By Gregor Henderson
The Palestinian Authority is seeking recognition from the United Nations General Assembly for Palestine to be admitted as a non-member state in the UN. There is strong support in the General Assembly for the resolution, with at least 115 member states, representing more than 75 per cent of the world population, expected to vote yes. Sadly, Australia will not be among them.
This UN resolution is not a wild gesture of abandoning direct negotiations. It is recognition, through nearly 30 years of experience, that when Palestine stands alone to face the political and military strength of Israel, it knows it cannot negotiate a just solution. Palestine needs support from the international community to help broker that solution.
The resolution brings into the light the stark reality that Israel is an occupying power with full access to all the benefits of being part of the international community, whereas Palestine currently has a half-baked status. In the late 1940s the international community argued for a two-state solution. However, this promise has only been fulfilled for one of those states.
Australia’s vote on this resolution is important. Australia’s election to the UN Security Council last month is an endorsement of its profile and commitment to UN activities over the decades. Support for UN programs relating to Palestine has been a constant theme of Australian foreign policy since 1947, one on which it has often claimed a prominent position.
Over recent years Australia has claimed independent middle power status while it remains among the minuscule group of unqualified supporters of Israel ready to provide cover for Israeli actions whatever their disregard for international law.
This is why the move to abstention is significant. While it is a long way from decisive support for the legitimate rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people, it is a step away from being a lapdog of Israel. It was disappointing that the Prime Minister had to be dragged away from opposing the resolution by a strong public lobbying campaign including by the elder statesman Gareth Evans. This move will not undermine Australia’s support for Israel’s security. Rather Israel’s security interests are best protected by supporting an environment whereby a just and lasting peace can be achieved. And we must always acknowledge Palestine’s security interests alongside Israel’s.
Israel is running out of time on a two-state solution. If Western nations are to give real content to their support for a peaceful outcome, effective pressure on Israel is essential, not token commitment to an empty ideal that effectively allows Israel to tighten its grip on Palestine even further.
The vote should be a non-controversial issue. Israel has rashly chosen to make it another test of its international support, a test it appears bound to lose. Australia’s abstention in the UN is a step in the right direction, but a yes vote would have put us on the right side of history.
Gregor Henderson is the acting president of the Australian Palestine Advocacy Network.