By Ben Packham
The pro-Israel lobby has warned Labor figures against any factional deal at the upcoming ALP national conference to “prematurely” recognise a Palestinian state in return for party unity on the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine plan.
Australia Israel and Jewish Affairs Council executive director Colin Rubenstein said he was concerned Labor’s Socialist Left would try to “extort” the party at the Brisbane conference next month, threatening to embarrass Anthony Albanese on AUKUS to secure a timeline for recognising Palestine.
The Prime Minister told Labor’s powerful policy forum two weeks ago he wanted the nuclear submarine plan to go unchallenged at the conference.
But former Labor senator Doug Cameron, a prominent Left faction member, said on Monday he would be “gobsmacked” if the issues were not debated.
“The ALP Left have a proud history of challenging bad policy at ALP Nat Conference,” Mr Cameron tweeted.
“Political discipline does not mean the Left subjugate themselves to leadership decrees on what can be debated.”
But supporters of Israel fear a rerun of this month’s Victorian ALP conference, where a motion was carried calling for a timeline on recognising Palestine in a suspected deal that saw a motion critical of AUKUS pulled at the last minute.
Dr Rubenstein said any ALP commitment to unilaterally recognising a Palestinian state would place Australia out of step with key allies, and would undermine prospects for a peaceful solution on the issue.
“It would be especially concerning if the Socialist Left faction was to try to extort the rest of the party, including the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, by linking its position on the Palestinians, driven by its anti-Israel ideology, to AUKUS,” he said.
“AUKUS is a completely separate issue and should be treated on its merits. Its centrality to the defence of our country should place it above reckless political posturing.”
He blamed “longstanding Palestinian intransigence” for the absence of a peace plan.
Australia Palestine Advocacy Network president Nasser Mashni said Dr Rubenstein was “out of touch with reality”.
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“Recognising Palestine is already Labor policy, supported by the majority of Australians as a reasonable, moderate policy,” Mr Mashni said. “Justice for Palestine is of concern to people across the party, in all factions, from the Prime Minister to unions and the grassroots. It doesn’t need to be a political football.”
He said meaningful negotiations on the future of Palestine needed to address the power imbalance between Palestinians and Israelis. “Palestinians live under military occupation – we can’t negotiate with a boot on our necks,” Mr Mashni said.
Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy said Labor was a democratic party and “I expect most issues will be debated” at next month’s conference.
But he said he was confident delegates would support the AUKUS submarine plan.
“This is the policy of the Albanese Labor government because it’s in our national interest,” Mr Conroy said. “I’m very confident that the national conference will support us.”
Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce said AUKUS was under threat from high-profile Labor critics.
“If you listen to Bob Carr, if you listen to Gareth Evans, if you listen to Paul Keating, and I bet if you go to the national party conference in Brisbane, you’re going to actually hear the heartland of the Labor Party voting against one of the seminal structures for the defence of our nation, that’s the AUKUS deal,” Mr Joyce said.