Penny Wong says NSW Labor won’t dictate party’s position on Palestine

BY GABRIELLE CHAN

The Guardian
3 July, 2017 

Penny Wong has said a New South Wales Labor conference motion that urges the next Labor government to recognise Palestine would not determine Labor’s federal position.

The shadow foreign affairs minister said Labor had long supported and continues to support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“This is a motion before the NSW conference and is not determinative of the position of the federal parliamentary Labor party.”

The motion “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”.

The motion will be put to the floor of the NSW conference on 29-30 July and while those close to the motion suggested it had the numbers to pass, opponents suggested it would not pass in its current form.

In recent years Labor has adopted a more pro-Palestinian stance, but the ALP national conference in July 2015 passed the strongest resolution yet seen at the national level. That resolution was resisted by senior players in Bill Shorten’s faction, the Victorian right.

Since that time, senior Labor elders, including a former prime minister, Bob Hawke, and two former foreign affairs ministers, Bob Carr and Gareth Evans, have argued for a policy change to recognise Palestine.

The Labor MP for Melbourne Ports, Michael Danby, accused Carr of orchestrating the motion to force Labor policy into a stronger stance and underlined the motion had not been determined.

He attacked the former minister for hiding in the Australia-China Relations Institute, which Danby described as his “Beijing-funded faux thinktank”.

“Why isn’t Carr getting useful resolutions passed at state conference on China’s island fortifications that jeopardise Australian trade in the South China Seas?” Danby said.

“Bob Carr is trying to orchestrate a policy that would force opposition leader Bill Shorten and foreign spokesperson Penny Wong to do his will.

“How can Australia recognise a regime, when the Palestinian Authority won’t even pay the electricity bill for the Gaza sewage works (run by Hamas), despite receiving billions of dollars in foreign aid?”

The deputy Labor leader, Tanya Plibersek, said she also supported the current federal Labor position, which states that, if there was no progress on a two-state solution, Labor would work with other likeminded countries on the timetable and preconditions for the recognition of a Palestinian state.

“It’s fine to have these debates at state conference,” she said. “Of course, the state conference doesn’t determine Labor party foreign policy – that’s done by the federal parliamentary Labor party and the federal conference of the Australian Labor party.”

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Asked if that meant she would vote against the motion, Plibersek said: “I will be supporting the federal Labor parliamentary party position on the recognition of a two-state solution.”

But it is understood Plibersek welcomes the discussion about the recognition of a Palestinian state at the NSW conference.

NSW Labor MLC Walt Secord, the NSW parliamentary friends of Israel deputy chair and Labor Israel action committee patron and executive member, said the motion was not balanced.

“We see the motion as one-sided and does not promote a peaceful resolution to the conflict resulting in a two-state solution,” he said. “We support a two-state solution with a Palestinian state, but the proposed motions need to be amended to explicitly include a recognition of Israel.”

The recent Tasmanian Labor conference passed a stronger motion to “immediately recognise the state of Palestine”.

Peter Wertheim, executive director of the executive council of Australian Jewry, said the motion was being driven by internal politics and had little to do with the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

“The motion omits any express recognition of Israel’s right to exist in peace and security, and ignores the principle of two states for two peoples,” Wertheim said. “This is a disturbing and backward step which will do absolutely nothing to bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflict.”

Wertheim said even though the motion urged rather than bound the government, its symbolism was important.

“There is no plausible way to play down the significance of this motion merely by emphasising its non-binding effect,” Wertheim said.

“Symbolism matters. For many years, the ALP policy platform has sensibly supported a two-state solution, and it would be unfortunate in the extreme if this principled policy position is eroded.”