“This weekend the ALP [Australian Labor Party, led by Bill Shorten] will hold its 47th National Conference in Melbourne. As the highest decision-making forum of the ALP, the conference will set the content and tone for a raft of key Labor policies for the next three years. One of the most hotly contested issues to be addressed is whether to recognise the state of Palestine…. Last year the British Labour Party – along with the rest of the British parliament – voted to recognise Palestinian statehood. It is time for the Australian Labor Party to follow suit.”
So ran, inter alia, an op-ed last week on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC’s) Religion and Ethics site by postgraduate (“graduate student” in American terminology) Paul Duffill of the University of Sydney’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies. (http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2015/07/23/4279347.htm)
Voilà! Swift to lend his support to Duffill’s article was the Centre’s director, Associate Professor Jake Lynch, who added a nasty little augmentation:
“Another form of necessary pressure can be exerted from outside governments and governing parties such as Labor, by joining the growing worldwide campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. Hence CPACS' [the Centre’s] response to the call for the academic boycott, by withdrawing cooperation from institutional links with Israeli universities. That, too, is not an alternative to dialogue as often misleadingly claimed, but conceived in order to bring about propitious conditions for it.”
Sounds like gun-to-the-head enforcement to me. But I digress.
The ALP conference meets every three years and decides on party policy, at least nominally. The ALP is dominated by factions – a byzantine and complicated situation – and the resolution that was due for debate on Sunday, 26 July, spearheaded by New South Wales right-wing powerbroker Tony Burke in consultation with the party’s shadow foreign affairs minister (since 2013) Tanya Plibersek – a Left faction member who in 2002 infamously said “I can think of a rogue state which consistently ignores UN resolutions whose ruler is a war criminal: it is called Israel and the war criminal is Ariel Sharon. Needless to say, the US does not mention the UN resolutions that Israel has ignored for 30 years; it just continues sending the money”) – was supported by both the left and right factions of the party in New South Wales. But it was staunchly opposed by the party’s right faction in Victoria, a faction which includes such prominent pro-Israel Jews as Michael Danby and shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus.
Reported the ABC’s political editor Chris Uhlmann last week (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-07-23/alp-conference-matters-more-than-most-chris-uhlmann/6642366):
‘In 2014, NSW Labor [on Burke’s initiative] adopted a resolution on recognising a Palestinian state.
It said that if "there is no progress to a two-state solution, and Israel continues to build and expand settlements, a future Labor government will consult like-minded nations towards recognition of the Palestinian state". It might seem like a small step, but it is a big deal for some and is furiously opposed by the diminishing band of ardently pro-Israel Labor MPs and senators. Expect a similar resolution to be debated, and probably passed, at the conference. What is intriguing about this fight is that it is not a Left-Right divide. It is a NSW resolution, supported by both factions in that state. It will be vigorously opposed by the Victorian Right, which happens to be Mr Shorten's power base. One side-effect of Labor's growing embrace of a Palestinian state is that it is losing donations and support from the Jewish lobby, a group that once staunchly backed Labor.’
In fact, there was, at the conference on 26 July, a somewhat watered down version of what was expected. As summarised by Sky News:
‘A future federal Labor government would consider recognising a Palestinian state if there was no progress in the next round of the Middle East peace process. Labor factions reached a deal at the ALP national conference on Sunday on the wording of a resolution on the issue, but ditched making a formal change to its policy platform…
The motion was carried with applause.
It recognises that any resolution of the situation should be based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, a timeframe to end Israeli occupation, demilitarisation of Palestinian territory, agreement on a solution to Palestinian refugee issues and resolution of the issue of Jerusalem's final status.
It also recognises settlement building by Israel in the Occupied Territories may undermine a two-state solution and calls for Israel to stop all such settlement expansion to support renewed negotiations toward peace.
The conference rejected the boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.
Ultimately, the motion was a compromise in the wake of the Left and Right factions putting up separate resolutions.’
Proposed by Tony Burke, and seconded by Queensland delegate Wendy Turner, the resolution goes as follows:
“The Australian Labor Party Conference:
Affirms Labor’s support for 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.
Deplores the tragic conflict in Gaza and supports an end to rocket attacks by Hamas and the exercise of the maximum possible restraint by Israel in response to these attacks.
Supports a negotiated settlement between the parties to the conflict, based on international frameworks, laws and norms
Recognises in government Labor retained its commitment to two states for two peoples in the Middle East and specifically
Did not block enhanced Palestinian status in the General Assembly;
Restated the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is occupied territory;
Opposed Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, recognising that a just, peaceful and enduring resolution will involve a territorial settlement based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps;
Held that the settlements are illegal under international law.
Recognises that any resolution will be based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, a timeframe to end Israeli occupation, demilitarization of Palestinian territory, agreement on a solution to Palestinian refugee issues, and resolution of the issue of Jerusalem’s final status.
Recognises that settlement building by Israel in the Occupied Territories that may undermine a two-state solution is a roadblock to peace. Labor calls on Israel to cease all such settlement expansion to support renewed negotiations toward peace.
Rejects the boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.
Condemns the comments of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during the recent elections where he ruled out a Palestinian state and further condemns his appeals to race during the campaign.
Recognises a lasting peace will require a future State of Palestine to recognise the right of Israel to exist and the State of Israel to recognise the right of Palestine to exist.
Recognises the special circumstances of the Palestinian people, their desire for respect, and the achievement of their legitimate aspiration to live in independence in a state of their own. This is a cause Labor is committed to.
If however there is no progress in the next round of the peace process a future Labor government will discuss joining like-minded nations who have already recognised Palestine and announcing the conditions and timelines for the Australian recognition of a Palestinian state, with the objective of contributing to peace and security in the Middle East.”
No joy for Lynch and his fellow BDSers, then. Still, it was enough for The Guardian Australia in its live coverage to bleat:
“A decision by a small bloc of the right in Queensland to vote with the left on the recognition of Palestine undercut a carefully calibrated deal on a platform amendment struck between the NSW right and the Victorian right.
The end result was the Labor conference passed its strongest ever motion on the recognition of Palestine.”
And of course there is a sidelight on this issue which does not reflect well on the ALP – the latest outbursts concerning "the Israel lobby and its quite objectionable control over Australian policy" by former Australian foreign minister Bob Carr, of the New South Wales right faction, whose speech a fortnight ago at the Australian National University (ANU), co-hosted by the Centre for Arabic and Islamic Studies, Australians for Justice and Peace in Palestine (AJPP) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) – the latter two being virulently anti-Israel – has been described and roundly condemned by, among others, an ANU professor present who noted Carr’s “demeaning and scoffing at members of the Jewish community” who are active on Israel’s behalf: ‘His tone, focus and implication was that the activity of those people meeting and lobbying the government of the day was "disproportionate" and improper”…’ : see AIJAC’s report at http://www.aijac.org.au/news/article/carr-s-offensive-anu-speech
By the way, I was amazed to see, on the multicultural SBS (Special Broadcasting Service) website, “Palestine” listed as the second item on “key issues” to be considered by the ALP conference, along with, in numerical order, asylum seekers, climate, same sex marriage, party reform, gas reservation, China free trade agreement, and Socialist objective. No mention of what should be one of the key issues confronting any Australian party at the present time, especially a party of the left like the ALP: housing affordability. For in this country’s capital cities, particularly Sydney and Melbourne, house prices have skyrocketed to shocking levels unimaginable even a decade ago. This national scandal has been exacerbated by overseas buyers outbidding locals, and has condemned countless people to perhaps an entire lifetime of renting – this in a country in which short-term leases of six months to one year are the norm, where renters have few rights, and where a tight, unregulated private rental market is a landlord’s paradise. The situation is reaching tinderbox proportions, but none of the established parties appears interested in addressing it – presumably because politicians across the political spectrum are property-owners themselves and are delighted to see house prices climbing inexorably.
It is precisely this disgraceful situation – one of immense distress to an entire generation of young people, which is bifurcating Australia into a society of “haves” and “have nots’ as never before – that should be high on the agenda of the ALP. Not the status of Palestine, and certainly not awarding statehood without due negotiation with Israel to recalcitrant Palestinians.