BENJAMIN Netanyahu’s visit to Australia was significant, both historically – the first visit by an Israeli Prime Minister – and for the future Australia-Israel relationship.
The relationship is founded on a strong base. Australia helped create Israel. In 1917 Australian soldiers helped defeat the Ottoman Empire’s 400-year occupation of Palestine. Two days later Britain declared support for a Jewish national home there. In 1922 the League of Nations approved the Mandate for Palestine, appointing Britain mandatory power and tasking it with creating a Jewish state. This took 25 years, the UN adopting a partition plan for a Jewish state and an Arab state in 1947. Represented by former Labor leader “Doc” Evatt, Australia chaired the UN committee and cast the first General Assembly vote.
So I was disappointed that, during Netanyahu’s visit, Labor luminaries Bob Hawke, Kevin Rudd and Gareth Evans called on Australia to formally recognise a Palestinian state. Symbolic recognition of a state when none exists is a hollow gesture that doesn’t confront the elephant in the room: Palestinian leadership doesn’t really support a two-state solution. Likewise, most Arab nations. They won’t recognise Israel’s right to exist.
The partition plan was a compromise in the face of Arab opposition to a Jewish state. Jews accepted the partition. Arabs didn’t, wanting an Arab state only. Arab nations immediately invaded Israel. Israel won that war, gaining territory. Arab nations invaded Israel again unsuccessfully in 1967. Israel again gained territory, including East Jerusalem and the West Bank (from Jordan) and Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula (from Egypt). Israel offered to return everything except East Jerusalem in exchange for recognition. Arab leaders refused, resolving instead to assist Arabs in those territories to resist Israel.
Since 1967 Israel has been under constant threat, surrounded by countries who would drive it off the face of the earth. It invaded South Lebanon in response to attacks, withdrawing in 2000 only to experience hundreds more terrorist attacks from that region.
In 1978, Israel returned Sinai to Egypt in exchange for peace. All Israeli settlements were removed and Egypt recognised the State of Israel.
In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, removing all settlements and handing control to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Gaza fell to Hamas who pursued its objective of destroying Israel. So Israel blockaded Gaza, allowing only humanitarian aid. Under Hamas, manufacturing and agriculture collapsed, unemployment rose to global highs and the economy fell into ruins. Gaza could have industry, trade and people commuting to Israel for work. Instead its people dig tunnels, plan suicide bombings and fire rockets.
Today the West Bank is administered in three areas. Area A, where most Palestinians live, has PA civil and security control. Area B has PA civil control and Israeli security control. Area C, where most Israeli settlements are, has Israeli civil and security control. Israelis and Palestinians live, work and do business together in and between Israel and the West Bank. But Israel restricts movement if required to manage security threats. These threats are encouraged by the PA who rewards Palestinians for attacking Israeli citizens with generous monthly payments. Last year, a Palestinian man killed a 13-year- old Israeli girl in her bed. He was shot dead. Fatah (the PA’s governing party) declared him a martyr. His mother called him a “hero”. His family now receive monthly payments.
During Clinton’s presidency, Israel and the PA came within a hair’s breadth of peace. Clinton blamed its failure on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Clinton asked both parties to negotiate within set parameters on disputed issues or walk away. Israel agreed, offering Gaza and 97% of the West Bank. Arafat refused. Clinton suggested Arafat “couldn’t make the final jump from revolutionary to statesman.” Arafat’s actions support this. By always wearing military uniform, he sent the message he believed in military victory, not a peace pact.
Clinton said the main hold-outs were the right of return (allowing Palestinian refugees since 1948 and their descendants to move to Israel) and Israeli control of the Western Wall. Palestinian demands on these issues reflect a refusal to recognise a Jewish state. Palestinian leadership believes the right of return will make Israel an Arab state by flooding it with Palestinians. Ceding Jewish claims to Jerusalem means acknowledging Jews’ ancient and continuing presence there, contradicting Arab propaganda that Jews are interlopers in Israel, not its first peoples who lived there for millennia before Arab colonisation.
Sinai, Gaza and the West Bank demonstrate peace won’t happen unless both sides agree and Israel’s right to exist is respected.
Palestinian leadership baulk at supporting a Jewish state. This intransigence has repeatedly stood in the way of statehood and weakened the Palestinian position. If not overcome, there’ll never be a Palestinian state. Israel has twice ceded settlements and land but will never cede its right to exist. Politicians shouldn’t expect it to.
Nyunggai Warren Mundine AO is chairman and managing director of Nyungga Black Group and a former national president of the ALP.