Labor to cast Israel adrift after 40 years

BY SIMON BENSON
National Political Editor, Sydney

The Australian
July 3, 2017

Labor will formally abandon ­almost 40 years of explicit ideological support for Israel with a resolution expected to be passed at this month’s NSW state conference, a move that would ultim­ately bind Bill Shorten to an unconditional recognition of a Palestinian state should he ­become prime minister.

A dramatic shift in language from the NSW branch is set to force the ALP national conference to adopt the same position next year, effectively ensuring federal Labor goes to the next election with a foreign policy position of unqualified recognition for a state of Palestine.

A significant hardening in the position contained in a motion endorsed by the NSW conference foreign affairs committee, obtaine­d by The Australian, has elevated what was previously conditional support for a Palestinian state based on a negotiated peace settlement and consult­ation with other countries, to a policy of categorical and immed­iate recognition of statehood.

A senior source close to the drafting of the motion claimed it was a “historic” move by Labor to effectively drop decades of ­“instinctive” support for Israel, which was cemented in 1977 with the creation of the Labor Friends of Israel.

“It is inevitable that the same motion will go before the national conference next year and, with the numbers as they are, it would be adopted,” the source said.

But the move risks a bitter split within Labor ranks, with pro-­Israeli Labor MPs meeting last night to resolve to oppose it. The Labor Israel Action Committee said that motions came from individual local branches and did not represent the final NSW conference position, ­despite the foreign affairs committee recommending that it be supported.

NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel deputy chairman and Labor Israel Action Committee patron Walt Secord said LIAC opposed the motions. “We see them as one-sided and do not promote a peaceful resolution to the conflict resulting in a two-state solution,” he told The Australian.

“We support a two-state solution with a Palestinian state, but the proposed motions need to be amended to include a recognition of Israel. I stressed the proposed motion in the official conference book is not final.”

While not regarded as a leadership issue for Mr Shorten — who faced pressure from Labor elders in February for a policy shift ahead of a meeting with ­Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — the move will cause friction with the Jewish lobby, which he has traditionally been close to.

NSW Jewish Board of Deput­ies chief executive Vic Alhadeff said: “Refusing to expressly recog­nise Israel’s right to exist, and ignori­ng the position of two states for two peoples, is a disturbing and backward step which will do absolutely nothing to bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

“NSW Labor has long supported a two-state solution and it would be unfortunate in the extreme­ if a fair and constructive resolution is not reached.”

Despite Mr Shorten’s own Victorian faction, Centre Unity, now being the only significant pro-Israel­i bloc left in the ALP, the Labor leader — who in February faced calls by Kevin Rudd and Bob Hawke for Palestinian recognition — is believed not to have lobbied against the NSW motion, recognising that with the numbers backing it within the party membership­ and the caucus, a policy shift at the national level was unavoidable.

The NSW motion, obtained by The Australian, marks a fundamental shift in language from the national platform and the previous NSW position, which called for a Labor government to consult first with other countries on recognition if no progress had been made toward­s a peace settlement.

The motion states conference “notes previous resolutions on Israel­/Palestine carried at the 2015 ALP national conference and the 2016 NSW Labor annual conference and urges the next Labor government to recognise Palestine”.

In 2014, following a motion sponsored by then Labor foreign minister Bob Carr, NSW Labor adopted a position that if there was no progress to “a two-state solution, and Israel continues to build and expand settlements, a future Labor government will consult like­minded nations towards ­recognition of the Palestinian state”. The Tasmanian ALP state conference passed a similar but more strident resolution at the weekend, affirming that the next federal Labor government would ­“immediately recognise the state of Palestine”.

The same words are expected to be adopted by the Queensland state conference, which will be held on the same weekend as the NSW conference, July 29 and 30.

The South Australian Labor government used its majority to pass a motion last week that also recognised a state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, marking the first formal recognition by a parliament in Australia.

A senior Labor source said it was now impossible for next year’s national conference to not adopt the same policy, with the numbers on the floor of the national­ conference dominated by the left, which on this issue would now be supported by the NSW right.

A source close to Mr Shorten said that the Labor leader, who has been a staunch defender of Israel, now believed Labor’s unequivocal support for Israel could not be maintained, with the issue of settlements­ still unresolved.

“He did not lobby against it,” the source said. “He is smart enough to know it is happening and is allowing it to happen.”

The biggest push has come from within the NSW right, includi­ng some of Mr Shorten’s most committed supporters, who are also facing pressure within their own branches to support a stronger resolution. Mr Shorten expressed Labor’s support for Israe­l at the time of his meeting with Mr Netanyahu but had also raised the contentious issue of settlem­ents in a meeting with the Israeli leader.

“We want to see Israel safe and secure of its borders; we support the rights of the Palestinians people­ to have their own state,” Mr Shorten said at the time.

The outgoing vice-president of the Queensland ALP, Wendy Turner, welcomed the move by NSW and said that momentum was now there for the national conference to adopt the policy. “This issue has really awakened the rank and file,” she said. “Just as we recognised ­Israel’s right to exist, we need to recognise a Palestinian state.”

She confirmed that the Queensland conference would seek to re-affirm its resolution passed last year for a federal Labor government to unconditionally recognise a state of Palestine.