The Australian Labor Party on Palestine

 The Australian Labor Party will be holding its triennial conference in Melbourne on July 24-26.  One of the motions to be considered is a revision on ALP policy towards Israel and Palestine.  Current ALP party platform states that

Labor is committed to supporting an enduring and just two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, based on the right of Israel to live in peace within secure borders internationally recognised and agreed by the parties, and reflecting the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to also live in peace and security within their own state.”

However, there are many within the Labor Party who feel that this is an inadequate platform and that Palestinian rights now need to be acknowledged in a stronger way.   At this year’s conference a resolution will be put forward to formally recognise Palestinian statehood, as well as discussing practical measures towards a just peace such as steps toward ending Israeli occupation and illegal settlements.  Passing such a resolution is not parochial politics. It does have international effects: it is noticed by the Israeli government and also influences the stance of other social-democratic parties around the world. If Labor comes back into government, this would also be the Australian position in internal forums such as the UN.
The AJDS will be represented at the ALP Fringe conference event in order to advocate for a real pathway for peace and to support such a motion.  Thus we propose that the ALP make diplomatic efforts to support an socially and economically viable, territorially contiguous, sovereign Palestinian State, with formal recognition of Palestine as a preliminary step.  A critical component of this is to look at the ways that Israeli occupation and increased development of settlements has damaged efforts for a just peace, and to provide a Jewish voice on why this outcome fails both people.  It is our responsibility to actively advocate for any move towards an end to the conflict.
The world will not stand by forever.  Support for Palestinian statehood and self-determination is an issue with mass support, from global diplomatic recognition, to ever spreading grassroots movements. Within this context Israel is becoming increasingly isolated, whereby not moving towards recognition of Palestine is fast becoming the real existential threat to Israel.
Why should Australia Recognise Palestinian Statehood?
Benjamin Netanyahu’s election-eve abandonment of the two-state solution stood as a political indicator of the shift to hard-right Nationalist policies in Israel.  It is becoming clearer to anyone with an interest in the conflict that internal Israeli politics has moved beyond the point that will allow Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate the establishment of Palestine without outside assistance.

  • We would join the majority of the world, who are increasingly recognising Palestine. Sweden’s recognition of Palestine in October 2014 resulted in other European governments passing advisory resolutions recommending that the appropriate head of government formally recognise the state of Palestine.  In a UK vote in 2014 MPs voted 274 to 12 to “recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel.” The EU, the largest trading partner of Israel, has come out recognising Palestine.  As of May, 2015, the Vatican recognises a Palestinian State, with official, legal diplomatic ties. The U.S’s unconditional support of Israel is also starting to wane, with growing disarray amongst US Democrats. Recent polls show 48% believe Israel is racist and only 47% believe Israel wants peace with its neighbours.
  • The UN, World Bank and International Monetary Fund, have affirmed Palestine’s readiness for statehood.
  • A step in legitimising Palestinian national aspirations would be an endorsement for Palestinian political leadership’s commitment to diplomacy, rather than violence. It would lend support to the achievement Palestinian self-determination through diplomacy and undermine tactics of armed resistance.
  • The toll of the security and military budget on Israel contributes to the growing deterioration of socio-economic conditions for Israeli citizenry, and the occupation further damages the economy and the increasing success of the global BDS campaigns.

Given mass global support for the creation of Palestinian statehood, at this point the question has become not why Australia should recognise Palestine, but why it hasn’t done so already.  Australia’s no vote lends support to an Israeli State that continues to infringe UN resolutions and is driven by policies that result in countless human rights violations.
Israel has alienated itself more and more, not just in the eyes of the international community, but its actions result in with growing condemnation from within Jewish communities.
Why should the ALP take a stronger stance?

  • Formally recognising Palestine and addressing the key criteria around establishment of a Palestinian State would be consistent with the ALP’s long standing support for two-state solution.
  • Australians support the recognition of Palestine. 57% of Australians supported a yes vote to advance Palestine’s full UN membership.  Only 8% of Australians say Australia should vote against an independent Palestinian state.
  • ALP State Conferences in NSW, Qld and South Australia have already voted to recognise Palestine
  • Palestinian recognition is in line with growing global foreign policy on the Middle East.
  • Israel is important to Australia. Australian politicians visit Israel more than any other country and have trade agreements with Israel.  They receive free travel to Israel, but not to the Palestinian territories.
  • Israel pays attention to Australian foreign policy.

Why the old excuses are no longer justified.
There seems to be majority support for a two-state solution in the Middle East. However when any action is taken to actually secure a Palestinian state, all sorts of reasons are suddenly raised against it:

  • Why should Israel support a Palestinian State when Palestine doesn’t recognise Israel’s right to exist?

One of Israel’s key public media messages is that it will not negotiate with a Palestinian representative body that doesn’t recognise Israel’s right to exist. The fact of the matter is that Palestine has recognised Israel.  The PLO formally recognised Israel in 1993 as the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. A recognition whereby Palestinians surrendered their political claim to approximately 78% of historical Palestine. Yasser Arafat wrote a letter to PM Rabin before the famous handshake at the White House. Despite many other countries not formally recognising the State of Israel, Palestine does.
Palestinian political factions have repeatedly acknowledged Israel’s right to exist.  When rival factions Fatah and Hamas came together to form a unity government in April 2014, Israel pulled out of peace negotiations despite reassurance that a unity government will recognise Israel[1], and that Hamas has agreed to Palestinian statehood on the 1967 borders.  The reason Hamas pulls back from official recognition of Israel is because it leaves a murky legal status around negotiations for the right of return.[2]
However, Palestinians object to the demand that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state, because this condemns  the 1.6 million or so Muslim and Christian Palestinians living in Israel (20% of the population) as second-class citizens. With the current political environment in Israel, this concern cannot be lightly dismissed, and many Israelis and Jewish communities worldwide support the notion of full equality and a rich multi-culturalism in Israel.

One side has lived up to its core commitment under a two-state solution – recognising the statehood of the other party.  Israel hasn’t.

  • But Palestinians don’t want peace

The “no partner for peace” argument has allowed Israel to consistently walk away from peace negotiations and suppress the realisation of Palestinian statehood.
Aside from the disproportionate powers of the IDF compared to Palestinian fighters and the resulting deaths and structural destruction occurring in Israel and the Occupied Territories, a more critical understanding of violence and struggle is that it is exacerbated by the disempowerment felt by Palestinians.  Violence erupts when diplomatic negotiations have only resulted in ever-worsening conditions for Palestinians. Kids throw stones because they have nothing better to do, because the education system can’t provide enough class space for everyone under a severely restricted economy.  Hopelessness and violence take root when even those who work hard to achieve an education cannot see prospects for themselves and their communities because the economy is crippled by the ongoing occupation and the enforced isolation of Gaza.
Recognising Palestine would not legitimise the security risks faced by Israelis, it would not legitimise rockets fired from Gaza, and it would not legitimise various Palestinian political parties.  What it would do is legitimise the right of ordinary Palestinians to establish political structures, to self-governance, to self –determination, to establish a diplomatically recognised structure that allows a framework for real justice from which to move forward from.

  • What will recognition achieve?

A Palestinian state takes us closer to ending the Israeli occupation that dispossesses and oppresses the 4.5 million people living in the West Bank and Gaza, over 2 million of whom are refugees.
Recognising the state of Palestine neither advocates nor eliminates any specific solution for the many challenging issues that remain to be resolved.  It will however reduce somewhat the power imbalance across the negotiating table between Palestine and Israel. The very fact that Palestine is an internationally recognized state increases its political stance and lends support for the aspirations of the Palestinian people living alongside Israel.
Recognising Palestinian statehood is not prescriptive.  Rather, it is a long overdue symbolic gesture lending support to the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and freedom from occupation.

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