In fact, although many things stood out to me from my first visit to the region, one in particular was as clear as day: there will be no peace and security for the people of Israel if they continue down a road of occupying Palestine, cutting the territory up into enclaves surrounded by checkpoints and walls and divided by roads along which only one class of people can travel.
Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (18:51): It took me a few days to work out why there were so many water tanks on some roofs and not others. In Palestinian cities like Ramallah, I would stand and look out over high rises and houses to see a ‘black forest’ of water tanks. While we were driving I could see past high fences to Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank where new houses stood, apparently connected to mains water supply with no water tanks to be seen. As a naive Australian, I wondered whether some were just better at collecting rainwater than others. No; the water supply to the settlements is constant, we were told. But it is intermittent to the Palestinian towns, so they pump water up into the tanks when they can to save it for another day. Palestinians have access to about 73 litres of water per person per day—far less than the World Health Organization-recommended 100 litres per day—while the settlers consume four times this amount, at 300 litres per day. These statistics are getting worse by the year. It’s not a healthy way to live, nor is it fair. Water is essential for life. But, for the Palestinians, control over water—like almost everything else—is not in their hands.
I was fortunate enough to visit Palestine, Israel, Kuwait and Jordan earlier this year, together with a number of other MPs from this parliament. From the Palestinians, time after time, we heard a simple refrain—from the brewer who couldn’t export her beer, because it was routinely stopped at checkpoints, to the universities that had students who couldn’t get to classes on time for the same reason: ‘End the occupation, leave us alone to run our lives and we will build a viable country.’
We also met many Israelis fighting Prime Minister Netanyahu’s attacks on democracy, including the terrible nation-state law that all but entrenches Palestinian citizens of Israel as second-class citizens. These Israelis also see the injustice being wrought upon the Palestinian people, and are pushing for change. We met a former Israeli soldier, who told us that he would go to war and die for his country but not for the occupation. He had helped run a unit that patrolled the occupied territories, but, after several years, his Israeli patriotism would not permit him to undermine his country’s own conditions of existence by being expressly ordered, in his own words, to create amongst the Palestinians a permanent sense of being pursued.
We met a number of members of the Israeli Knesset, the parliament, and other elected representatives. One said to us that their people were like the man who was falling from a 20-storey building; as he passes level 5, someone asks, ‘How are you going?’ and he replies, ‘Fine, so far.’ In fact, although many things stood out to me from my first visit to the region, one in particular was as clear as day: there will be no peace and security for the people of Israel if they continue down a road of occupying Palestine, cutting the territory up into enclaves surrounded by checkpoints and walls and divided by roads along which only one class of people can travel.
As I speak, at this very moment, elections are underway in Israel. In these elections, as Na’ama Carlin writes, published on the ABC today:
… 2.7 million Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank do not have the right to vote in the Israeli election, even as their neighbours from Israeli settlements (deemed illegal by international law) erected on Palestinian land, do. Palestinians will watch from the sidelines as illegal settlers vote in an election that will determine how Palestinians live, where and under what conditions.
As if that weren’t enough, as part of his re-election pitch, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed just a few days ago that he will break international law and illegally annex large parts of the West Bank, surrounding the city of Jericho, which we visited, and turning it into another Gaza-like enclave. Not only will this rob the Palestinian people of some of the most fertile land in the area, it will undermine the prospects of a viable two-state solution.
Let me be clear: the people of Israel have a right to live in peace and security. That means an independent state that allows its people to flourish. But so too do their neighbours. The people of Palestine have a right to live in peace and security. That means an independent state that allows its people to flourish. And this is the thing: the current strategy of Netanyahu and many of his predecessors of taking over more land and subjugating the people even further has no end point that doesn’t undermine what the government of Israel says is its main goal. Is the aim of this strategy to create a single Israeli state by taking over all of Palestinian land? If so, do the Palestinian people then get ‘one person, one vote, one value’ in this new state? Or will they be second-class citizens, destined to have no vote, no control and no state? That’s an intolerable situation for a country that says it’s a democracy. Alternatively, if the aim is to keep showing this kind of aggression yet pretend to be in favour of a two-state solution, noting that members of the current Israeli government routinely speak against such an outcome, the very land that would be the basis of a new state has been cut out from underneath the Palestinian people. The end game is not a good one. This strategy of expanded occupation is unsustainable for the Israeli people and deadly for the Palestinians.
At this point, some voices usually arise to say, ‘You said nothing about the attacks on Israeli citizens.’ So let me be clear again: of course rocket attacks on civilians are to be condemned. People should not be firing rockets at other people. Also to be condemned are the seemingly random acts of violence committed at bus stops and on roadsides which contribute to people living in a permanent state of fear. But, if we want these attacks to stop, surely it is time to press for a just peace settlement? The representatives of the Palestinian Authority we met made it clear that, contrary to Netanyahu’s rhetoric, they had positions on the ‘final status’ issues and were prepared to talk. But, instead of progress, we see continued illegal and aggressive activity from the Israeli government.
If ever there was a time for us here in Australia to recognise the state of Palestine and to use all our democratic pressure to get the Israeli government to the table to negotiate a lasting peace it is now. The so-called Trump peace plan won’t deliver this, if the terrible announcements to date are anything to go by. They amount to nothing more than a bribe to give up sovereignty in return for an unfunded promise of imaginary money. It is possible, although unlikely, that the result of the Israeli election will shift the US’s thinking. But, if it doesn’t, the international community, including Australia, must stand up and do so urgently.
I want to thank the Kuwaiti government for their hospitality in organising the trip. I still remember the words of the Kuwaiti parliament’s Speaker, who urged Australia to be part of the efforts towards a lasting peace for the Palestinians and Israelis based on self-determination. Without it, he told us, the treatment of the Palestinian people will be recruitment material for terrorist groups in the region for years and years to come. I say to both the Palestinian people fighting for justice and those forces in Israeli society fighting for equality for all peoples: thank you for your hospitality. You have our support, and I hope to come back again someday.