Israel-Palestinian conflict will test Carr

The recent round of bloodletting, triggered by Israel’s assassination of a senior leader of the militant Gaza-based Popular Resistance Committees and nourished by the indiscriminate firing of rockets by Palestinian militants into Israel and equally indiscriminate air raids on populated areas on Gaza, is the latest in the apparent circular dynamic of periodic violence between Israel and the Palestinians.  In the latest round of violence 25 Palestinians have died and 35 Israelis were reported to have been wounded.

For well over a year now Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu has shunned opportunities to re-start the stalled negotiations, preferring to continue the oppression and humiliation of the Palestinian population of the occupied West Bank and of the Gaza Strip where a rigid Israeli blockade and the ever-present threat of sudden annihilation from an Israeli air attack combine to make life both miserable and fearful for those living there.

The only thing Netanyahu needs to do to enable peace talks to resume is to agree to halt settlements construction in the West Bank.  But he won’t do that while ever international indifference to Israeli excesses permits Israel to continue to steal Palestinian land and violate Palestinian human rights with impunity.

Cynically, Netanyahu calculates that relatively low casualty rates amongst Israeli civilians are worth not having to commit to a peace deal with the Palestinians.  And who cares about the Palestinian victims anyway?

As Australia’s new Foreign Minister, Senator Carr, takes up his new role, he will need to decide whether it is in Australia’s national interest to continue to act as an accessory to repeated Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people, or whether it might be time to adjust Australia’s policies to bring them more in line with domestic public, as well as international opinion.

The new Foreign Minister may care to note, for example, that in a Roy Morgan poll conducted last November, 63 per cent of respondents affirmed their opposition to Israeli settlements construction on occupied Palestinian land.  (20 per cent said they were not knowledgeable enough to answer.)

For decades successive Australian governments have been swayed by an insistent, articulate and highly effective Israeli lobby to the point where they have condoned and even supported Israeli actions which have contravened international law.  This must stop, not only for the sake of Australia’s international reputation, but also because it is in the national interest to do so.

Israel’s reckless approach to those living in its neighbourhood has helped to de-stabilise the Middle East over the past half century.  And the West’s unquestioning support for Israel’s policies including its grotesque treatment of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza has, more than anything else, poisoned its relations with the Muslim world.

If there is no credible path forward for the Palestinians, who seek nothing more than what people in the West take for granted – a stable environment to bring up their families in dignity and security free from foreign occupation or interference – further violence is guaranteed.  Australia must move decisively with others to ensure that the path to peace is clear from obstacles and that both sides seize what is a small and diminishing opportunity to commit to a just peace agreement before it is too late.

Even if his Prime Minister finds it hard to understand what is at stake, Senator Carr will.  The question is, will he take the opportunity to make a real adjustment to Australia’s Middle East policy, or will he cave in to the usual pressures applied by an Israel lobby which appears to be fully in step with the growing radicalisation of the Israeli government and security authorities, a trend which most of us view with dismay.

Robert Newton, APAN Vice President
13 March, 2012