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At the NSW Labor Conference I spoke in opposition to a motion moved by Bob Carr concerning the Israel-Palestinian Peace Process. The motion lacked balance, was loosely and inappropriately worded, and seemed to equate Israel with Hamas.

In 1977 as a university student, under the tutelage of Bob Carr, I joined Labor Friends of Israel which Carr set up to fight for a social democratic defence of Israel. It was then I learned that any true friend of Israel is a friend of Palestine and a true friend of Palestine is a friend of Israel.

There is a long-standing NSW ALP tradition of support for Israel. Whatever my disagreements with the current government of Israel, that case remains impressively persuasive and strong. In contrast, Bob argues that “Israel has changed” and that their handling of the Palestinian issue is such that a hostile perspective is merited. I disagree.

With the 50th anniversary of the 1967 War approaching and the conquest of the Jordanian-administered West Bank, it is time to redouble every effort to strive for what nearly everyone in the Australian Labor Party believes in, namely a two-state solution. This is something to be achieved through negotiation, compromise, and a genuine spirit of reconciliation. The now stalled peace initiative by US Secretary of State John Kerry and similar efforts by the Quartet of organisations led by Tony Blair are aimed at coaxing all sides to reach an agreement for a final settlement.

The Quartet, set up in 2002, consists of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, and Russia. Its mandate is to help mediate Middle East peace negotiations and to support Palestinian economic development and institution-building in preparation for eventual statehood.

We are all appalled by the renewed conflict in Gaza. Many more deaths would have occurred if any of the several thousand Hamas rockets fired at Israel were more successfully targeted. Hamas is a terrorist organisation and recognised as such by Australia’s government. Hamas started the current conflict by firing rockets at the general Israeli population (not military targets) and with its operatives murdering three Israeli teenagers hitch-hiking a lift home from the West Bank. Hatred of Jews on religious grounds by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, together with a refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist as a country, makes peace in Palestine impossible.

Fanatics on all sides, including the extremist settlers now under arrest who burnt a Palestinian youth to death in “revenge”, need to be relentlessly fought against. Those settlers in Israel who actively believe, on religious grounds, that all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is Israel’s patrimony remain a serious to Israel’s national security, not just peace with the Palestinians.

 

As every word in this debate – particularly at party Conferences – is loaded, the attention to carefully crafting a sensible position is essential.

 

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BREAKOUT

Bob Carr’s Motion

MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS – Resolution adopted at NSW Annual Conference

  1. Deploring the tragic conflict in Gaza, Conference supports an end to rocket attacks by Hamas and an end to Israeli incursions, which have led to the deaths of innocent civilians.

 

  1. ALP Conference applauds the last Labor government for its commitment to a two-state solution in the Middle East and specifically:

-          voting to enhance Palestinian status in the General Assembly;

-          restating the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is occupied territory;

-          opposing Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land; and

-          joining the world community in branding settlements illegal under international law.

 

  1. NSW Labor recognises a Middle East peace will only be won with the establishment of a Palestinian state.

 

  1. The state of Palestine should be based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps and with security guarantees for itself and Israel.

 

  1. NSW Labor welcomes the decision of the Palestinian Authority to commit to a demilitarised Palestine with the presence of international peacekeepers, including US forces.

 

  1. If, however, there is no progress to a two state solution, and Israel continues to build and expand settlements, a future Labor Government will consult like-minded nations towards recognition of the Palestinian state.

 

Editor’s note: numbers have been inserted for ease of reference.

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Paragraph 1 is uncontroversial though it is strange that there is no further reference to Hamas and certainly none to its hateful Charter which refuses to recognise Israel, calls for its elimination, and declares: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, (evidently a certain kind of tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.” The Charter thunders on: “The initiatives, proposals and International Conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility.”

Paragraph 2 is problematic. The fact is Australia abstained (rather than voted against as Julia Gillard wanted) and did not vote for the UN resolutions enhancing Palestinian status in 2012.

On settlements, everyone except the respective extremists accepts that there will need to be land swaps as part of an international peace settlement. Until a comprehensive agreement is reached, the long standing position of Australia, along with nearly every other country, is that any acquisition of land by Israel will not be recognised until a final, binding settlement is reached with the Palestinian National Authority.

This body is more commonly called the Palestinian Authority , the interim self-government body established in 1994 to rule the emerging Palestinian autonomous regions of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a part of the peace agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the multi-party body formed in 1964 to fight for an independent Palestinian state.

Secret meetings held in Norway in 1993 between the PLO and Israel led to the signing of the historic Declaration of Principles, the Oslo Accords, in which the two sides agreed to mutual recognition and terms whereby governing functions in Palestine undertaken by Israel since the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 would be progressively handed over to a Palestinian council. The first intifada - an Arabic word literally meaning “shaking off”, in this instance, involving violent resistance – raged from late 1987 to 1993. It ended with what came to be known as the Oslo process, where both sides were to negotiate a permanent peace treaty to settle on the final status of the territories. The agreements called for the PA to take control over most of the occupied lands with security resting with the Palestinian police, although Israelis would be guaranteed freedom of movement.

Several militant Islamic groups, such as Hamas, denounced the Oslo Accords and have never been reconciled to this peace process. A return to the exact “1967 borders” is a position no one is arguing for. Not among the Israelis, the Palestinian Authority, the Americans, the Europeans. Israel, including the Israeli Labor Party, has long called for an adjustment to borders broadly along the “Green Line” of the 1949 truce agreements. The name of the border is a reference to the green ink used at the time to draw the armistice line on the map while the talks were going on between Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon.

Unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council in the aftermath of the Six-Day War of 1967, UN resolution 242 refers in the preamble to the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”. Those words have been overwhelmingly interpreted to mean that any annexation or settlement of the areas captured by Israel in 1967 would be illegal. Israel has disputed this interpretation. The UK government routinely refers to all settlements as “illegal settlements” whereas the United States calls them contrary to international law.

In both cases, it is clear that the language used is to encourage a final, binding settlement.  In every negotiation land swaps are discussed. The Arab League in April 2013 proposed for the first time “mutual and minor” land swaps as a central feature of renewed negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

In 1967 East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel. Its Arab inhabitants were given permanent residency and the prospect of citizenship. Domestically, the status of East Jerusalem as part of Israel was further entrenched by the 1980 Jerusalem Law declaring Jerusalem the eternal capital of the Jewish people. The declaration has not been internationally recognised. UN Security Council Resolution 478 adopted on 20 August 1980 declared the Israeli law null and void.

An Israeli capital in Jerusalem and a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem is the position endorsed by most peace advocates, including the Americans and European foreign ministers.

On 22 July 2014 in Brussels the European Union Council of Foreign Affairs Ministers resolved to support Israel’s right to defend itself, condemned Hamas and “call[ed] on Israel to halt continued settlement expansion, including East Jerusalem, especially in sensitive areas such as Har Homa, Givat Hamatos and E1”. E1 is the East 1 area located adjacent to East Jerusalem in the West Bank.

EU ministers honed in on the real fault-line in Israeli politics: those who support massive settlements beyond the Green Line, including East Jerusalem and areas deep inside Palestinian Authority territory such as Har Homa, Givat Hamatos and E1. The EU resolution does not emphasise the concept of all settlements as “illegal”. It focuses attention on those settlements Israel must surrender in a final peace process – and should now dismantle.

As for paragraph 3, I prefer “complete” rather than “won” for the reason that I expect a freely negotiated peace is the means to that end.

I agree with paragraph 4. Paragraph 5 praises the Palestinian Authority. If only those words were true, exactly in the way stated. This, however, is not an agreed position within the Palestinian Authority, though the Authority certainly has talked about a demilitarised zone. Israel’s position has been to oppose any Palestinian Army in an independent Palestine.

At the July 2000 Camp David summit, hosted by US President Bill Clinton with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, the Palestinians indicated that they would be willing to accept major constraints on the “right” to have their own military force. As we know from Lebanon with Hezbollah, and Gaza with Hamas, para-military forces outside the control of a state’s government are the problem.

In 2013 Mahmoud Abbas commented that in any peace settlement, the Palestinian state would consider being demilitarised. During negotiations with former Prime Ministers Barak and Ehud Olmert in 2000 and 2007 respectively, there was an in-principle understanding between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators to post international and American soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza for an unspecified period to help maintain security.

It is a huge stretch to say that this has been “agreed” as Barak’s proposals were rejected and Olmert’s abandoned, though he persevered in negotiations with Abbas. In Olmert’s case, he was left stranded after a collapse in Palestine governance arrangements. Since 2007 the Palestinians were politically and administratively split into a Hamas “government” ruling Gaza, which favoured on-going war with Israel, and a Fatah administration controlling the PA, but its authority only effectively covering the West Bank. Fatah, founded by Arafat, is the leading political party of the PLO.

Paragraph 6 is totally irresponsible. This last, loosely worded paragraph implies that if settlements continue – even if Hamas sticks to its guns with its current absolutist Charter and continues attacking Israelis – the ALP would unilaterally recognise Palestine. The resolution blithely ignores both what that means on the ground and ethically.

Some Wider Issues

I was a regular at Annual Conference for my first 21 years of membership. Not so in the last 20. I was surprised at how few foreign policy resolutions were sent in by party units for consideration by the 2014 Conference. There was nothing about Syria’s devastating civil war, nor the brutal conquests by the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – including the massacre of religious opponents, persecution of the historic, remnant Christian communities, and the introduction of sharia law including the mandatory circumcision of girls by excision of the clitoris. Nor anything about conflicts and outrages against human rights in Nigeria, Ukraine, North Korea, Eritrea, Sudan and a host of trouble spots. No doubt this is partly a reflection of the long term decline of the vibrancy of ALP branches, a theme this Newsletter has commendably addressed over many years.

At this year’s Conference, there was just one resolution on ANZUS, several on Julian Assange, and 33 on Israeli settlements and Palestine.

On the Saturday afternoon of the Conference it was good to see resolutions moved from the floor concerning cuts in the foreign aid budget, the need for free elections in Fiji, slack security at airports. They were in addition to Carr’s resolution.

There is obviously going to be a campaign led by Carr into the National Conference. As he stated to Arab Friends of Labor at the Sunday fringe event – “next step, Federal Conference”.

So long as Hamas is a significant force in Gaza and Palestine generally, so long as their Charter calls for the destruction of Israel, so long as they express a religious hatred for all Jews, and so long as their deeds continue to match their words, there can be no peace. Any motion that does not recognise this is unbalanced.

There is an intra-Palestinian political context to the current fighting. When in April 2014 Hamas agreed to join a unified government of Palestine, along with the PA leadership, there was agreement to elections supervised by Egypt within six months – three months from now. In Gaza, Hamas was unable to pay its bureaucracy – as Egypt no longer provided funds. The popularity of Hamas in Gaza was collapsing. On the West Bank, support according to opinion polls was in the low teens.

Cornered and facing electoral oblivion, Hamas ramped up its rocket attacks on Israel and provoked renewed war in Gaza. Its support has risen, however temporarily, but it still violently suppresses peaceful demonstrations opposing its rule. Funding has been gained from Qatar and indirectly through Iran. Abbas’ long term aim to present a moderate, reasonable face to the world, to be a true peace partner for Israel, is drastically undermined. Not recognising Hamas’ cynical strategy for what it is is to be wilfully blind.

Unsuccessfully I privately pleaded for the resolution to be amended. It should have reiterated long standing Labor policy of support for two states, side by side. UN Resolution 242 proposes each state has “the right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force”. To achieve this objective Hamas has to accept Israel’s right to exist. Both sides need to negotiate for peace and reach an agreement based on respect for human rights and a comprehensive settlement.

Rejection of a Bill Clinton initiative

One of the most tragic moments in the whole conflict was the rejection by Arafat of the Clinton Plan, endorsed by Barak, put forward in the dying days of Clinton’s Presidency at a White House Summit from December 19th to 23rd 2000 when the three leaders met to consider a final settlement proposal.

The Plan offered the Palestinians 97 percent of the West Bank (either 96 percent of the West Bank and 1 percent from Israel proper or 94 percent from the West Bank and 3 percent from Israel proper), with no cantons, full control of the Gaza Strip, with a land-link between the two. Israel would have withdrawn from 63 settlements as a result.

In exchange for the three percent annexation of the West Bank, Israel would increase the size of the Gaza territory by roughly a third. Arab neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem would become the capital of the new state, refugees would have the right of return to the Palestinian state and would receive reparations from a US$30 billion international fund collected to compensate them. The Palestinians would maintain control over their holy places, and would be given desalinisation plants to ensure adequate water.

Arafat had to concede Israeli sovereignty over only the parts of the Western Wall religiously significant to Jews (that is, not the entire Temple Mount) plus three early-warning stations in the Jordan valley. Israel was going to withdraw from the warning stations after six years. Abbas, then leading the negotiations wanted to accept but, to the anger of Clinton, Arafat overruled him. Renewed violence erupted back home.

Clinton’s term as President finished the next month, Barak was heavily defeated by Ariel Sharon in the February 2001 Israeli elections, Arafat died in 2004.  The second intifada started in September 2000 and only ended in February 2005, when President Abbas and Prime Minister Sharon agreed to stop all acts of violence against Israelis and Palestinians and reaffirmed their commitment to the road map for peace.

In August-September 2005 the Israelis unilaterally withdrew from Gaza and dismantled the settlements there. Sharon, who had been a hawk, left Likud in 2005 and formed Kadima, the party of renewal, attracting a number of former leading lights in Labor. A stroke completely incapacitated him in early January 2006. His successor as Prime Minister, Olmert, was defeated in 2009. Tellingly, in 2001 and 2009, the Israeli Right returned to office after peace proposals by moderate Israeli leaders were spurned by the Palestine Authority.

The present round of Gaza fighting undermines Abbas’ attempt to realise his long sought ambition to conclude the conflict and for Palestine to become a normal state. The fighting adds unpredictable volatility to the restarting of the peace process.

Israel should do more in supporting moderate Palestinian representatives. Given unbridled anti-Jewish propaganda in the Gaza and the West Bank – cartoons and children’s television show the joy of murdering Jews – there are grounds for wondering if the Palestinian leaders, many of whom say one thing in English and another in Arabic, seriously believe in peace and a two-state solution and are  capable of delivering this.

As Yitzak Rabin famously said: you make peace with your enemies, not your friends.

The extremists in Israel who do not respect Palestinian rights are a minority. Most Israelis support a two-state solution. Hamas’ intention is to radicalise Palestinians as well as Israelis. Cool heads are needed.

Despite the presence in the Israeli Cabinet of Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home Party and other rightist groupings in favour of unilateral annexation of the West Bank, the Israeli political establishment, including the current Prime Minister, overwhelmingly favour a two-State solution (albeit to varying degrees). Putting Carr’s position at its most generous, he seems to believe the whole world is being hoaxed by the far right in Israel.

Israel’s proportional representation system has a threshold quota of 3.25 per cent for election to the Knesset. PR encourages the formation of tiny parties and militates against the larger parties forming coalitions within themselves and gaining outright majorities. All governments since the collapse of the Labor establishment in the late 1970s have been diverse coalitions. As the current Right coalition includes parties favouring Greater Israel settlements, this means that such elements hold disproportionate sway in Israeli politics. Hence the steady advance of certain settlements beyond the Green Line.

Most Israelis hold to the view that settlements significantly inside Palestinian territory should be given back. Less than ten percent of settlements are in that category. Most settlers are not prone to psychotic mob violence. The EU publishes lists of settlements well beyond the Green Line that should be dismantled. This is undoubtedly a vexed and complicated issue with frustrations sometimes boiling over. So Carr is right to highlight that a permissive settlements policy is an important grievance.

But that is not the only or most important issue in the current conflict. The most significant, fundamental problem remains implacable hostility to the very existence of Israel by wide sections of Palestinian society and genocidal hatred of Jews by a bigoted minority of Palestinians. When Hamas activists sing “from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea, Palestine will be free,” what they mean is free of Jews.

The bind we are all in is that Hamas is locked in a deadly battle for leadership of the Palestinian people, ignoring calls from Egypt and the Palestinian Authority in recent weeks for ceasefires. They desperately want to kill as many Jews as possible. When they order their people in Gaza not to leave their homes, when they use civilians as human shields, when they hide weapons in and beside buildings such as schools and UN facilities, they are hoping that casualties of women and children will undermine international support for Israel and galvanise support for Hamas at home.

Mistakes are made in war and I sometimes wish Israel would show greater public sorrow when that happens. But the reader of this Newsletter should make no mistake. This is Hamas’ war and Israel is defending itself.

No responsible former Australian Foreign Minister should allow personal emotions and pent up rage against what he calls “the Melbourne Jewish Lobby” to cause him to miss the big picture. Labor should not be party to an old and recurring feature of Palestine-Israeli relations: never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Although the Carr motion was overwhelmingly carried on the voices, there were many voices raised against when a vote was called for. It is false to assert, as did some media, that the motion was carried unanimously.

Michael Easson studied international politics under Owen Harries at the University of NSW. In 1977 he joined Labor Friends of Israel, was Secretary or President of the NSW ALP Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee (1977-85), and served on the ACTU’s International Affairs Committee (1981-94). In 2008 he was a founding member of what is now known as the Australia-Israel-United Kingdom Leadership Dialogue. 

Michael Easson’s article about Bob Carr’s views first appeared in the ALP Southern Highlands Branch Newsletter – no.208 (August 2014)

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