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November Opinion Piece

Dr. Ron Weiser AM 

The anniversaries continue.

And more than a few involve Australia, and in a significant way.

Just having come off the high of the centenary of Beersheva in Israel, this week we celebrated 70 years since the historic United Nations vote on partition known as Resolution 181.

In particular, at a function in Parliament House in Canberra hosted by the Chair of the Australia-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group, Senator David Fawcett, we marked Australia’s role in ensuring 181 came into being.

Australia’s role was critical in the passing of this resolution and in the lead up to it.

The Australian Minister for External Affairs, Doc H.V. Evatt, in effect played a masterful chess game with UNSCOP – the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine.

UNSCOP was the final committee set up to discuss the vacuum to be left by the British decision to leave Palestine and was made up of representatives of 11 countries – Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, India, Iran, The Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, Uruguay, Yugoslavia.

7 countries voted for the Jewish preferred solution of partition, 3 supported the option of a one state solution (a position rejected by both Jews and Arabs) and only 1 country – Australia – abstained. The idea was to give Australia a leading role as it was the only country to remain “neutral”.

The UNSCOP majority view stated:

“Only by means of partition can these conflicting national aspirations find substantial expression and qualify both peoples to take their places as independent nations in the international community and in the United Nations.”

Evatt was both a genius and a risk taker – but his strategy worked.

On the 29th of November 1947. The United Nations approved the Partition plan by 33 votes to 13 with 10 abstentions.

That is, the “two states for two peoples” plan came into being.

A plan that for 70 years Israel has accepted and the Arabs have rejected.

This month also marks a year since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.

And we await what is apparently imminent, his plan for the Middle East.

For 70 years the world powers have pretty much stuck with their goal of two states for two peoples. The main argument they have had with the players was about who to blame for its non implementation.

Israel, remaining faithful to the principle as an end game, and having made successive offers, including with detailed maps, feels that it has been mugged by experience.

Many examples abound, but for instance, in the year 2000 the United Nations delineated the “Blue Line” which is the internationally recognised border between Israel and Lebanon under UN Security Council Resolution 425. Israel at some points moved its front lines by mere metres to comply. The problem is that Hezbollah which does not respect any such border, repeatedly violates it with acts of terror and missiles.

Ceding of territory such as the disengagement from Gaza in 2005, have been met by terrorism and again, savage missile attacks.

Syria is in effect a forward Iranian line approaching Israel’s borders without the US being troubled enough to intervene, leaving Russia as the king maker there.

In parallel, the general map of influence in the Middle East has radically changed with failed states, fluid borders and leaders with tenuous grips on power. In many cases, these leaders only holding on by use of their military against their own people as the Sunni and Shi’ite worlds go to war.

The Palestinians are in a way, victims too – both as minnows in the larger Moslem divisions and of their own leadership.

Remarkably Israel continues to stand alone as a beacon of democracy, stability, human rights and at the same time, bringing increasing prosperity to her people.

40 years ago Sadat came to Israel and addressed the Knesset.

Today the Palestinian leadership expects Israel to take as a confidence building measure and an example of their desire for peace, the payment of stipends and pensions to the families of terrorists who they incite to commit despicable acts of murder and injury against Israeli citizens.

So, against this backdrop what will President Trump propose?

Will he stick to the two state plan plus or minus, drop it entirely, suggest something radically new?

Because Trump emphasises at the moment that he is not imposing anything but is only reflecting what all sides are proposing, it is safest to assume that some form of the two state idea will be the basis for his proposals.

He is clever enough to make all parties feel loved.

To Israel, US ambassador David Friedman, relays the warmth and understanding Trump feels for her and continually assures the Israeli people of what a reliable friend he will be.

On Tuesday this week, US Vice President again brought out a sweetener saying Trump is “actively considering” moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

But at what price?

In any case, a day later the White House press secretary said: “This is a premature report. We have nothing to announce.”

Kushner, depending on who you believe, has a much reduced role and influence today in the Trump administration with an almost exclusive focus now on the Middle East, and he seems to be carrying Trump’s messages to the Saudis.

Greenblatt on the other hand appears to be the main conduit to the Palestinians.

When the State Department announced it was closing the PLO office in Washington, the Palestinian Authority threatened to cut ties with the US and Trump reversed the earlier decision and kept the office open.

King Abdullah II of Jordan, a person who has great influence on Trump and an open door to all Administration officials, spent the week in the US with one main message – without a Palestinian State there would be “violent unrest in the Middle East” and he called on the US “to intensify efforts to relaunch serious and effective negotiations based on the two-state solution”.

All of this one can presume is pre “The Deal” jockeying. The game is unchanged, everyone is trying to please Trump before the deal is made public in order to try and have as much of their viewpoint included.

Post presentation, the game will be about not getting blamed for collapsing it. Should that happen.

Perhaps the most interesting event this month was the Israeli Chief of the IDF’s interview in the Saudi press to an Arab journalist. Gadi Eisenkot almost never gives interviews in the Israeli press and is known for not giving interviews to the foreign press. So, this was highly significant.

Whatever the Arab world thinks of Israeli political leaders, they greatly respect her military ones.

The young and rising prince in Saudi Arabia wanted to tell his people about the rapidly increasing dangers of Iran and her tentacles spreading over the Middle East – and therefore the urgency of the newly openly assertive Saudi foreign policy. Who better to reinforce this and confirm the facts than a credible figure in the Arab world like Eisenkot.

Ironies abound.

The increasingly public relationship between Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel may go everywhere and nowhere.

For Trump, the question is can the wanna be deal maker give enough of something to everyone?

Which also means convincing the participants that what they give up will be worth the price externally and at the same time, sellable internally to their respective audiences.

Dr Ron Weiser AM

Dr. Ron Weiser AM is the Zionist Federation of Australia Public Affairs Chairman and the Hon Life President of the Zionist Council of NSW.