Gillard’s actions speak louder than weasel words
November 29, 2012
Australia shows little appetite for Palestinian statehood, Peter Rodgers writes
Julia Gillard’s shame this week has a lot less to do with the AWU slush fund than her foolishness over the Palestinian Authority. The first is about grubby deal-making. The second is about how our national leader behaves on the world stage.
As Prime Minister of Australia, Ms Gillard apparently believes the way to Middle East peace is to deny Palestinian moderates a place at the international table.
Consider for a moment just what the draft UN resolution on Palestinian statehood will achieve. The Prime Minister’s own post-back-down media statement acknowledges it will merely ”accord non-member observer state status in the UN to the Palestinian Authority”.
In other words, the Palestinian Authority’s representation at the UN will change from being an ”entity” to a non-member state that can watch but not vote.
Yet the symbolism is important because it sends a message to the very people the Australian government claims it wants to encourage. It is, after all, the Palestinian Authority that Australia supports through the Australian representative office in the West Bank city of Ramallah. It is the authority Australia allows to fly the Palestinian flag in Canberra.
It is the authority that Australia helps through an official aid program, including a $120 million partnership arrangement signed in September 2011 with the Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad. (Yes, the Australian government actually calls him Prime Minister.) Those opposed to the statehood resolution claim it is premature, that it will raise false hopes and lead to disappointment.
We’ve heard this sophistry too many times before.
A year ago when a Palestinian statehood resolution was being considered at the UN, the Israeli government bemoaned such unilateral action by the Palestinians.
This was breathless hypocrisy from a state that has illegally planted about 500,000 of its citizens in the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in a calculated attempt to deny Palestinians a state of their own.
Palestinian politics is not pretty. It carries real dangers for Israel. But the dangers come from Hamas, which remains locked in a bitter struggle with the Palestinian Authority. The latter clearly recognises Israel’s right to exist.
Australia, along with many other states, mouths the need to support Palestinian moderates. But it struggles to stand up for this principle when Israel and the US demand that Palestinian statehood be formally opposed.
What will happen on the ground after the resolution, as seems likely, is approved? Not much really. Palestinian politics will still be riven; Israel will be no less or no more secure; it will still occupy East Jerusalem and slabs of the West Bank; Iran will still be providing succour to Hamas; the Palestinian Authority will feel a bit better about itself but will be no closer to serious negotiations with Israel, which in turn will claim the vote to be yet another example of Palestinian perfidy.
So why bother with such symbolism? The answer is that unless we can hold out the prospect of statehood to Palestinians, we condemn them forever as second-class citizens. And if we do that we condemn Israel to permanent uncertainty.
A Palestinian state has always been Israel’s best chance of long-term security.
The prospect of such a state coming into being under moderate leadership is more remote than ever. But when the chance comes along we should do all we can to nudge it in the right direction. If the best the US and Israel can offer is Pavlovian opposition, so be it.
Australia, shortly to take up a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, claims to strongly support ”a negotiated two-state solution that allows a secure Israel to live side by side with a secure and independent future Palestinian state”.
Yet our approach over the UN vote shows that we have little interest in making that future happen.
True, we’ve moved from an outright no to an abstention. That’s a bit like proclaiming the virtue of cowardice over utter stupidity.
Peter Rodgers is a former Australian ambassador to Israel and the author of two books on the Middle East.