Labor push to recognise Palestine could be harming Palestinian cause

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Canberra Times opinion piece (original article here), by Bren Carlill

Last weekend, the Victorian state Labor conference passed a resolution calling on the Albanese government to recognise Palestinian statehood. This came a couple of days after former Labor foreign minister Gareth Evans published his case for doing the same.

The last few Labor national conferences have passed resolutions calling on the Labor government to make recognition a priority. There are those that want to include stronger language in the next national conference, this August.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Foreign Minister Penny Wong correctly maintain that a decision as to whether and when to recognise Palestine is up to the government, not national conference, and certainly not a state conference. Senator Wong also repeatedly says the government doesn’t support unilateral decisions on Israeli-Palestinian affairs; a call for recognition is inconsistent with this policy.

There is no doubt that many of the Labor Party faithful want to show solidarity with the Palestinians. But in their eagerness to do so, they risk hurting the Palestinian cause.

Given Evans’ standing, and that his opinion piece claimed to present a moral, legal and political case for recognising Palestine, it’s worth examining his arguments.

Notwithstanding rhetorical over-reach, the occasional clanging error (Egypt started the 1967 war, not Israel) and some obfuscation, he makes a compelling case for the right to Palestinian statehood, but not at all for recognition of statehood now.

He skims over the difficulties, such as the fact that control of Gaza and the West Bank has been split between two Palestinian factions for almost 20 years, so one would have to determine which Palestine one is recognising.

And his argument that recognition would improve the Palestinian mismatch in negotiations is very weak; Palestinians have always felt comfortable saying no to things they don’t like at the negotiating table.

But the main problem is what Evans ignored. Indeed, it is the key issue, though you won’t hear it from proponents of immediate recognition of Palestinian statehood.

It is this: The Palestinians are actively working against creating a state, or making peace with Israel.

Palestinians have said no to six separate offers of statehood since 1936 (plus a 1979 offer of autonomy). While turning down offers of statehood is their right, what matters is their refusal to present any counteroffers and, worse, the fact they’ve disavowed negotiations since 2014.

Further, and notwithstanding Evans’ concerns with Israeli policies, many Palestinian policies purposefully undermine future peace.

These include glorification of violence and rabid antisemitism in school textbooks. Policies that undermine peace also include financial reward for terrorists and their families, legal and societal punishment for those who wish to cultivate Israeli-Palestinian relations and the constant public reiteration of no compromise with Israel.

Additionally, the dictatorial regime established by the Palestinian Authority is ignored by Evans and the pro-recognition crowd. The absence of the rule of law (including endemic corruption, arbitrary arrests, and rampant militias) is a key obstacle to a viable state emerging. Australia should not reward the Palestinian leadership for oppressing the Palestinian people.

Those wishing for Palestinian statehood should be just as willing to criticise Palestinian actions that reduce the likelihood of that state, as they are Israeli actions for the same.

Recognition of statehood is a major diplomatic reward. After decades of policies that have undermined Israeli-Palestinian peace (not least refusing to negotiate for the last decade), recognition risks further convincing Palestinians that their current strategy is the correct path.

If recognition would help achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace (or even if it were just virtue signalling), the overwhelmingly majority of those in favour of peace – including the Australian Jewish community – wouldn’t be against it.

But it’s not harmless virtue signalling. It has real-world ramifications. Premature recognition of Palestinian statehood rewards bad behaviour and so would encourage more of it. It would make eventual, viable peace more difficult.

On top of all of that, we Australians are a pragmatic bunch. And the idea of recognising the existence of something that doesn’t exist (yet) doesn’t pass the pub test. Especially since there is a grand total of one Western democracy that has recognised this non-existent state. Were we to move on this, we wouldn’t be among likeminded countries.

Rather than empty (but damaging) gestures, Australian foreign policy should be carefully calibrated to encourage viable peace. Palestine should be built up, and anyone who seeks to inhibit a viable Palestine (or a viable Israel) should be sidelined.

A pragmatic approach requires us to call out – and certainly not reward – Palestinian policies and actions that are undermining the chance for viable Palestinian statehood and peace with Israel. The Labor government’s Israel-Palestine policy of being against all unilateral actions applies here, too. Instead of harmful virtue signalling, let’s expend our energy on creating the conditions that will help lead to the creation of an actual, and viable, Palestinian state.

Dr Bren Carlill is the Zionist Federation of Australia’s director of public affairs, and the author of The Challenges of Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian Dispute.

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