Opinion: Why Australia should recognise Palestine

Larry Stillman and Harold Zwier

In her speech on 9 April to the ANU National Security College, “Securing our Future”, Foreign Minister, Senator Wong said, “the simple truth is that a secure and prosperous future for both Israelis and Palestinians will only come with a two-state solution. Recognition of each other’s right to exist. A Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel.”

British Foreign Secretary Cameron said, the UK “with allies, will look at the issue of recognising a Palestinian state, including at the United Nations. This could be one of the things that helps to make this process irreversible.”

We believe Australia should support such a move.

Australia has been a long-standing friend of Israel since its establishment in 1948. Putting aside the propaganda and rhetoric that permeates this debate, Israel and the Palestinians formally recognised each other when the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993. But 30 years have now elapsed since then without a resolution to the conflict. Israel is more entrenched than ever in its territorial expansion through settlements in the West Bank, and Palestinians are no less adamant about the need for Palestinian freedom and their right to self-determination.

The horrific attack by Hamas against the kibbutzim (small towns) in southern Israel on 7 October last year that left 1,200 Israelis dead and some 240 hostages taken back to Gaza, was followed by the war against Hamas that has so far left over 33,000 Palestinians dead. The response by Israel was and is devastating and deadly.

This environment of conflict hardly seems the right time to talk about a resolution of the conflict through the two-state solution. But if the events of the last 6 months don’t cry out for a new push for a resolution, what will?

Instead of the confrontation and tension we have seen between the Jewish community and those who support the Palestinians, people should step back and think about what sort of Middle East might emerge from the Israeli state and a nascent Palestinian state learning to live with each other. Taking this path will require Palestinians and their supporters to think about Israel beyond the stereotypes and caricatures so vividly painted in their media posts and demonstrations. Those supporters of Israel who have long argued against a Palestinian state will need to think about the 57 years of increasingly brutal occupation and the unsustainable future of the settlement project that steals land occupied by Palestinians and guarantees the violent confrontations that occur time and again.

Palestinians will also be aware that recognition of their state carries with it a significant move towards dealing with the Palestinian refugee issue within their state and with compensation, rather than solely through the “right of return” within the pre-1967 boundaries.

Formal recognition of Palestine by Australia and other allies will not, of itself, resolve the conflict, but it will lead to a political climate that helps to balance the relationship between Israel and Palestine and will push both towards a resumption of face-to-face negotiations. Australia and the rest of the international community will be in a stronger position to help this process by applying pressure to both sides. This will be confronting for Israel, but is also likely to renew debate within Israel about the brutalising effect of the occupation and the resulting damage to its own democratic processes.

Anyone with a serious interest will be aware of the difficulty that both Israelis and Palestinians face, and simplistic, ideologically-driven slogans far removed from the realities of political negotiation are no answer. Calls for a return to a pre-1948 situation or magical ideas about decolonization or one state are pipedreams. The necessary ideological and territorial compromises will inevitably be extraordinarily painful for Israelis, Palestinians and their respective diaspora communities. The task of a post Netanyahu Israeli government and freely chosen Palestinian government, supported by the international community, will be to guide their supporters towards a resolution that all can live with. Perhaps the ultimate outcome will be some form of condominium, or it may be two states. Let that emerge through negotiation, not ideological fixation.

Rashid Khalid, the eminent Palestinian intellectual has written: “there are now two peoples in Palestine, irrespective of how they came into being, and the conflict between them cannot be resolved as long as the national existence of each is denied by the other”. We agree.

12 April 2024

We urge the Australian government to maintain its support for Israel, for Palestine and a negotiated settlement to the conflict through recognition of Palestine.

Larry Stillman and Harold Zwier are on the executive of the Australian Jewish Democratic Society.