On the eve of the visit of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to Australia, the first by a serving Israeli prime minister, some of Australia’s leading ex-politicians called for recognition of Palestine as a state. Former Labor prime ministers, Kevin Rudd and Bob Hawke, along with former foreign ministers Bob Carr and Gareth Evans, all said it was time for Australia to recognise Palestine, as already have137 countries out of 193 sovereign states in the United Nations.
After 15 years of negotiation, even the Vatican formally recognised the ‘State of Palestine’ in 2015, and reiterated its support for a two-state solution with Israel, based on the 1967 borders before Israel captured much of the Palestinian lands, notably the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula.
Many liberal and progressive Jews in Israel and beyond support the recognition of Palestine and initiatives to reach a two-state solution. The progressive Jewish magazine, Tikkun, welcomed the Vatican’s decision warmly.
Hopes for a settlement
The Obama Administration was pressing strongly in 2016 for a resolution of the Israel-Palestine question, with both sides making concessions. Israel would have to stop expanding settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territories and recognise East Jerusalem as the future capital of Palestine.
For their part, the Palestinians would have to recognise the ‘Jewish character’ of Israel, and abandon claims for a right of return of Palestinian refugees to their former homes and lands in today’s Israel. The United States would recommend land swaps in compensation for land taken by Israeli settlements since 1967.
These proposals formed the basis of the parameters that the US promoted in the UN Security Council, voted on in December 2016 by 14-0. In an unprecedented move, the US declined to veto UN Resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlements as in violation of international law, and called for negotiations between the two states of Israel and Palestine, in the framework of the international community and the UN Security Council.
As Drew Christiansen wrote in the US National Catholic Reporter on 28 February 2017, the right of return needed to be negotiated, with compensation for some 1.5 million refugees and a right of return not within Israel, but in a new Palestinian state.
Netanyahu & Israel’s hardliners
Meanwhile, backed by hard-right and fundamentalist parties in Israel who continually strive to expand Israel’s borders, and despite opposition from his Attorney General and some members of his own Likud Party, Netanyahu legislated retrospectively to legalise about 4000 settler homes built on privately-owned Palestinian land. In addition, 6,000 housing units are to be built on Palestinian territories in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Since Netanyahu became prime minister in 2009, West Bank settlements have increased 30 percent to 400,000 and Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem have increased from 193,000 to 208,000. Netanyahu strongly supports expanding the settlements as far as Israel can get away with it.
Obama’s Secretary of State, John Kerry, recently warned that Netanyahu’s government is “the most right-wing in Israel’s history”, and that, by obstructing a settlement with the Palestinians, Israel will drift to a one-state outcome. Eventually, the growth of non-Jewish population will make Jewish people a minority in Israel, and Israel will never be at peace.
Many Israelis recognise that only a two-state solution will bring peace. On 29 March 2016, the New York Times ran a full-page advertisement, headed Israel’s Security Chiefs Agree: Separation into two states is in Israel’s vital interest. It was signed by five former heads of Mossad (Israel’s foreign intelligence agency), five former directors of Shin Bet (Israel’s domestic security agency), and six former chiefs of staff of the Israeli Defence Forces.
Disproportionate attacks on Gaza
Netanyahu has form on human rights. In 2014, Netanyahu ordered Operation Protective Edge against militants in Gaza. According to the Report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry, some 2,251 people in Gaza were killed, including 551 children and 299 women. Some 1500 children were orphaned.
Hamas militants in Gaza share the blame for this conflict, but, in violation of the just-war criterion of proportionality, Israel launched 6000 air strikes and fired more than 50,000 tank and artillery shells into the tiny area of Gaza. About 18,000 housing units were destroyed, as well as many schools and medical facilities. By contrast, Israel lost six civilians and 67 soldiers during the conflict.
Had a Jewish city the size of Gaza been subject to such excessive destruction by an overwhelmingly powerful enemy, would that not be regarded as a war crime?
Netanyahu, who is under criminal investigation for corruption in Israel, defended his opposition to a two-state solution in Sydney on 22 February, arguing that a Palestinian state would be calling for “Israel’s destruction”, and be “used immediately for radical Islam”. That is certainly not the view of the US negotiator, John Kerry, who said it was Netanyahu who continually changed his position and undermined negotiations at Aqaba with the Palestinians, neighbouring Egypt, and Jordan for a comprehensive settlement in 2016.
Astonishingly, Australia’s Prime Minister Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said they would have voted against the “one-sided” UN resolution.
It is well past time to stop turning a blind eye to the injustices inflicted on the Palestinians. As Rudd warned, if Palestinians are left with no hope of a settlement, there can be no lasting peace for Israel.