By Robert Newton
Prime Minister Julia Gillard acknowledges that foreign policy is not her forte, and it is showing. Australia’s recent vote opposing the admission of Palestine as a full member state of UNESCO is so far out of step with the international community and with public opinion at home that it suggests the Government is fast becoming a liability in the management of Australia’s national security interests. It has been reported that while Foreign Minister Rudd favoured an abstention in the UNESCO vote, Gillard insisted on voting against.
Australia was in a small minority of countries opposing recognition of Palestine as a member state of UNESCO. This will have gone down well within the ranks of Israel’s government which is a coalition dominated by a number of extremist fringe parties anxious to avoid a peace settlement with the Palestinians. While Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is keen to advance the notion that Israel has no partner for peace in the person of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the reality is that Abbas has no partner for peace in Netanyahu. Israel continues to chip away at Abbas’s authority and is maintaining its policy of seeking to isolate and weaken Abbas in a reprise of its earlier campaign against the late Yasser Arafat.
The Australian Government apparently thinks it’s smart to encourage such behaviour. But prolonging uncertainty in the region is no way to build peace. Former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evens put it well when he recently wrote that ”a perceived change of direction on the Israeli-Palestinian issue would be a huge plus for the West in its relationship with the whole Islamic world”.
The Palestinian people cannot be expected to live under the humiliation and rigours of Israel’s military occupation forever.
The risk is that the Palestinian people will turn on their own government and a new, more lethal uprising or intifada will be unleashed.
Why can’t Ms Gillard see this? In a recent poll conducted by Roy Morgan Research, three in five Australians believe the United Nations should now recognise Palestine as one of its member States.
The Australia Palestine Advocacy Network recently forwarded a statement to Gillard and Rudd, signed by a number of prominent Australians, calling on the Australian Government to support Palestine’s bid for recognition as a member state of the UN.
Media commentators often cite Australia’s bid for election to a Security Council seat as one reason for Australia to support Palestinian statehood. But they miss the point that support for Palestinian statehood is simply the right course to take, both in terms of Australia’s long-standing position of support for international human rights norms, and of our own foreign policy and strategic interests. The Prime Minister’s disregard for Israel’s constant violations of Palestinian human rights is not acceptable. Support for policies which offer no hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinians defeats the purpose of the Foreign Minister’s efforts to raise the level of Australia’s development assistance and humanitarian contributions to the region. It also suggests the existence of an increasingly dysfunctional relationship between the Prime Minister and her Foreign Minister.
Gillard may have one last chance to redeem herself should, as seems probable, the Palestinians take their campaign for recognition as a member state of the United Nations to the UN General Assembly.