — has been a rusted on Labor Party support for Israel is unravelling.

Former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke, a vociferous supporter of Israel during his tenure as Prime Minister, recently announced a rethink on the question of Palestine. He criticised Israel for its expansionist policies and called on the Turnbull government to grant diplomatic recognition to the state of Palestine.

 

"Australia's connection with Palestine predates the creation of the state of Israel. It was where Australian soldiers who served in the two world wars in the Middle East were sent on leave and were graciously welcomed."

 

When he was Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, speaking in 2008 at a fundraising dinner for the United Israel Appeal at Melbourne's crown casino, declared himself 'a friend of Israel'. He went further in his enthusiasm, referring to Israel's creation in 1948 as 'Australian Labor government handiwork' — a reference to Labor's Foreign Affairs Minister Dr E. V. Evatt's role as president of the UN Assembly in creating the Jewish state of Israel in 1948. Rudd referred to 'the history that binds us together'.

Last week Rudd also announced a turn around on his position on Israel, saying the time has come to recognise a Palestinian state 'as 137 states already have'. He also aired his concern about Israel building settlements on Palestine's occupied West Bank, saying it undermined the UN-supported two states solution. While he reaffirmed his view that Israel has a right to secure borders, he also warned that it could lead to a third Intifada. 'We are drifting towards the disintegration and death of an independent Palestinian state,' he said.

An indication that the climate of receptiveness to Israel was changing in Australian politics came in November last year when 49 federal politicians signed a petition calling for an end to Israel's imprisonment of Palestinian children, some as young as 12. It called on Israel to honour its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and end the arrest and detention of Palestinian children except as a last resort. As of October last year, 340 Palestinian minors, some without trial, were being held in prisons in Israel according to the rights monitoring group Palestine Committee of Prisoners' Affairs. It said they were subject to abuses.

This week in indication of a change in public opinion in Australia on Israeli's policies, 60 high profile Australians signed a public letter opposing Netanyahu's visit because of Israel's defiance of UN resolutions on its settlement extensions in the West Bank and Jerusalem, its confiscation of Palestinian land and demolition of Palestinian homes, its imprisonment of Palestinians as young as 12 without trial, and its blockade of Gaza. They called for the Australian government to rethink its one-sided support for Israel.

Those who signed the letter represent a range of backgrounds and include prominent Queens Counsels, former government Ministers and politicians, members of the arts community and church representatives including a former Anglican bishop, university professors and other academics. A petition opposing the visit on similar grounds has been signed by over 600 Jewish Australians. Labor leader Bill Shorten announced he would challenge Netanyahu about the settlement policy which he described as 'a roadblock to peace'. A demonstration has already been held in Melbourne against the visit with more to be held this week.

What seems to have been the tide-turner in Australia has been Israel showing its hand and declaring itself above international law by introducing new legislation on the settlements. It retrospectively legalised round 4000 settler homes built on privately owned Palestinian homes. At the same time the Israeli Prime Minister is himself under investigation for alleged corruption. All of which has been proving just a bit too galling for those on the Labor side of Parliament, the Greens and some independents, as well as many outside parliament who are now raising their voices against the Netanyahu visit. But not for the Liberal government and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who is doggedly going ahead with the visit.

Perhaps they should remember that Australia's connection with Palestine predates the creation of the state of Israel. It was where Australian soldiers who served in the two world wars in the Middle East were sent on leave and were graciously welcomed. Gaza was where Australia established a hospital base during the second world war and where the AIF headquarters were set up. It is where around 100 Australian soldiers are buried in graves looked after by Palestinians.

 


Andra JacksonAndra Jackson is a freelance writer and award winning refugee issue specialist.

 

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Topic tags: Andra Jackson, Netanyahu, Malcolm Turnbull, Israel


 

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Existing comments

Excellent piece Andra. My late father, a WW2 veteran, had fond, respectful memories of Palestinians whilst based in Gaza during WW2.
Louw | 23 February 2017


And the Jews were there before the Australians! I suggest you read the history of how Hadrian, who hated the Jews, renamed Idumea and Samaria, etc. Palaestina which eventually became Palestine. This took place in 135 AD after slaughtering thousands of Jews!
Elena Christe | 23 February 2017


The entrenched conflict between Israel and Palestine will not be fixed by outsiders. It must be fixed by the two parties concerned, even conceding that Israel is the more powerful of the two. An invitation to the Palestinian leadership to visit Australia may help Netanyahu to see that Australia, first and foremost, wants a resolution to this conflict. Friendships with both parties needs to be fostered. Making Netanyahu a pariah is not the way to go.
Pam | 23 February 2017


Thanks, Andra an important piece. I heard the catholic Archbishop Browning (president of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network) speaking on AM this week - another loud voice in support of the rule of international law, and the rites of the Palestinian people.
Andy Sugg | 23 February 2017


Good article and needed. In the week that an Israeli soldier was given 18 months prison for the murder of a wounded Palestinian man who lay on his back wounded. The Palestinian lay on his back 20 meters away. The Israeli soldier put his military weapon to his soldier, took aim and put a bullet into the mans head. Question for the readers : why are the West Bank settlements being formed in particular locations ? The answer is water. They are being formed over the known aquifer sites. The rest of the West Bank is more "worthless". If you speak to well informed national security officers from either Australia or the USA, this is the point they will make.
Patrick | 24 February 2017


Agree...would like to see an independent Palestinian state.
KathB | 24 February 2017


After what the Jewish people have gone through, particularly the evil actions of Hitler and the various Pogroms in Europe in recent centuries I have always strongly supported the right of the state of Israel to exist despite attempts by the Arab states for often dubious reasons, to eliminate it. However the illegal settlements and ill treatment of the Palestinians is very disturbing. It is a terrible shame that the current leaders have failed to learn from their own history. I am not very happy with the current visit of Netanyahu , nor his favourable treatment by PM Turnbull. Justice is urgently needed for the oppressed Palestinian peoples.
Gavin | 24 February 2017


Elena: I know the Jews were there before the Australians! I have a WW2 photo of my father, an army captain, with a little Jewish girl on his lap, in Tel Aviv.
Lynne Redknap | 24 February 2017


How often do we see that the oppressed become the oppressors? I agree with Pam on this issue.
mary tehan | 24 February 2017


What is especially disappointing is Malcolm Turnbull’s uncritical attitude towards Israel. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s position is no different. When the recent UN resolution regarding the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories was carried, the PM sought to accuse the UN of one-sided resolutions. How curious was that! It is the Israelis who are building these settlements. So, who else does the PM think should be condemned? The PM also said that a Palestinian state would probably be an exporter of radical Islam. Is he not prejudging things? And does this not show a bias on his part? How Australia can continue to support the actions of a country that continues to arrogantly and flagrantly defy the UN resolutions beggars belief. Where is our respect for the rule of law if we show no respect for the world body? - Fred
Name | 24 February 2017


Palestinians do not recognise Israel's right to exist. How does one ever negotiate with destructive attitudes like that. Israel existed 3 thousand years ago. You cannot airbrush that out of existence.
Alice Larkin | 24 February 2017


Andy, George Browning is not a Catholic archbishop but the retired Anglican Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn. Does it matter? Yes, I doubt a Catholic bishop would become Head of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network. Catholics, such as the Pope, have made statements in favour of the Palestinians, but they wouldn't want to be seen making common cause with some groups they may not be in sympathy with. One of these groups would be Hamas, which would certainly have sympathisers in APAN. Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel. They are part of the problem as is the Israeli government's policy of settlements on the West Bank/Palestinian Territory which precludes the establishment of an independent self-supporting Palestinian State.
Edward Fido | 24 February 2017


Bob Hawke and kevin Rudd and Bob Carr only supported Israel because of their links with the Israeeli labour party and Israeli trade unions. Israel was a socialist state up to the early 1990s and many people including Australians went to stay and work on Kibbutzim.
Stuart Lawrence | 24 February 2017


It is good to see that many are beginning to recognise that a great wrong has been perpetrated against the people of Palestine. The rights of the Palestinians do not have to be taken away because European Jews suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Many forget that the Palestine is made up of Christians,Jews and Muslims and all have suffered because of the Zionism of the current Israeli leaders. They also forget that the terrorist Zionist gangs (the Stern, Irgun and the Haganah entered Palestinian villages and massacred Muslim inhabitants. Thousands fled and the Zionists occupied their lands, houses and businesses. I heard this from a Palestinian Jew many years ago and it has been verified by soldiers who were there after World War 2. Many "righteous Jew" are opposed to the crimes being committed against the Palestinians and are speaking out too. Our leaders should stop following the US on this issue. We should be recognising the state of Palestine and supporting the agreed borders determined by the UN in 1948. This is the only solution that will lead to there being two states that can live side to side in peace. It is about justice and human rights.
Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 25 February 2017


There’s no incentive for the Palestinian autocracy in the West Bank to work meaningfully towards peace. In Orwell’s 1984, the regime derives its stability from being continually in a state of tension with another power. So too with the Palestinian autocracy. When peace comes, it’ll have to run the nuts and bolts of a country, and start standing for elections, which will be difficult because the blame for this, that and the other will be sheeted home to them. Now, they can blame everything on Netanyahu. It’s to the autocrats’ advantage that the peace process is dragged out until, eventually, exhausted Jews surrender to a single Palestinian state. Building settlements is meant to push them to do something. The Palestinian autocrats are cheating their own people and everybody else by dragging things out because they can have the titles and comforts of government without having to run anything. They are fakes. Perhaps there will be some movement when another Nobel Peace Prize photo-op turns up so it can look like they’re doing something, but, really, the goal is the single (one party, probably) state which they feel they have time to wait for.
Roy Chen Yee | 25 February 2017


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