Former Foreign Minister Bob Carr at the NSW State Labor Conference
Bit by bit, the denialists of the Victorian Labor Party are being isolated on Israel, after New South Wales Labor endorsed the recognition of Palestine on the weekend. The party’s Queensland and South Australian branches back recognition, as do the Tasmanian and ACT branches. Even Bob Hawke, Labor’s most devout and highest profile supporter of Israel, the man who said he contemplated suicide when the Soviet Union rejected his bid to allow Soviet Jews to emigrate, has urged the recognition of Palestine.
And the motive power for this shift is coming directly from the Netanyahu government and its continuing strategy to destroy any possibility of a two-state solution. We saw it in February when Netanyahu embarrassed his grovelling host Malcolm Turnbull by refusing to talk about a two-state solution when Turnbull had just enthusiastically endorsed it. And the “facts on the ground” continue to provide it: Israel plans new settlements in clear breach of international law about occupied territories, with recent confirmation of what many have always assumed — settlements are the pretext for the annexation of occupied Palestinian land.
Palestinians and many Israelis say that a two-state solution is already dead — that an independent Palestine simply can’t exist, except as a bizarre Swiss cheese-like collection of separated entities, severed from each other by existing illegal Israeli settlements that have not merely annexed land but water resources as well, taking the water used by Palestinian farmers to grow food and redirecting it to settlement swimming pools. The ever-growing number of settlements, of course, won’t be separated; they’ll be connected with segregated roads reserved exclusively for Israeli use.
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The corrupt Palestinian authority, and some Western governments, continue to embrace the convenient fiction that two-state is still possible, in the latter case because it serves as a convenient excuse for not taking action against Israel. Eventually, however, the fiction will become untenable, so egregiously at odds with the facts that its supporters can’t credibly persist with it.
NSW Labor’s motion panders to the notion of two states, but the act of recognition is a departure from the status quo that the Netanyahu government is desperate to preserve — that it can slowly annex Palestine without according its citizens any rights, and do so without any meaningful international reaction. The current Israeli government wants a free hand to gradually make Palestinian life unbearable and an independent Palestinian state impossible, without having to deal with the unpleasantness of international criticism and action. The Australian government, and the Victorian ALP, are happy to give them that free hand.
There’s one other thing that is also likely to have played at least a small role in the shift in NSW Labor. The heavy-handed lobbying efforts of the Israeli government and the local pro-Israel lobby have alienated a number of Labor MPs. There are complaints that Israeli diplomats have inappropriately involved themselves in the internal affairs of the party. Now, Bob Carr is complaining of efforts by Mark Dreyfus and Michael Danby to silence him. Ask around the Labor Party and, regardless of the details of what Carr has claimed, there are plenty willing to believe, rightly or wrongly, that that’s exactly the kind of tactic Israel supporters would employ.
Silencing the messenger, however, can only work for so long.
* Bernard Keane travelled to Israel and Palestine in 2016 as a guest of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network