BY PETER BALDWIN
July 8, 2017
Bob Carr is at it again, working hard to shift the ALP away from its (and his) previous position of strong support for Israel to one of seriously unbalanced support for Palestinian demands.
Talk about strange bedfellows. Carr has congratulated Greens senator Lee Rhiannon, a person he strongly criticised in the past, for her “very strong and very brave” efforts on this issue. High praise for someone who consistently reduces the Israel-Palestine issue to wooden Marxist cliches about “oppressor and oppressed”.
Later this month, the NSW Labor Party conference will debate a motion, strongly backed by Carr, calling on a future ALP government to “recognise Palestine”. The proposition will then go to the ALP national conference next year, at which it is expected to pass with the support of the national left and the NSW right.
This would represent a significant hardening of the position adopted at the 2015 national conference that called on a Labor government to “discuss” Palestinian recognition with other nations if the peace process stalled and Israeli settlement building continued. The 2015 resolution was itself a major change from the party’s earlier stance, which recognised that a Palestinian state could emerge only from a comprehensive negotiated settlement with Israel.
So, assuming this goes as expected, a Labor federal government would be formally bound to grant immediate and unconditional recognition to a Palestinian state.
But before turning to the merits of this proposition it is worth digressing to reflect on the political dynamics at work here that are symptomatic of some local and global trends that should worry not just Israel’s supporters but anyone concerned with the integrity of policymaking processes in our main political parties.
Last week Carr gave a talk on Palestine to a gathering of ALP members organised by the party organisations in the Watson and Grayndler federal electorates. The MPs for these seats Tony Burke and Anthony Albanese, frontbenchers affiliated with the right and left factions respectively, were present.
Carr’s talk consisted of an unbroken recitation of alleged Israeli villainy, devoid of even the slightest suggestion of fault on the Palestinian side. There was no reference to the repeated two-state offers by Israel and no acknowledgment of the genocidally hostile “negotiating partners” that Israel has had to deal with.
The whole tenor of the speech was grotesquely unbalanced, as must have been obvious to Carr and the senior MPs present. Yet there was not the slightest dissent from anyone at the meeting. Labor members of left and right now are starting to sound like Rhiannon.
So what is going on here? The obvious explanation is to point to electoral demographics, the string of western Sydney electorates with large Arab and Muslim populations, Blaxland topping the list with Muslims comprising about 25 per cent of the electorate.
But more significant than straight electoral demographics, I suspect, is the changing composition of party branches, some of which are drawn overwhelmingly from these communities, so that MPs may have more reason to fear loss of party preselection than defeat in the general election.
I can speak on this as someone who was closely involved in the “branch stacking” wars in the 1970s and 80s that for a time convulsed Labor branches in inner Sydney.
When it comes to branch stacking, there is nothing to match an industrial scale “ethnic stack” in which “community leaders” deliver the votes en masse. Local members are rightly terrified of this phenomenon, and typically fall over themselves trying to appease whichever group, or individual, is responsible.
The risk is that the Labor Party — and not just the Labor Party — becomes a vehicle for sectional interests. For a warning of where this can lead consider Britain, where extremism and anti-Semitism have become rife within the Labour Party, leading to two official inquiries and where party gatherings are starting to be segregated by gender in some areas.
Even the Oxford University Labour Club has been rent by disturbing allegations of anti-Semitism.
I don’t think it is possible to overstate the importance of this sinister development.
But returning to the Palestinian recognition issue, we need to ask what kind of Palestinian state would be being recognised?
Under customary international law, a proper state must meet certain criteria set out in the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (1933).
As well as having a permanent population and a defined territory, it must also have a single centralised administration that can assert its authority over and maintain order among the people in its territory without the assistance of another state.
Furthermore, it must be able to enter into relations with other states and be able to deliver on any international agreements it makes.
To suggest that a Palestinian state based on the West Bank and Gaza Strip could, under anything like present circumstances, go anywhere near meeting these requirements is patently ludicrous. Since the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 the territory has been controlled by the terrorist group Hamas, which seized control in an armed coup in 2007 that culminated with Palestinian Authority officials being hurled to their death off tall buildings.
The two factions remain bitterly divided to this day, with the Palestinian Authority controlled by Fatah recently cutting off electricity to Gaza.
Hamas has used its control of Gaza to mount repeated attacks on Israel, most recently in 2014, with appalling consequences for Israel but most especially for the people of Gaza.
The position of Fatah in the West Bank is tenuous, and increasingly devoid of any shred of democratic legitimacy. It is loathed for its corrupt and incompetent administration. The last legislative elections were held 11 years ago and were won decisively by Hamas.
In 2014 the Fatah administration was saved from being overthrown by a Hamas coup only by the intervention of the Israeli domestic security agency, Shin Bet, Israel reasonably taking the view that Fatah was the lesser evil compared to Hamas with its explicitly genocidal ideology.
A lesser evil, perhaps, but Fatah is still pretty bad. Back in 2015 the “moderate” chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, praised those who participated in a “stab a Jew” campaign that arose from a blatantly confected campaign suggesting the Israelis were about to change the status of the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa Mosque holy sites to allow Jews as well as Muslims to pray there. This was what Abbas posted on his personal website: “Al-Aqsa Mosque is ours … and they have no right to defile it with their filthy feet. We will not allow them to, and we will do everything in our power to protect Jerusalem … We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood.”
But back to Hamas.
Just a month ago Hamas leaders emphatically rejected the right of Fatah figures such as Abbas to negotiate on their behalf after the latter gave certain commitments when meeting US President Donald Trump: “No one has authorised Mahmoud Abbas to represent the Palestinian people and no one is obligated to any position he’s issued.” So much for the requirement that a legitimate state be able to enter into and adhere to international agreements.
Just recently Hamas released a new policy statement that some in the West hailed as replacing its genocidal charter that (in article 7) looks forward to the day when the last Jew can be exterminated. This is delusional: Hamas has made clear that the new document does not supersede the charter or alter it in any way.
Importantly, the new document that Hamas’s apologists in the West hail for its “moderation” makes clear that a state based on the West Bank and Gaza would be no more than a transitional step to the ultimate goal of Israel’s complete destruction. As the document spells out: “Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea.”
This chimes with numerous statements by senior Hamas officials through the years, such as this one from Mahmoud al-Zahar, who has served as foreign minister in Hamas’s Gaza regime: “We don’t want to establish an Islamic emirate in Gaza; we want an Islamic state in all Palestine.”
Zahar went on to say that if Hamas could move part of its assets to the West Bank, “we will be able to go for a successful battle that we will win it at the end.”
What does he envisage happening “at the end”? In 2010 he boasted about the anticipated annihilation of the Jewish people in these terms: “We extended our hands to feed these hungry dogs and wild beasts, and they devoured our fingers. We have learned the lesson — there is no place for you among us, and you have no future among the nations of the world. You are headed to annihilation.”
Let us suppose hypothetically that the international efforts to secure a Palestinian state under present circumstances were successful and that Israel was forced to concede a state based on the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem and withdraw all of its security forces. What might eventuate?
I think we can confidently predict that the results will not be pretty.
Consider the Gaza precedent. In 2005 the government of Ariel Sharon carried out a complete withdrawal of the Israeli civil and military presence in Gaza. The 9000 Jewish settlers were forced to leave, in some cases having to be dragged out.
There was a great deal of optimism at the time, the decision receiving high praise internationally. There was even talk of Gaza becoming a “Singapore on the Mediterranean”. A Jewish businessman financed the purchase of a complex of high-technology greenhouses that supported a thriving horticultural industry and donated it to the Palestinians.
We all know what happened. There was a vicious power struggle in which Hamas emerged triumphant over the Palestinian Authority and began the militarisation of the strip, building a huge subterranean infrastructure of tunnels, command posts, weapons and storage dumps below the densely populated areas of the strip.
Key military assets were deliberately placed near hospitals, schools and mosques to maximise the adverse publicity for Israel when the inevitable battles began. Since then, there have been repeated rounds of vicious conflict. Israel has been terrorised with rocket attacks and Gaza civilians suffered even worse as Israel retaliated. Parts of Gaza where the military assets were placed have been repeatedly reduced to smoking ruins, the economy crippled, the civilian population immiserated.
Now consider: who is likely to prevail in a fight for control of a Palestinian state based on the West Bank as well as Gaza between the rancid, corrupt and unpopular Fatah and the jihadist fanatics of Hamas? All recent precedent suggests the latter will be the “strong horse”.
Having thus secured control, Hamas would be in an incomparably stronger position to pursue its ultimate goal of completely destroying Israel.
It would have far more territory, much greater proximity to the main Israeli population centres, and much longer borders that would be impossible to secure to prevent infiltration of arms.
The result would be “Gaza writ large”, an unimaginable catastrophe for both Israelis and Palestinians.
Peter Baldwin was a minister in the Hawke and Keating governments.