Labor’s Palestinian shift wrong and bad politics, too


The Australian
July 4, 2017

Those in the Labor Party with a sensible view of the Middle East have not yet accepted that a proposed NSW resolution — demanding a federal Labor government immediately recognise a Palestinian state — will be translated into a similar, binding resolution at a federal ALP conference next year.

For one thing, the timing of that federal conference is not certain. It could well be held in the shadow of a looming federal election. That may inject a dose of realism into the party.

But the long-term trend within the Labor Party is clear: the internal culture of the ALP is trending leftward, and organisational Labor is becoming an anti-Israel party. This is damaging for Labor, as Israel still enjoys wide support in Australia and identifying with that acrid range of international forces that hate Israel can only hurt Labor.

It is wrong in principle and likely to be bad politics.

For the two-state solution to work and a Palestinian state to come into existence, both sides will have to compromise. The Palestinian leadership has shown no willingness to compromise on a range of issues, among them: the absurd claim that millions of Palestinian-descended people be allowed to settle in Israel proper; on recognising Israel as a Jewish state; on ending incitement to terrorism; on accepting that there will have to be Israeli control over borders until the state can prove it is not a deadly security threat to Israeli security; and much more.

Not only that, a good portion of Palestinian territory, the Gaza Strip, is controlled by Hamas, which Australian law recognises as a designated terrorist group.

So to call for the immediate diplomatic recognition of a Palestinian state is unrealistic, unhelpful, irresponsible and an example of the poisonous ideological extremism spreading through Western politics on the left and right like a spilt ink bottle spreads over a thirsty blotter.

All of this, paradoxically, provides a certain, limited, national security rationale for electing a Bill Shorten-led government. Given the change in the culture of centre-left parties internationally and the rise of left activism generally, Shorten is probably the last right-wing leader Labor will have for a very long time.

The abomination of Jeremy Corbyn, British Labour’s most left-wing, extreme leader in its history, means Australian Labor hard heads are unlikely to go any further down the road of changing how the leader is elected. The hybrid formula — 50 per cent of the vote to MPs and 50 per cent to a rank-and-file ballot — won’t be changed.

On national security, Shorten is the most reliable and sensible centre-left leader in opposition in the West, infinitely better than Corbyn or Bernie Sanders, say, in the US. Shorten’s defence spokesman, Richard Marles, is a national-security realist and a friend of Israel. Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong is entirely mainstream, and perhaps, with Chris Bowen, Labor’s key advocate of an open economy.

Shorten is also a political realist. If forced to declare some ridiculous recognition of a Palestinian state, he will do so. But he will run a pro-Israel government and a government that will maintain every element of the close friendship and association with Israel that Australian governments have intensified over recent years.

There is no doubt the culture of Labor is moving away from the hard-headed national-security approach Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and Kim Beazley embedded into the party after the disastrous leftism of Gough Whitlam. How much damage that internal party culture ultimately does to a Labor government remains to be seen.