While the petition was about advocating for Australia to support Palestine at the UN, it also demonstrated that Australia’s position is not in line with public opinion, as various polls have indicated. Some 1,300 signatures were got in just over a 48-hour period, and that speaks for itself. The petition was also signed by residents of Brisbane belonging to the Jewish faith. I will finish by saying that my position and that of the petition are in Israel’s long-term interests and also the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, which will never happen while they live under occupation, because the current situation is completely unsustainable (David Forde)
Full petition and speech
Standing Committee on Petitions
Selected petitions from the Brisbane metropolitan region presented since March 2011
FORDE, Mr David, Principal Petitioner
TURNER, Ms Wendy, Private capacity
Petition on supporting the recognition of Palestine as a Non-Member UN S tate
CHAIR: I now invite to the table the petitioners for the petition on Australia supporting recognition of Palestine as a non-member state of the United Nations. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that the hearing today is a formal proceeding of the parliament, and so I remind you, as I remind all witnesses, that the giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament.
Mr Forde, as the principal petitioner, would you like to begin by making an opening statement before we ask you some questions?
Mr Forde: Yes, I would, if I could, please. Have we got five minutes?
CHAIR: You can have as long as you need.
Mr Forde: Don’t tempt me. First, I thank you for the opportunity to discuss this issue—to call upon Australia to join with the majority of the international community and support the Palestinians bid to be recognised as a non-member state of the UN last year. While history shows that Palestine won overwhelming support, it was regrettable that Australia could not support the yes vote by abstaining and, if reports are correct, Australia would have supported the no vote, along with only nine other countries but for the demands of some government MPs, including the foreign minister, to at least abstain. I say what has been reported in the media.
Australian governments of all persuasions say that they support a two-state solution, yet they fail to explain what sort of two-state solution that is. It used to be based on international law and UN resolutions but now it is framed along the lines of a call for direct negotiation among the parties—that being the Israelis and the Palestinians. Yes, negotiations are important. But how can you have a just outcome through direct negotiations between a stateless people, that being the Palestinians, who are oppressed and occupied and face ongoing dispossession, up against one of the world’s greatest militaries who are carrying out these activities on behalf of a government, that being the government of Israel, who are open in their determination never to allow a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River, certainly nothing greater than a bunch of Bantustans similar to what we used to see in South Africa?
We as a nation, Australia, are happy to champion that we voted at the UN for the creation of Israel in 1947, yet now we seem to dismiss the relevance of the UN in finding a peaceful outcome for this situation. Since 1947, under UN resolution 181, when the state of Israel was supposed to be formed on 55 per cent of the land, over one million Palestinians have been driven from their land. Of course, there are those who claim, falsely, that they left voluntarily. If that is the case, why are they not allowed to return, including some residents of Brisbane who were driven from their homes in the former Palestine? In those early days, over 400 Palestinian villages were also destroyed and there were many reported atrocities, and atrocities have been reported by Jewish historians.
Israel is now internationally recognised on 78 per cent of that land, with the remaining areas—being the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza—being what is known as Palestine. Since 1988 the PLO, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, has recognised Israel based on this 78 per cent, but no Israeli government has recognised a Palestinian state, underlined by the fact that Israel continues to transfer its civilian population onto Palestinian land—an act that is illegal. This is a situation that sees over 500,000 illegal settlers now occupying Palestinian lands, and with that comes the controlling of resources such as water, access to land and what can only be described as an apartheid road system, along with the horrendous permit system that defines almost every aspect of Palestinian movement and Palestinian life.
Israel is entitled to live in peace and security, as any country is, and so are the Palestinians. But how can transferring your civilian population onto another’s land be in the name of security? The current situation is completely unsustainable for a two-state outcome. Some think such an outcome is almost impossible—and if you go there you would probably come to the same conclusion.
It is time Australia acted in the interests of all and not on the demands of a foreign government that is very open in its expansionist agenda. We live in a democracy, and with that comes the right for people to lobby and advocate. However, governments should not base policy on the strength of such activity. It should be based on both Australia’s interests and the greater good. The issue is seen as central to issues between what is referred to as Islam and the West. The Arab League has offered Israel full normalisation in return for ending the occupation. The question you should ask is why has Israel not taken this up, an outcome that would also isolate Iran? The simple answer is expansionism.
We often hear the term ‘the Israel lobby’ and, strange as it might sound, I defend their right to lobby, within reason. They certainly are very effective, as underlined by the reported situation that Israel is the most visited country by Australian MPs and senators. Yet in the past 12-month reporting period the two-way trade between Australia and Israel went backwards, from the mid-30s to the mid-40s, which underlines that trade is not the issue.
I have been to the region many times, including with the UN at various stages between 1982 and 1990. More recently, I was there in 2010 and 2011. Both these trips included Gaza and deep inside the West Bank to places such as Hebron, where several thousand Israeli defence force personnel are there purely to protect some 600 illegal, heavily armed Jewish settlers. The last trip I was there was with some of your colleagues. When I was there it was clear the vast majority of Palestinians want to be free and want to live in peace, as any normal person is entitled to, but they are prevented. The biggest anger I confronted was from the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, who Israel was trying to deport from Jerusalem because of the fact he came from a city called Nablus in the West Bank and he now lives in Jerusalem. I do not know what his fate was, but he was adamant that his anger was directed at Israel. He told us that the various religious leaders, including the mufti who was in the room at this meeting, got on as one and they want to be free of occupation.
I was also fortunate to meet organisations such as Rabbis for Human Rights and Breaking the Silence, which is an organisation of former Israeli defence force soldiers who served in the West Bank, including Hebron, and who speak about the atrocities that go on there. I also met with a child I sponsor through World Vision. The Hon. Sussan Ley was on that trip, and it turned out that we both sponsored a child at the same school. What struck me about the school outside Bethlehem was the school, which was old and in urgent need of repair, surrounded by new settlements, expanding settlements, and the despair of those children asking through an interpreter why they are being punished, why their land is being taken away, why they are not allowed access to their land and why their fathers are getting locked up.
I also met with a woman in the AngliCORD hospital in Gaza. I remember this woman well. She was the same age as me. She had 10 children. One of them was partly disabled because he had been hit by Israeli fire. I do not know whether it was justified or not—that is not the issue. But this woman had breast cancer. This woman is probably dead now and was going to die because she was denied by the Israeli authorities to leave Gaza to go to a Palestinian hospital in East Jerusalem. That has got nothing to do with security. She may have died anyway, but it is the fact that she was denied the right to go and get medical treatment. These cases are reported by Amnesty international and a Jewish organisation called B’Tselem. What often happens—I will not say often, but it has happened on occasions—is that Israel issues a permit for the person to leave to get medical help once they have died.
This brings me to the petition. While the petition was about advocating for Australia to support Palestine at the UN, it also demonstrated that Australia’s position is not in line with public opinion, as various polls have indicated. Some 1,300 signatures were got in just over a 48-hour period, and that speaks for itself. The petition was also signed by residents of Brisbane belonging to the Jewish faith.
I will finish by saying that my position and that of the petition are in Israel’s long-term interests and also the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, which will never happen while they live under occupation, because the current situation is completely unsustainable. What happens if the Palestinians turn around and say to the government of Israel and the international community: ‘Okay, Israel, you might as well take the lot. You already control every aspect of our life: you control our movement, you control our resources, you control if we can go from A to B and you control how much food we can actually take into what is known as the ‘seam zone’ between Israel’s border and the illegal wall that has been built. But just give us the right to vote and just give us equal rights within the rule of law.’ What happens then? Israel has two choices. It is either democracy for all its citizens, which may see the end of Israel, or it is an apartheid state. Thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Forde. Ms Turner, would you like to make a statement?
Ms Turner: I am just happy to supplement what David has said. Having also been to the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Israel, I can supplement what David has said and endorse what he has said. I have met with several of the organisations that he has met with. More importantly, I too have witnessed what happened on the ground, particularly in 2010, which was not long after Operation Cast Lead. To see what happened in the Gaza strip had to be believed.
The Palestinian people suffer constant daily deprivation of one sort or another, as David has just explained. It cannot be justified as being called in the name of security, as always has been spoken about. What is very evident, however, is that this constant deprivation, in my view and the view of several others, forms amongst the Palestinian youth in particular the need for them to uprise. Therefore, when we talk about terrorism, these people do not wish to be terrorists, but if this situation were happening here in Australia or in any other country in the world, we would see youth rising up and attempting to take some measures. It is extremely minimal, and the people who want peace are trying their best to ensure that these sorts of things do not happen.
I wish for Israel to be able to live in peace and security. I also think it is imperative that the Palestinian people have the right to self-determination, have the right to a state of their own. It is not going to happen purely by saying the two parties have to sit down and negotiate. I believe it is up to the world community to start to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ Let’s all work together to try to get some outcome for these two peoples. Thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you. I quote from your petition:
… then it must support Palestine’s bid for a place and a voice at the international table.
In terms of the place at the international table, what do you believe has been achieved since the resolution vote of November 2012?
Mr Forde: I share a view that to a degree there was a bit of symbolism around this, but it is a step forward. It is a huge step forward in terms of Palestinians getting self-determination recognition. The Palestinians will become an independent state, I guess, with the more recognition that happens, and that is what it is about. It also gives them access now to international bodies. One of the concerns of Israel, I think, was the International Criminal Court, if the Palestinians wanted to pursue that, but all member nations should have a right to pursue justice through international courts. We talk about democracy. We talk about the rule of law. Why should the Palestinians be denied that?
Dr JENSEN: Mr Forde, I was in Israel and also went to the West Bank in 2005. I remember that at the time there was an incredible argument within Israel about Gaza—I do not remember the terminology they used, but it was basically about allowing them self-government. I recall blue ribbons flying from antennas in Tel Aviv, meaning that they were in favour of Gaza having self-determination, and orange ones in Jerusalem, where they were not in favour of it. They did get their self-determination. You say that, first, Israel have no intention whatsoever of allowing a Palestinian state, yet they actually allowed Gaza self-determination. I would have thought that the way in which the Palestinians at that stage would have shown goodwill was to try to make Gaza as much as possible a model state. Instead, what they did was that they started firing rockets into Israel. I would like you to comment on that please.
Mr Forde: That is a very good point. Gaza is not an independent state. Palestinians do not have access to the air. They do not have access to the water. In fact, the fishermen—I will take a step back. There are about 10 million litres—and this is the UN report—of untreated water pumped into the sea around Gaza every day, and that is a serious problem for the youth of Gaza. Half the population, 1.4 million, are children. There are huge health problems there associated with it. The Palestinians only have—I do not know how many miles it is—something around four or five miles that they are allowed out to sea. If they were an independent state, they would be allowed access to the sea. They are not allowed—I think it is through the Oslo accords or one of those agreements—free access to the borders. Egypt controls one side; Israel controls the other. The amount of food and medicine that actually gets into Gaza is controlled by Israel. Those are not the actions of somebody that treats Gaza as an independent state.
As for the rockets, I absolutely condemn them—absolutely. But, like the schoolyard bully, if you are going to punish people, you are going to get people reacting. It does not matter where you come from. We talk about the Arab Spring. We talk about the rising of some of the states there. In fact, in some cases we are actually championing it. We do it in Syria. We seem to have an inconsistency where we allow people to be oppressed on one side, and on another side, in another situation, we actually call for the right for people to rise up. Israel has a right to security. The people in southern Israel have a right. But do not forget that a lot of the people in Gaza are actually refugees who were driven from Israel as well. So, by employing the blockade that is there at the moment, because medicine is restricted—I spoke about the woman who is dying of cancer. I did not even mention the fact that she cannot even get the health materials in there of whatever it is that she needs. She needs to go to another hospital.
Dr JENSEN: But, Mr Forde, that is not just Israel. It is Egypt blocking the border as well.
Mr Forde: Okay, yes, I agree with that. Egypt also needs to take a lot of responsibility. It gets something like $2 billion a year in US aid, and I think that probably plays a lot into it. Things have changed. There are people from Australia who are now going into Gaza, from what I hear, for humanitarian reasons—I know one doctor in there at the moment who has gone there to work for a week—so Egypt is allowing them in. But the Palestinians cannot get their imports from the West Bank in at the main access point because it is controlled by Israel at the border.
I have been inside Gaza, where something like 40,000 children cannot get schooling. The schools double up to accommodate them because it is such a young population. What happens to those 40,000 children? All you need is one person to become radicalised. Those are not the actions of a country that wants an independent state.
I will come back to one point: if there were peace tomorrow—and, God knows, we all wish there would be—whose interests would it be in? It would mean an end to settlements and it would mean an independent state. As the Likud Party platform states quite clearly, there would be no independent Palestinian state west of the Jordan River. I think they say that the settlement of Judea and Samaria, as they call it, is their right.
Dr JENSEN: You also state that the Palestinians do not want to engage in terrorist or violent activity. Yet if you have a look at Palestinian Authority TV the stuff they put up is appalling. This is state sponsored TV and they are inciting children to jihad, which is basically doing a suicide action on behalf of Allah. The scary thing is that the polling that has been done indicates that the majority of children in Palestine believe that they should be involved in religious war and they think that jihad would be a good thing. Now, how is that a display of good faith by the Palestinian Authority in terms of wanting peace and accommodation with Israel?
Mr Forde: Have you seen that TV and those reports, or are you relying on stuff you were given by—
Dr JENSEN: I have seen the ads.
Mr Forde: You have seen it on Palestinian TV, or you have seen what you have been given by some lobby groups?
Dr JENSEN: I have seen it on the internet.
Mr Forde: Okay. That probably says a lot. First, I condemn anyone supporting or promoting terrorism. But if you want to stop terrorism and stop radicalising people, you have to stop marginalising them. It is the same concept we use in Australia under national counterterrorism, where they look to reduce marginalisation as a way of reducing radicalisation. I know what goes on in that space. If you have people whose mothers and family members may become gravely ill because they are denied access to medicine, or they live inside the seam zone between the 1967 border and the wall, where they have restricted the amount of food, you are, unfortunately, going to get people who are radicalised, you are going to get people who jump up and down. I came from a country where, regrettably, we have also seen that.
But I will bring you back to one point. You have made a point about religious war, but I never came across it once. I asked a question in Gaza. In fact, one of the heads of the Christian community from Gaza was actually here in this very room a few years ago. I asked people in private, not in public, Christians I had met over there: what is the situation and how do you feel? They have the only brewery in the West Bank. When I was there I asked a family there what the situation was. There were Christian religious leaders and the mufti and we asked that question. I did not come across that religious war. However, I have no doubt that there is an element of it there. We hear about Hamas in the Gaza Strip. But Hamas is not the issue. The issue is more the radical elements that were there; and Hamas was trying to control them, from what we could see, by checking vehicles. And the head of the UN there reported that to us as well. But as long as you keep pressing people, you are going to get that response, wrong though it may be and unhelpful to the Palestinians. What do you do when every aspect of your life is controlled? I believe there are close to 100 movement permits in the West Bank. What do you do as a people?
Dr JENSEN: I would like to ask you about the movement permits and so on. This was something when we saw the UN in Jerusalem as well. We had a US human rights lawyer who was talking about issues such as the wall, the barrier, the fence—whatever you want to call it—and also the internal roadblocks within the West Bank. She said that that had resulted in the unemployment rate on the West Bank going from around 10 per cent in 1999 to close to 50 per cent in 2005. I asked her what caused the building of the wall and the installation of those internal barriers. The answer, of course, was the second intifada. How do you respond to the idea that those barriers were put up as a response to violent activity from the Palestinians within the West Bank?
Mr Forde: That is another question I welcome. If the barrier was about peace and security, why was it not built along the recognised border between Israel and the West Bank? Why was most of it built on Palestinian land, which brought several hundred thousand Palestinians onto the Israeli side? It is hardly an act of security if you are trying to create a division between people who you believe are terrorists or who you believe are bad. The reason the wall is there is to capture resources. There may be a security aspect, but it is about capturing resources and capturing land. That is why the NGOs, including Israeli NGOs, were telling us that the Palestinians who live inside the seam zone and places I was in were restricted to the amount of food that they can actually bring home. It is about driving people off the land. gas. I was in the army for 10 years and never got gassed in my life, but when I went to Balin I got gassed there; I had not even moved out of the bus. When we went to Balin, there were a lot of international peace activists there. First it started with tear gas and then live rounds. The reason that the Israeli military were there, obviously under the orders of the Israeli government, was to expand the wall, because it is about taking resources and land to expand settlements. That is not about security. If it was about security, it would have been built along what is recognised as the border between Israel and the West Bank. It was about trying to capture and enlarge the city of Jerusalem, which Israel says is its undivided capital. Actually that is one thing about which Australia did not vote with Israel or abstain at the UN last year; it actually voted against Israel on that, which is something it should be congratulated for.
Mr VAN MANEN: I always enjoy going back and looking at a bit of history. A Palestinian state does exist; it is called Jordan. What is Jordan doing to assist the Palestinians? Jordan and Israel came out of Palestine, which was partitioned. So there is a Palestinian state; it is called Jordan. The argument that there is no Palestinian state does not hold water; I think it is a convenient argument. So when are the Jordanians and the Palestinians going to uphold their side of the bargain and acknowledge that there is a Palestinian state that already exists?
Mr Forde: You are completely at odds with the international community and the UN. Jordan is a state, Jordan is a country—
Mr VAN MANEN: It was created out of the partition of Israel and Palestine.
Mr Forde: When Palestine, under the British mandate, was partitioned, Israel was to receive 55 per cent, 45 per cent was to go to the Palestinians, and Jerusalem was to be an independent city administered by the UN. If you are saying that Jordan is Palestine—and, yes, 60 or 70 per cent of people in Jordan have Palestinian blood, because there are a lot of refugees there—I am staggered as to what you think should happen to the Palestinian people in the West Bank. Are you advocating that they should be transferred? That is Jordan. Jordan is recognised by the international community, including Australia.
Mr VAN MANEN: Why is Israel in the West Bank in the first place? Because they were attacked by the Egyptians, the Jordanians and the Syrians. So the Palestinian people, somewhere along the line, have got to accept responsibility for the situation they are in. All I ever hear in this argument is that it is Israel’s fault and Israel is not doing anything to solve the problem. All I have heard about is that the Palestinians are perfect people who never make any mistakes. It is about time the Palestinians and, in particular, as Mr Jensen said, the leadership of the Palestinian community step up and honestly seek to solve these problems. I do not believe that in their hearts they really seek to do so. They enjoy being the victims.
Mr Forde: That is like saying to someone who has been the victim of a crime that they enjoy that. It is a very strong expression but it is like you are smearing the whole population, the whole people, by saying that they are playing the victims. They live under occupation. Their water is controlled. Settlers take their water. Their daily water consumption is averaged at about 70 litres, which is below what the UN recommends, and the settlers are getting 330-plus litres. You say they are playing the victim. What do you want people to do? Do you want them to suddenly say: ‘We’re not the victim anymore. We should be grateful that we are allowed to breathe air’? The Jordanians have a relationship with Israel to try to solve the problem.
Mr VAN MANEN: Then why after 50 years has the problem not been solved?
Mr Forde: Because Israel is expanding its territory. Read the Likud platform. I give the Israeli government credit; I give Binyamin Netanyahu credit on the grounds that at least he is honest. This debate is a very dishonest debate—and I am not saying ‘in this room’; I am saying in general. This is about Israeli expansionism. Plenty of Jewish people I met in Israel and Jewish people in this country are appalled at the Australian government’s and the opposition’s position on this because it is not in Israel’s long-term interest.
Let us say that Jordan is now the state of Palestine. Let us say that we have overturned the UN and everyone recognises Jordan now as Palestine. Israel then would have the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Would you advocate then to give everyone the right to vote and everyone equal human rights? You might find the state of Israel disappear because of the population demographics.
Mr VAN MANEN: I am well aware of that.
Mr Forde: I do not know where two states are going to come from, having been deep inside the West Bank. The settlements are everywhere, but isn’t it in everybody’s interest to make this happen through the UN in having two separate states: a state of Israel, which the Arab League have said that they will fully recognise if it ends the occupation, and a Palestinian state?
Mr VAN MANEN: The Arab League have said that, but have the Palestinian authority and Hamas said that?
Mr Forde: As I said in the statement, the PLO have recognised Israel since 1988 based on the 1967 borders. What more do they want? They have recognised it. They are saying to the Israelis, ‘Just end the occupation.’ When you meet Palestinians—and I was deep inside the West Bank and Gaza—they say they just want to be free. To pretend that they are any different than you or I is rubbish. All human beings want to be free and they have a right to self-determination. Of course there are bad eggs. I came from Ireland where there are bad eggs. When people are oppressed it does not make it right to react like that, but the reality is you have to look at it. It is all about marginalisation which is leading to radicalisation. It is a concept we look at in Australia.
CHAIR: During debate on the draft resolution, Israel’s representatives reported to have described it as ‘one-sided’, as not recognising the Jewish state and as pushing the peace process backwards. The UN Secretary-General told the General Assembly after the vote, ‘There can be no substitute for negotiations.’ What do you say to these comments?
Mr Forde: There are two comments there: there is the one about the Jewish state and then the Secretary-General talking about negotiations. Of course there have to be negotiations. But if you rely on negotiations on their own when you have a government that is oppressing stateless people and saying it wants to expand its land, how can you have any outcome that is going to be in the interests of all? On the bit about it not being recognised as a Jewish state: isn’t it up to Israel to determine how it is seen? Do we demand of Indonesia that they now see Australia as a multicultural, multifaith country? It is up to Australia how it defines itself just like it is up to Israel.
There is another issue there. Twenty per cent of the population inside Israel as we know it are non-Jewish. Calling on the Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish state is about undermining that 20 per cent, who are actually discriminated against inside Israel, but that is a whole other issue. That is what that is about. Yes, negotiations are important. Of course, they are. The problem is that the Palestinians several years ago, in 2010, asked Israel to have a settlement freeze for return to negotiations. It is like if I started demolishing your house and said, ‘I’m taking over your house. Let’s talk about it while I’m doing it.’
CHAIR: In your view, what impact has the November 2012 resolution vote had on the possibilities of a peaceful settlement of this matter?
Mr Forde : Israel clearly does not recognise what came out of that UN vote, because it has announced its E1 project, which is going to basically cut the West Bank in half with thousands more settlements. I have been to the area; it was actually a Jewish Israeli that took us to the area to show us what is what. As far as Israel is concerned the impact is nothing, but it gives the Palestinians, I guess, greater recognition and the hope that something may be achieved, because, as I say, the current situation is unsustainable. If people support Israel’s expansion, they should come out, be honest and say, ‘We support a one-state solution.’
CHAIR: When you were gathering signatures for this petition, what sort of feedback did you get from the community?
Mr Forde : The feedback was that the government is completely out of touch and they were all too willing to sign. I had Jewish people and Palestinians sign it. I had anybody sign it, and it was done. I thought I would only get 500 signatures in a 48-hour period, because it was rushed. I got nearly 1,300, and I know that if I had gone a week I would have got a lot more. It is not about one over the other; it is about equality. I cannot remember which of the panel members mentioned that the Palestinians need to get their act together, and that is true. Okay, there are elements of the Palestinians, which underlines the fact that the UN needs to come to an agreement here, because there is bad on both sides and good on both sides. I guess that in any argument you get the worst of the elements coming through, because no Israeli government will ever get elected if it calls for a Palestinian state, because you have the settler groups that basically control what happens to the government. That is another reason why the UN need to get involved in this.
We ‘proudly’—I say ‘proudly’ in inverted commas because I was not around in those days—talk about Australia supporting and being the first to vote for the creation of Israel. I think it is probably because ‘Australia’ begins with ‘A’, but we still supported it in 1947. So we had no problem with the UN being involved there. We have no problem supporting the UN—and rightly so—in sanctions to do with Syria, Iran and other countries, including North Korea at the moment. But why then is there all of a sudden this, ‘No, the UN shouldn’t be involved’?
This issue is central to a lot of the world’s problems and a lot of the problems to do with Islam and the West. There are 57 or 58 Muslim-majority countries who all said several years ago that they will give Israel full recognition. We want greater world peace. We would impose a situation here. Palestinians only want 22 per cent of their land; they are not looking for any more. If you go into Israel, most Israeli Jews also want to live in peace, but they do not come across Palestinians. It is the same in the settlements. A lot of people who live in those illegal settlements do not come across a Palestinian, because they have the Israeli-only roads. They go through the areas. The Palestinian roads are off to the side. They do not see Palestinian villages unless they look down from the hilltops.
CHAIR: Do you think it would be fair to conclude—following your statement, the discussion we have had, the questions we have asked and the responses given—that we will never see a resolution and peace in the Middle East in our lifetime?
Mr Forde : If I thought there was no peace and no hope and if I did not think that people are entitled to justice, I would not have an interest in this issue. That came about when I was first in the Army in south Lebanon with the UN in 1982. I believe there can be peace, but I think time is running out. If people want a two-state solution, they need to act, because what happens tomorrow if the Palestinian Authority say, ‘Take the lot’? What does Israel do then? What happens? So it is not so much what I think; it is that we need to enforce a solution. I think that is probably what I would say. But, yes, I am becoming more pessimistic.
CHAIR: Who is best placed to be able to get that outcome and force it? For example, the President of the United States?
Mr Forde : America, with their $3 billion and their unsecured loans and with the lobby over there? But public opinion in America is changing. But, if countries like Australia and Canada—the other countries that usually vote with Israel are in the Pacific islands; I do not mean to sound derogatory to them—took an even-handed line with this to try and force an outcome, I do not think America would want to become isolated. I think you might find that it might pull America. I think Obama would actually like to see a two-state outcome enforced in this, even though I have to say some of his statements have been weak and I do not think his recent visit there was really about securing peace. But I think that deep down he would like to know how to wave that magic wand.
CHAIR: As you would appreciate, obviously there is not an expectation of the role of this committee that we can get the outcome that you all so very much want. But, against that background, I as chair of this committee would like some feedback from you as to whether you believe that the opportunity that you have had here today with Ms Turner to further elevate the discussion met your expectations. I know you have not received a reply yet from the foreign minister. It went to him in February, so it is not that long ago, but I would anticipate that you will get one in the foreseeable future but I cannot speak to that for sure. Do you think that this petitioning process has met your expectations of raising further awareness of this terrible conflict? You seem to be suggesting that there is a greater awareness of it in Australia and people are more concerned about the intractable issues associated with getting a settlement and peace in the Middle East.
Mr Forde : There is no doubt about public opinion. I have seen some of the polls that have been done. But in terms of the process, I have spoken to the foreign minister before and I have spoken to the opposition spokesperson for foreign affairs as well on it. But I have to say that when I got the email letter to say that this committee was happening, I was staggered. I was absolutely staggered. I was surprised. I thought the petition would just go off to Bob Carr’s office and away it would go. So I welcome this. Someone asked, ‘You’ve got those politicians coming up to Queensland?’ I said, ‘It gives people an opportunity.’ I think it is an important part of democracy. I cannot speak highly enough of the fact that you actually allow people who have lodged a petition to have an opportunity to discuss it. I prefer to talk to people who may have a different view to me than to people who agree with me because otherwise sometimes it does not go anywhere. But I think there is a diversity of views among the members and that is welcomed. You will get no complaints from me. You get 10 out of 10 for the fact that this actually happens because I think it is an important part of democracy. People say that politicians are far removed and that they do not engage. The fact that you guys all have an election in how many days?
CHAIR: Five months from Saturday.
Mr Forde : The fact that you guys are up here, I think, is important. Discuss it. Everyone has different views. I respect that. I have spoken to people who have Israel’s interests at heart and we will have a difference of opinion on some things and agree on others. Debate is healthy part of democracy.
CHAIR: I thank you very much for that invaluable feedback. That gives us heart as members of the Petitions Committee in our role to engage with petitioners and have a mature debate, which we have obviously had. Blessed are the peacemakers, because I do not think there is anyone in this room or, indeed, anyone who is serious about dealing with the Middle East who does not want peace. In an enlightened age and in a civilised world, let us hope that reason ultimately sinks in to those on the extreme sides of this debate because the world is not going anywhere while this continues. It potentially affects the whole planet because if the Middle East gets to a point of exchanging missiles between Palestine and Israel who knows where it will end. That is a very, very serious threat to world peace.
Mr Forde : I also think if this is resolved it is a way to isolate Iran.
CHAIR: Just by way of conclusion, I would like to applaud you and Ms Turner on your advocacy of this issue, irrespective of the views of individual members of this committee, because, as we all agree, we all want peace. There should be more people like you raising it, as with those people on the other side of the debate, but ultimately having one objective—to get peace in the world. Thank you very much. You will get a copy of the transcript of your evidence, so make sure you check to see you have been faithfully recorded here today. I sincerely thank you for the very positive feedback you have given to this committee’s consideration of your petition. Hopefully you get a good outcome from the foreign minister.