Friday, 10 June 2011

{EOB}An Australian's Perspective: Stop Blind Support Of Israel


Australia needs to take a more balanced approach to the conflict in the Middle East.
 
Parliamentary motions, such as that adopted by our federal politicians on June 2, affirming Australia's unconditional solidarity with Israel, represent the manipulative influence of agents of a foreign country over Australia's democratic practices. But perhaps more importantly they highlight extreme levels of indifference, or ignorance, or both, among federal parliamentarians towards the continuing mistreatment by Israel of the civilian Palestinian population in Gaza and the West Bank. 

Israel's attempt to make permanent its illegal occupation of Jerusalem and the West Bank by continuing to build settlements there has had a negative effect on the chances of achieving a negotiated settlement. Yet, still our Parliament adopts motions which ignore both the human rights abuses to which Palestinians are subjected on a daily basis, and Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian land.

Why is this so? Perhaps they are blinded by the Israeli mantra, repeated so often it has become a cliche and a deceitful one at that that Israel is the only democracy in the region, the last bastion of Western-style decency and enlightenment in a region where Israel is surrounded by autocratic regimes hostile to it. Israeli Arabs will have their own view of Israeli democracy and it won't accord with the view apparently adopted by most Australian parliamentarians. And ask the left-of-centre parties about Israeli democracy. 

The last time a Labor leader, Yitzhak Rabin, looked like carrying through a peace settlement, he was assassinated (in 1995) by a man with links to the extreme right. In any case, the current popular Arab awakening is rapidly changing the political landscape of the region. The mantra is tired, and its invalidity was on show for all to see the day Hamas was voted into power in Gaza in 2005. Perhaps our politicians were looking the other way at the time.

These motions also seek to affirm a close and ''unique'' relationship between Australia and Israel. But what is the essence of that relationship? Two-way trade between the two countries (worth $788 million in 2010) is dwarfed by the trade Australia has with its Arab trading partners ($10.76 billion in 2010). We may have some intelligence links with Israel designed to feed Australian concerns about the threat of international terrorism, but these are not significant to Australia's broader strategic interests.

There are undeniably strong people-to-people links through Israel's connections with the Jewish Diaspora in this country. But such links appear to be channelled primarily towards securing Australian political support for Israel, its illegal occupation of Palestinian land, and its mistreatment of Palestinians.
If asked to reflect on the relationship Australia has with Israel, most informed Australians would first and foremost recall last year's infamous forged passports scam in which Israeli intelligence illegally duplicated the passports of living Australian citizens who had visited Israel. That's a fair indication of the value Israel attaches to its relations with Australia. 

Those of us in the Australian community who voice our concern for Palestinian rights and our dismay at the outrageous behaviour of Israel are neither anti-Israeli nor anti-Semitic. We call for a principled approach by the Australian Government in upholding human rights norms across the globe, with no carve-outs for the sake of one particular country or relationship. 

We will not be fooled by an Israeli Prime Minister who gets up before the United States Congress and claims that Israel is not an occupier in the West Bank. And we do not expect our federal politicians who represent us in the Parliament to be fooled by that sort of nonsense either.

The Australian Government has much to do to rebalance the relationship we have with the parties to the conflict in the Middle East. By affirming our unconditional support for Israel we are simply fuelling the flames of the conflict, prolonging it and in fact obstructing the path to a permanent peace. If Israel is so keen on our friendship it should be told that conditions apply. As a minimum we should demand that Israel halt construction of all settlements on occupied land, that it should resume negotiating with the Palestinians and that it should negotiate in good faith and not deliberately string out the process with no intention whatsoever of coming to a settlement. Australia should also demand that Israel lift its blockade on Gaza and cease all other activities against the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank which amount to a breach of international human rights law.

Israel's security concerns of course need to be addressed. But Israel's national security cannot be achieved through the illegal occupation or blockading of neighbouring territory. Israel needs a negotiated settlement, supported by international guarantees, and backed by a vibrant Marshall Plan-style economic development program for the region which will transform the region economically and lock today's current combatants into a future of intertwined economic activity and prosperity. Such a plan would cost a mere fraction of the annual financial burden faced by NATO in its pointless war in Afghanistan.

The Australian voting public does not need any more of these confected and vacuous motions in Parliament. What we do need are a few more politicians (in addition to Maria Vamvakinou and Melissa Parke) who may actually take the trouble to inform themselves of what is going on in Israel and the occupied territories, not by taking advantage of all-expenses paid trips to Israel and Jerusalem organised by Jewish groups or Israeli organisations, but by opening their minds to the growing voice of informed Australians who are concerned about the continuing injustices suffered by the Palestinian people, and about Israeli policies which continue to have an impact on global stability.

Australia needs politicians who are neither blind to human suffering, nor prone to intimidation by groups used to bullying and manipulating the truth. We need fair-minded leaders of this country who are not going to be swayed from a principled stance in upholding international human rights norms and standards of common decency when they risk being falsely labelled ''anti-Semitic''.

We need politicians who are prepared to draw the link that exists between Israel's oppression of the Palestinians and the continuing recruitment of suicide bombers and extremists and their supporters in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Arab countries. We need politicians who will apply the Australian principle of a ''fair go'' to our international policies and profile. And most of all we need politicians who are prepared to put Australia's national interests above those of other countries.

Robert Newton is vice-president of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network.

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