July 4, 2017
Recognition of a clearly non-existent Palestinian state is one of the great global obsessions of our times. But Bill Shorten will be doing neither himself nor the Labor Party any favours if he allows himself to be steamrolled into going along with moves within the NSW branch of the ALP to dump 40 years of common sense on Israel and commit a future Labor government to unconditional recognition of a Palestinian state. There is a warning for him in the mess British Labour has been in over Palestinian statehood and the highly damaging perceptions of anti-Semitism and hostility to Israel fed by Jeremy Corbyn’s “friendship” with Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists.
For cynical reasons, probably not unrelated to winning votes among large Muslim communities in western Sydney seats, former foreign minister and NSW premier Bob Carr has been leading the charge within the NSW party, even though such matters should be left for the national conference. The consequence of what would be a “historic” move by NSW to drop decades of “instinctive” support for Israel would, as Simon Benson reported yesterday, likely lead to next year’s national conference doing the same.
Mr Shorten, who has a long history of friendship for Israel, must ensure that does not happen. The “it’s time to recognise Palestinian statehood” argument may appear plausible. But it’s not. How could it be when there is no such thing as a viable Palestinian state to recognise? International law may have many arcane aspects, but it is crystal clear on what a state needs to be before that can happen. It has to have defined borders: the present Palestinian “state” has none. It won’t have any until its leaders negotiate with Israel. It also has to have a stable government in demonstrable control of the state: the writ of Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority is limited to the West Bank and it has no authority in Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas, its arch-enemy.
Even the argument Kevin Rudd ran in February, demanding not just Labor but Australia recognise Palestine, is specious. He argued Australia should go along because 137 other states have already done so. That overlooks how all major developed nations — the US, Britain, Germany, France, Canada and others aligned with Australia — have declined to go along with the fantasy of recognising a non-existent state. The real mischief lies in backing Palestinian moves aimed at achieving statehood through the backdoor of winning numbers at the UN, rather than by negotiating with Israel. This tactic is damaging to what hopes there are for resumed talks between the Palestinians and Israelis and the two-state solution that holds the best hopes for peace.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on his visit to Australia in February, recommitted to talks without preconditions. Mr Abbas and his colleagues remain obdurate, using claims over Israeli settlements to shy away from talking. Underpinning their refusal is the conviction they can win statehood through the UN — the course advocated by the NSW ALP.
Abandoning bipartisanship on Israel would put our nation at odds with the Middle East’s only democracy — a country whose security and welfare are close to the hearts of many Australians. It should not go unnoticed that while Labor preoccupies itself with same-sex marriage, the move in the NSW branch implies going against the only country in the Middle East where a gay pride march can be held without participants being attacked. Fashionable obsession it may be, but Labor has a lot to lose if it allows the NSW branch to get its way.