By John Salisbury
In Australia we have a significant lobbying force for the Palestinian position within the political sphere. The Australian Palestinian Advocacy Network (APAN) is quite active and effective at running campaigns to highlight the plight of Palestinians. For example, they have had great success with a campaign entitled “No Way to Treat a Child” which chronicled the conditions under which Palestinian children are convicted and incarcerated in military tribunals.
Along with elder statesman and former Foreign Minister Bob Carr, APAN has also been lobbying for recognition of the state of Palestine within the Australian Labor Party (ALP). The Labor Party is in opposition in the Australian parliament to the ruling center-right Coalition bloc, of Liberal and National party members.
Two weeks ago on December 16 to 18, the ALP held its triennial national conference in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia. Persistent efforts to engage with senior members of the current ALP parliamentary group appear to be having results. APAN is a very diverse group. On the executive board are a retired Anglican Bishop, Palestinians of both Muslim and Christian heritage, secularists and a professor of Jewish background. They all participated in efforts leading up to the conference as this is the arena where policy positions are debated and then adopted.
To attract further attention to the cause I undertook another long range advocacy walk to highlight the unequal treatment of Palestinians. From November 18 to December 16, the walk covered a distance of 458 miles (starting in Melbourne and finishing in Adelaide). Many MPs and Senators greeted our arrival in Adelaide. The arrival was specifically planned to coincide with opening date of the ALP conference.
Bob Carr was overseas during the conference but made an address via video.
Delegates to the conference would also have been aware of support for recognition by former Prime Ministers Bob Hawke and Kevin Rudd and another long serving Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans.
There is still strong support for Israel within the ALP but those members who are fed up with continued settlement expansion have grown, and now outnumber those members who remain loyal to Israel “whatever it does”.
On the final day of the conference, the new motion on Palestine was put forward by the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong. The motion was seconded by Tony Burke (a senior ALP figure who since entering Parliament in 2004 is the only member of the Federal Parliament to have always served as either a minister or shadow minister).
The resolution passed unanimously, albeit with an edit in the language substituting “immediate” recognition for an independent state of Palestine to a downgraded “important priority.”
The breakthrough resolution commits the party to recognize Palestine. Timing of recognition will be decided by Cabinet, though it is described as an “important priority.” Although this move by a future Australian government may be of little practical impact for the beleaguered Palestinians in their day to day struggle with their military occupation, the strategic implications are enormous for Israel. Will more nations follow Australia’s move?
All this happens in the context of upcoming elections in May 2019 where opinion polls have consistently put Labor ahead of the center-right Liberal-National Coalition in a run-off. The latest news poll from December 7 shows a swing to Labor of 4.5 percent indicating they would win 89 of the 150 seats in Parliament.
How will Israel respond?
Australia has traditionally been one of the planet’s most unequivocal supporters of everything Israel does. It often votes with the U.S. and Israel against motions condemning Israel at the United Nations, including being one of only six countries that voted no to a resolution put up by Ireland on December 7. Moreover, this month the government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison decided to recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, though it will not move its embassy to Jerusalem.
Interesting days ahead.