Maria Vamvakinou MP – in response to Bishop’s motion supporting Israel and denouncing boycott calls, voiced support of the rights of Palestinian people

photo of Maria Vamvakinou MP
May 23, 2011

The state of Israel enjoys strong bipartisan support from this government because we on this side of the House have always been committed to a two-state solution, but we are also committed to the rights of the Palestinian people to the same peace and security within their own state. This is the case in both the ALP national platform and our policies in government.

Full speech

Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (20:40): The Middle East conflict is a serious matter, which requires a serious approach. With this motion as it stands, the member for Curtin, the coalition spokesperson for foreign affairs, has proven that she is incapable, unable or unwilling to comprehend and respond to serious and complex foreign policy issues in a responsible and constructive manner.

Paragraph 2 of this motion is a ‘cheap political shot’, reducing the issue to its lowest common denominator of scaremongering wedge ethnic politics, and opportunistic point scoring.

Three years ago, this parliament moved an unprecedented motion congratulating Israel on the occasion of 60 years of statehood. No other country has enjoyed such privilege, and it is indicative that the state of Israel has many friends in this parliament.

Tonight I want to speak to the member for Curtin’s motion, and whilst I begin by acknowledging Israel on the occasion of its 63rd year anniversary, I want also to note that there is a dual narrative, whose genesis can be traced to the creation of the state of Israel. On the one hand, Zionist leaders sought to create a home for Jewish people in Palestine. In doing so, another injustice was perpetrated with the expulsion and dispossession of the Palestinian people from their ancestral homelands.

The member for Curtin’s motion makes no mention of the Palestinian displacement of 1948, known as Al Nakba, meaning ‘the catastrophe’, but this House cannot in all fairness commemorate the founding of the state of Israel by ignoring the subsequent plight of the Palestinian people. The two have become intrinsically linked and the security of both Israelis and Palestinians rests on acknowledging these two conflicting narratives upon which any peace process has to begin.

For me, the following passage encapsulates that other narrative neglected in this motion, the Palestinian Nakba:

A 13-year-old Palestinian boy was forced to leave his home in the Galilean city of Safed and flee with his family to Syria. He took up shelter in a canvas tent provided to all the arriving refugees. Though he and his family wished for decades to return to their home and homeland, they were denied that most basic of human rights. That child ‘ s story, like that of so many other Palestinians, is mine.

These are the words of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President—the man, who, despite much adversity and controversy, stands ready to make peace with Israel.

We are into the sixth decade of contrasting narratives—the birth of a state for one people, and dispossession and exile for another people. So we cannot commemorate Israel’s creation, without reference to the over 400 Palestinian villages and towns that were cleansed, depopulated, destroyed and renamed. We cannot ignore the expulsion of some 750,000 Palestinian refugees in 1948, who, now into their third generation, number 4.8 million people scattered in refugee camps in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere.

While this motion commends ‘Israel’s commitment to democracy, the rule of law and pluralism’, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, has recently passed the so-called Nakba law coupled with the Admissions Committee law. These laws, as Israel’s oldest newspaper, Haaretz, put it on 25 March:

… are the latest in a growing list of disgraceful legislation whose entire purpose is to discriminate against Israel ‘ s Arab citizens, intimidate them and deny them their rights …

Haaretz’s editorial goes on to warn that apathy and silence ‘encourages the instigators of racism, creating a convenient fertile ground for them to continue their disastrous activities’. I recently returned from that part of the world, and I saw firsthand the vibrancy of Israel as a highly developed, cultured and sophisticated society. Yet, despite its prosperity and development, one thing continues to elude it: security and recognition by its Arab neighbours. And, whilst Israel prides itself on being a contemporary and cosmopolitan democracy, beyond Tel Aviv the realities on the ground reveal a darker side to the state of Israel: the imposition, maintenance and expansion of a wall that segregates, separates and alienates people on the basis of their race, religion and identity. In conjunction with the illegal settlements ever encroaching on Palestinian land and restrictions on family contact and on movement through a debilitating permit system and checkpoint regime, it is not hard to see that the alternative to peace is violence born out of despair, frustration and dejection.

This motion is right to reiterate Australia’s commitment to Israel’s right to exist in peace and security. It is a security that people crave; however, it is a shared security, predicated on Israel’s ability to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. The Palestinian people also have the right to live in peace and security. They also have the right to move freely without sanction within the borders of their own Palestinian state. They have the right to prosperity and growth. They too are a sophisticated, intelligent, industrious and cultured people who have great potential to grow and develop their society and their economy. I saw evidence of this potential in towns such as Ramallah, where Palestinians are building the institutional infrastructure as they prepare for statehood. They do this against incredible adversity.

Yet it is impossible for this potential to be fully realised amidst the trauma of an occupation which spans checkpoints, closures, home demolitions, settlements, the separation wall, the permit system, the two-tier system of roads and access and control over water and agriculture as well as the crippling effect of the blockade on Gaza. A peace settlement will bring enormous benefits for both states and the region as a whole, eradicating a major source of global discontent and stabilising a region bereft of peace and stability.

It has been 20 years since the Oslo agreement and 16 years since the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a pragmatic, visionary leader, a man who carried the hopes and aspirations of his people as he led them through a process that has since stalled and hindered in the ‘politics of fear and hate’. Resolution to this protracted and costly issue requires wisdom, courage, fortitude and a sense of fairness, and, like all difficult issues, timing is imperative.

Unfortunately, whilst the current political leadership in Israel hesitates in engaging in a real and substantial way with the peace process, I can inform the House that the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, has conveyed to us in no uncertain terms that the Palestinians are ready to make peace. They are ready to make a deal on the 1967 borders, on 22 per cent of their original ancestral borders. If this motion was sincere—which I am afraid it is not designed to be—in trying to advance the Middle East peace process, it would at least make reference to international law or include the following:

The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognised borders are established for both states.

These are the words of US President Barack Obama from his Middle East address last Thursday, and I endorse them.

The Middle East is rapidly changing. We are all familiar with the sweeping events of the Arab spring. We may not yet know what this spring will yield, but one thing is certain: key to peace and stability in the Middle East is the unresolved Palestinian question.

The truth is that Israel’s current predicament in respect to the peace process is making it increasingly isolated and vulnerable. That is why, now more than ever, it is incumbent upon its friends, such as Australia, to reassure them and encourage them to re-engage with the peace process. Proclaiming that Israel has no peace partner to negotiate with because of the split between Fatah and Hamas holds no currency now, as Hamas and Fatah recently reconciled at the behest of President Abbas. It is disingenuous and highly short-sighted of the Israeli Prime Minister to proclaim that Fatah must choose between peace with Israel or Hamas. You cannot keep changing the goalposts.

Australia can play a helpful and decisive role in encouraging the Israeli leadership to return to the negotiating table. In fact, the Palestinian leadership expressed their gratitude for the very active and supportive role that Australia is playing in assisting this process. Along with other friends of Israel, such as the US, Australia needs to work towards convincing it to return to negotiations.

The motion notes with concern the alleged ‘fraying of the traditionally bipartisan support amongst Australia’s political parties for the state of Israel’. I cannot speak for other parties but, as a member of parliament for the Australian Labor Party, I say to the member for Curtin that she is extremely mischievous in her imputation. The state of Israel enjoys strong bipartisan support from this government because we on this side of the House have always been committed to a two-state solution, but we are also committed to the rights of the Palestinian people to the same peace and security within their own state. This is the case in both the ALP national platform and our policies in government.

I move:

That paragraph 2 be omitted.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ) (20:50): Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Neumann: I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

Link to parliamentary Hansard